Genesis – Duke (1980) – a classic rock album review

Another in the (sporadically-) continuing series of classic rock album reviews, the second featuring the genre-hopping Genesis, I make no apologies for the absolutely sloppy kiss that this review will be, as it is without a doubt my all-time favourite album. So slip on your headphones, take a sip of tea, and slip back to my favourite musical year, 1980, and the best rock almost-concept album ever made.


tl;dr Version: The best…. What? You seriously expect us to believe that this is the best album ever made? What about Sgt. Peppers? What about Fragile? What about Disintegration? What about Axis: Bold as Love? Quadrophenia? Layla? What about The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, for fuck’s sakes? Damn It! You can’t be serious about worshipping some middling pop album?

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Put simply, yes I can. Listen, this is my website. I’m not saying my view is the only view out there. I’m certainly not saying that it’s the most progressive or the most innovative or the most conceptual or even the most influential album of all time. For that, yes, you want to check out some of those other albums. This album wasn’t about any of that. This album was a thesis statement. A capstone of everything that made 70s prog and classic rock great, all on one piece of scratchy vinyl. It’s all there: suites and instrumental epics and pop ballads and bombastic rockers and esoteric lyrics and a broad, sweeping story of love and loss and isolation and (possibly) redemption. It’s just not packaged the way people expected such things to be packaged, because it doesn’t feature a complicated back story about an Hispanic punk or a fictional band or a world overrun by sentient machines determined to exterminate their creators, all wrapped in a cover by Hipgnosis or Roger Dean. It’s certainly not a punk rock album, or anything remotely close to it.

First and foremost, it’s a collection of well-crafted songs that (mostly) tell a story about losing the threads of a promising musical career, which was basically a metaphor for what had happened to all of the big bands of the 70s, including Genesis, in the wake of the punk revolution. It was a capstone and a swan song, perhaps, for an entire sensibility of songwriting, which wouldn’t be seriously pursued again for decades. And yet, it also paradoxically presaged much of what was to come, stylistically, setting the stage for what much of the best music of the 80s was going to sound like, amidst the bleeps and bloops of New Wave, Post Punk and Art Rock and the much more rhythmically-driven chart music of the 80s and 90s. It offered a eulogy and a valedictorian speech and a few helpful suggestions at the same time, all on one 55 minute album.

Boring Version: So, it was the end of the 70s, and the three remaining members of Genesis (Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Phil Collins) were at a crossroads. All three had either finished or just started their first solo albums, but it was time to reconvene and see if Genesis would have anything new to say in 1980. There had been several shakeups in the past ten years, and the band had lost three core members and as many drummers, and yet, perhaps their greatest challenge yet laid ahead of them. They had to tie up loose ends and forge ahead into an era that wasn’t going to indulge their classic sounds and styles anymore. No more ten-and-twenty minute epics with lush organ and Melltron sections. No more 12-string sections. No more rampant drumming in 9/8. Basically, no more (obvious) progressive rock.

At the same time, they wouldn’t be able to write the same kinds of gorgeous love songs they’d just gotten the hang of in Follow You Follow Me. They wouldn’t be able to dabble in sweeping orchestrations on keyboard. This would be the last time they would write a song like Evidence of Autumn. This would be the last time for a lot of things.

So what did they do? They packed all of their gear into Phil’s master bedroom and started jamming the most vividly-realized progressive rock suite of their career: The Duke Suite. It spanned the entire album, but technically, it’s only six of the twelve tracks. And yet, most maddeningly, the rest of the songs sound like they could very well be part of the same story; merely another side of the same sweeping tale. They’re not, but they could be. It’s a better-constructed accidental concept album than any other I’ve found, including Sergeant Peppers, which is a wonderful and vastly more important album, for all that it wasn’t what it purported itself to be. Duke, like Pepper, told a series of seemingly-interrelated stories that all played on some basic themes and conjured up vivid imagery, drenched in the sounds of its day. Like Pepper, Duke is very much an album of its time. It’s date stamped 1980, and there can be no mistaking it for any other time period. Music a few years earlier or later sounded nothing like this. To my mind, Duke is the archetypical transitional album, defining the sound of 1980 in a way few others came close to doing.

Is it the greatest concept album ever written? Not even close. It’s not, as I said, a true concept album. Ziggy Stardust and the Spider From Mars, Tommy, Quadrophenia, the failed Lifehouse, Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, The Wall, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Tales of Topographical Oceans, Misplaced Childhood, Clutching At Straws, Brave, Afraid of Sunlight, Amused To Death, Metropolis Pt 2, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Snow, Retropolis, The Whirlwind, Dimensionaut, and even Mike Rutherford’s Smallcreep’s Day and Tony Banks’ A Curious Feeling, both of the previous year, are all much more cohesive, deliberate concept albums. They tell stories. Epic stories. Most of them quite well.

