You might wonder why I am reviewing such an old recording and well that you should as such things smack of ancient history. On the other hand, statistics show that old recordings are outselling new ones, not in part because they were analog and therefore lend themselves to the higher resolution formats more so than digital recordings the bulk of which were done at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. But that is not why I chose this recording. When I decided to revive Headphone.Guru’s tradition of music reviews it was in part to give the reader some insight into why I use specific recordings in my product reviews, and Genesis’ “Foxtrot” is the second oldest (in terms of time used for audio evaluations IE: the late seventies) recording I have used in evaluating audio gear, the oldest being Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s first album (which I may review at a future date), in fact, the track I use in my reviews comes from the same CD I used in the early eighties at CES and other shows to test products. I also have a Japanese Pressing on vinyl that I use for testing turntables or two-channel systems, and soon hope to have the DSD version.
Many bands are in actuality two bands, the studio band and the road band (throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, and to a certain extent to this day, completely different bands, the studio recordings being performed by a secret cast of studio musicians who often did not get credit for their contributions), not so with Genesis. Genesis is one of those bands who try to be completely faithful to the album when performing live, in fact, I was always pleasantly surprised to find that the volumes they played at in concert were no louder than what I listened to at home (I would actually leave a concert without my ears ringing). They believed that their studio albums were true compositions (in the same sense as a classical piece), every note in its place and not simply a guideline for improvisations on stage performed by different musicians on different instruments (though in later years as the lineup changed and dwindled, necessity changed this also), hence I have a pretty good idea of what Peter Gabriel’s voice sounds like, and a good handle on the intonation of their instruments.
“Foxtrot” was the second Genesis album to feature what many consider to be the definitive Genesis line up of: Peter Gabriel – lead vocals, flute, bass drum, tambourine, oboe; Tony Banks – Hammond organ, Mellotron, electric and acoustic pianos, 12-string guitar, backing vocals; Michael Rutherford – bass guitar, bass pedals, cello, 12-string guitar, backing vocals; Phil Collins – drums, backing vocals, assorted percussion; Steve Hackett – electric guitar, nylon guitar, 12-string guitar. Both Phil Collins and Steve Hackett had joined the band for their previous album “Nursery Crimes”.
It is also one of their best engineered albums, and one of the better engineered rock albums overall, offering plenty of dynamic range and bandwidth, with exceptional clarity and naturalness of tonality.
The album opens with what is one of Genesis’ most iconic songs “Watcher of the Skies” which begins with a haunting gothic Mellotron solo and features sixty-fourth notes on the bass guitar and the album closes with the epic twenty-two minute “Supper’s Ready”, composed of seven movements, one of which is in a 9/8 key signature.
The full song list is:
“Watcher of the Skies”
“Get ‘Em Out by Friday”
“Can-Utility and the Coastliners”
a. “Lover’s Leap”
b. “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man”
c. “Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men”
d. “How Dare I Be So Beautiful?”
e. “Willow Farm”
f. “Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet)”
g. “As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)”
While they all feature amazing musicianship, complex rhythms, extreme dynamic range, a host of instruments and sounds, as well as Peter Gabriel’s vocal gymnastics and multiple character voices, the track that I use to put gear through their paces is “Can-Utility and the Coastliners”. With its rich combination of acoustical and electronic instruments, wide frequency range and intimidating dynamic range it can tell me a great deal about a piece of audio gear.
Since the band toured for a while without a guitar player, Michael Rutherford developed the ability to play the guitar and bass pedals at the same time, which not only gave him the ability to change guitars without interrupting the bass line, but also gave him the ability to reinforce the bass guitar with the bass pedals, pushing the bass deep into the subsonic realm, making “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” my go-to tune for judging bass response.
Phil Collins’ use of the triangle helps me determine bandwidth and transient response, especially during the moments with all the electric instruments and percussion in competition for sound.
The acoustic guitar, percussion and Peter Gabriel’s voice help me determine the naturalness of tonality and the keyboards help gauge dynamics, current capacity and soundstage.
Since every Genesis album out sold the previous one, “Foxtrot” cannot be touted as their most popular one, but sonically it is one of the best, and I certainly love the compositions. If you like complex music, virtuoso performance, a bit of comedy and fantasy, and music that will stress your audio system, then I cannot recommend it enough.
Gary Alan Barker is a writer who has been a member of the Audio Industry since 1978, having acted as technical writer for several high-end audio companies, and been an electronics hobbyist since 1960. He has also been a musician and writer since the mid 1960s.