Duke is what I call an accidental concept album, like Pepper and The Village Green Preservation Society before it, and albums like Songs in The Key of Life, Synchronicity, Marbles and Octavarium, collections of songs that play on common themes and incorporate some suite/opus-type constructions and repeating figures that recommend production and sequencing tricks which in turn suggest an over-arching narrative where there technically isn’t one. In that, it’s much more like reading a work of classic literature, like Ulysses or Anna Karenina, great sprawling books that tell several stories while focussing mainly on the central figures and their drama.

Basically, it’s the difference between the concept album and the rock opera, both of which I babble about incessantly in my novel, Terminal Monday. The thing about rock operas is, they deliberately try to tell one story through the expression of individual songs that cover the plot points and character pieces. Concept albums are both broader and yet less grandiose than that. They let individual songs tell individual stories that still somehow tie together in the grander scheme of things, like a Robert Altman movie. They paint more impressionistically than rock operas can, and in someways, they’re more satisfying as storytelling vehicles, because they don’t try so hard to keep hitting you over the head with the story or the theme. They’re not necessarily easier, but they certainly give the impression of it, because they can be broken apart and still be appreciated fully.

Witness the hit turn of Turn It On Again, the central rock piece of Duke, a virtual aside in the tale of the band and the singer of the previous three parts of the Duke suite. Here we see a branch in the plot that comes a few songs after the initial salvo had died out, which somewhat confuses the notion of whether it is indeed a rock opera in disguise. This, I think, is a tremendous innovation. It paves the road to a fabulous new way to tell stories in a musical context, without getting too mired in complex plot twists and character studies, and without having to artificially bridge the songs with theatrical elements that tell the parts of the story that the composers weren’t able to write another song to cover the gap, as in musical theatre.

Anyway, I’ve babbled enough. I think you get my point. This is one of those critically-misunderstood albums that defined an era, and has largely been ignored by critics because it is such a transitional album for Genesis; a perfect blend of progressive and pop sensibilities, containing career-defining musical moments and chart-topping hits in equal measure. There may be more successful or more critically-revered albums throughout rock’s—or even Genesis’ own—history, but few crossed the distance between critical acceptance and broad mass appeal as successfully. This is an album that deserves to be revisited time and again as a high water mark for a band that has often been misunderstood and maligned for trusting their musical instincts in the face of fashion, and never letting their feet take root in one sound or another for too long. It’s a perfect album, period.

Behind The Lines opens like someone threw everything including the kitchen sink into the mixing bowl and stirred briskly to get the tempo and volume just right. They’ve rarely had a more boisterous instrumental opening, Even when they introduce the second theme, it’s a bluff, because they have no intention of stopping the riotous march until they absolutely have to start the song proper. When they do, it’s a mid-tempo electric piano-driven number, with some funky bass and sparse, explosive electric guitar, and layers of stinging synth horns. Phil’s vocal harmonies have rarely been more crisp. It’s not a wonder he scoffed the lot for his solo album, even if he did transform it into a Motown masterpiece in the doing. The fact that this version doesn’t pale in the slightest (sorry NME) compared to Phil’s later adaptation stands as proof of the band’s amazing gift for group composition.

Duchess creeps in on an electronic drum rhythm, heavily effected, but effective, before the electric piano sneak in behind it, and guitars slowly make their way in afterward. The intro to this song sounds for all the world like a Tony Banks piece, but again, it’s a band composition. Proof of concept that the band could achieve great sound and vision, as the drums march in and lock the band into a jazz rhythm that adds vibrancy to a Taurus Pedal bass line and layers of effected piano and guitar, while Phil sings of a rock diva whose fame waxes and wanes (not unlike Prog Rock itself).

Guide Vocal by Tony Banks closes out the first half of the Duke Suite, grand piano and bass supporting Phil singing a recapitulation of the lyrics from Behind The Lines. It’s a short, lovely piece, and over long before it grows dull.

Man of Our Times by Mike Rutherford breaks the into the room through the back door, swinging with a thunderous drum part and a fat buzzing synth line over a deep bass line, which eventually makes its way to the anthemic chorus, all Taurus Pedals and walls of synth wash. The verse melody returns, a slightly dissonant creature that lurks and broods, suggesting without quoting Back in NYC from Lamb, but with layers of electric 12-string and synths that buoy up the melody, helping to keep the upbeat chorus from sounding entirely out of place. Interestingly, despite the vintage textures used to construct the tune, the structure and style are more indicative of where Genesis would be going stylistically on their next couple of albums. And most importantly, it doesn’t sound the slightest bit like it’s out of place on a concept album, or at least half of one. It fits in perfectly, owing to a certain darkness that suggests deeper emotions and powerful undercurrents. Not part of the Duke suite, but it feels like it is (I’ll be saying that a lot in this review).

Misunderstanding is the first proper pop song on the album, and it’s also one of the finest examples of pure pop in their entire catalogue. The song starts as it intends to go on, driving rhythm to the fore, guitars and piano over a slightly swinging pop rock drum beat. Many people think Phil Collins writes nothing but ballads, and listening to the lyrics, you could be deceived into thinking it’s confirmed, but this is such a persistent, driving rhythm with such massive hooks, and it is never cloying or overly sentimental. If you didn’t listen to the lyrics at all, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s just another great summery pop song. More importantly, to these ears, it’s about loss and regret, which dovetail nicely with the themes of the Duke narrative, even if they have nothing to do with the Duchess or Albert.

Heathaze is a delicate tune by Tony Banks, but in this age of solid pop songwriting, even this song has some muscle in the bridge and chorus. It’s one of my earliest exposures to what I now know to be Tony’s signature idiosyncratic writing style, and it was probably what made me such a huge fan of Tony and Genesis. It has a lot of hallmarks of the classic Genesis sound, including exotic stringed instruments and a flute-sound, but most of the sound has been completely updated with synths and AOR pop sensibilities. A gorgeous tune from start to finish, which takes us on a journey that again makes us feel as if we’re still in the same narrative space.

Turn It On Again has a rough, live feel to it, which is appropriate given that it’s a band composition, and the midway reintroduction to the Duke Suite. This portion of the story deals with Albert himself, developing a sad relationship with the people he sees on television. It’s a strangely hypnotic, deceptively simple rocker in 13/4 that just won’t let up. A little overplayed in the following decades, but I’ve come to love it again.

Alone Tonight is a bit of a throwback to the classic Genesis sound, 12-string on hand, but it’s a sad, romantic number written by Mike. Definitely builds on the sounds and styles he achieved on Smallcreep’s Day, but in terms of the classic Genesis sound, it’s a strange post-Gabriel melange, part Trick of the Tail, part And Then There Were Three, and a lovely tune. One of the first yearning songs of lost love that really grabbed me. Not a part of the Duke narrative, but it feels like it should be.

is a Tony Banks tour de force: Phil singing softly over a pretty piano figure, but then quickly building up to full steam with synth orchestration, including drum rolls and full rock arrangement. It’s like a strange, hip brother to Moonlit Knight, even in the soft refrain, but much more straightforward and ballsy, if Genesis music can ever be called ballsy. It’s one of Phil’s most powerful vocals on the album, as he goes from gentle to strident to throat ripping. A mini epic in roughly five minutes, and another piece that isn’t strictly speaking part of the Duke narrative, but really, who’s counting, because it’s another song of loss and regret, and as such, fits in almost too perfectly.

Please Don’t Ask is a Phil Collins ballad in the mold of so many of the not-quite-hits on his first solo album, but for my money, a better realized version, for having the band to back him on what was probably going to be on his solo album if they didn’t get it right. It’s taken me years to get back to truly appreciating this song for all of it’s innovative glory; walking funk bassline, piano and synth strings, drenched in flawless Collinsian high harmony vocals, and over before you can get tired of it. Again, love, loss, regret. Tell me it isn’t a perfect example of an accidentally perfect fit for a concept album. Go on. Try.

Duke’s Travels is a band-composed, mostly-instrumental piece that allows the band to totally prog out one last time, in a fashion (style, intensity) they never really would again, even despite later post prog masterpieces like Home By The Sea. For 70s Prog Rock, this is the last stop. 12-strings, soaring synth leads, burbling, dancing bass lines, and all those fabulous fills and tom runs, all over a beautifully-composed mini-epic masterpiece. It goes through a darkening change section where the 12-string is played more rhythmically over a thundering bass line and a perfect Tony Banks synth lead that leads up to the reprise of the Guide Vocal lyric, tying it to the Duke Suite indelibly. This flows softly into…

Duke’s End is the last hurrah: a brief, blistering recapitulation of the opening sequence melody, but also serving as a mini coda and overture to the album, recapturing the melody from Turn It On Again in a different time signature. Beautiful, sweeping finish. Just beautiful. This ends the suite, and also closes the album, and thus puts an end to my repeated insistence that this was a concept album in all but name. Thank you for your indulgence.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about the two B-Sides from this period, which were deemed a little too far off the beaten track for the album proper, and would perhaps have added too much running time to a single disc, but were released as B-sides to the singles from Duke:

Open Door, written by Mike Rutherford, was originally released as the B-side to Duchess. It’s a plaintive acoustic 12-string ballad, perhaps the last Mike ever recorded for Genesis or himself, and as such probably deserves more respect than I feel I can give it. It’s a wee slip of a tune; just the 12-string, some piano, a sinuous synth oboe line, a synth string wash or two, a little tasteful bass playing, and all the while, Phil singing earnestly about a poor servant who feels compelled to do his master’s bidding, despite a strong wish to be free and know love. There is perhaps a metaphor at work here that I still don’t understand or appreciate properly, and it’s not at all a bad song. It’s quite lovely, in fact. Just a little bit pale compared to past 12-string compositions from this band. It feels like a lost opportunity to me. But then, Mike’s style of songwriting was changing, and perhaps this glimpse backward was as close as he could come to writing a compelling ‘Classic Genesis’ song. It has a Wind and Wuthering feel to it, but doesn’t quite reach the same heights. Nevertheless, a lovely piece.

Evidence of Autumn, written by Tony Banks, was originally released as the B-side to Phil Collin’s Misunderstanding. It apparently started life under the title “Bring Out Your Dead’, which I figure must be a Monty Python reference, given the year it was written. It, like Open Door, harkens back to the sounds of Classic Genesis, with perhaps the single difference that it achieves the epic scope and grandeur of that time period a fair bit more successfully, while still fitting within the four-to-five minute time frame of most of the music from this album. It harkens back to …And Then There Were Three, but is a more successful composition than most of those on that album. Where Open Door is largely a 12-string piece, Evidence relies heavily on electric piano and synth strings for its main themes, but it also utilizes the band to greater effect. Some fine drumming and particularly fine bass playing occur in the chorus of the song. It’s perhaps my favourite Genesis tune, and would not have sounded out of place if they had worked it into the album proper, perhaps after Turn It On Again. Open Door might deserve a place on the album as well, but to my mind, this song, which is almost certainly my most favourite ballad of all time, is criminally under-served by having been excluded from the album.

This probably isn’t as important an album as I make it out to be, here. I don’t mean to get all Simon Schama on you, trying to convince you of my editorial viewpoint despite the turn of history. I don’t know if anyone will ever reevaluate this album in a fashion that will put it in a brighter critical light than it currently enjoys. Maybe it doesn’t need to be reevaluated. The album has done pretty well for itself, despite some cries of betrayal from the hardcore prog faithful. This was my first true musical touchstone. I’d grown up on Sgt. Peppers and the like, and yet, in many ways, those hadn’t been my albums. They were my mother’s Rock albums, which I absorbed dutifully, but more assiduously than I did her equally beloved Motown and Country records. They helped to define my tastes in music, but they weren’t a part of my inner musical landscape.

They didn’t capture my heart the way a few albums did in the early 80s, when I was just rediscovering pop music for myself, after a couple of hard years of deliberately ignoring all pop music, in a failed attempt to purge myself of influences of my surrogate father, a man who had hurt my mother and failed my family innumerable times, and whom I wanted to forget. In the end, nothing was forgotten, but when I rediscovered rock music for myself, one of the first albums to really make an impression on me, a few years after its original release, was Duke. Something about those songs really connected for me. It took me years to learn to appreciate the progressive elements, but the storytelling quality and the depth of the musical performances would infect me in a way few things have. Duke sits at the summit of my influences, and of my own musical ambitions. A well-crafted, accidental, transitional, transformative rock album. So if influencing one listener can be enough to earn the title, then Duke is a very influential album… to me.

© 2013 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

ADDED BONUS: Look at this fantastic 3D recreation of the classic Duke cover:

37 Responses to “Genesis – Duke (1980) – a classic rock album review

  • Excellent review !

  • This album is really awesome, but the problem is it’s in no man’s land, you know, is not a Gabriel era, nor a simple-Collins era one, so the critics don’t look at it, nor the main audience, but for me is one of their best albums. As you said, they were in a crossroads.

    I don’t know why, but I don’t really like the Gabriel’s era albums, don’t know why, don’t know what’s the matter, but I can’t connect with them :(.

    Maybe they are too complicated for me, though now I’m listening to Wagner’s Ring =P. I believe they increased their skills as musicians (somewhat urged by Chester Thompson and the other guitar, don’t remember his name), and the production grew better, and the technology, and even they were more rythmical, so, although surely the first albums were better, maybe the 76-80 albums were more polished. In fact they’re two different bands, like Deep Purple marks II or III. I think they at first were trying to do more than they could take in,somehow, in a way, they were constantly learning… and how!!!

    But is OK, whether you are fan of Gabriel or Collins, Genesis is a wonderful band… and besides, you know, the real leader, in musical terms was TONY BANKS! god bless him!

    PD: and, you know, it happens the same for me with Yes, I like more Tormato (aaaggg) than Close To The Edge, XD… I know, I know, now I’ve just spoiled my comment, I’m soooo sorry.

    Greetings from Andalusia!!!

    • Gabriel-era Genesis is not for everyone. Whereas, an album like Duke pretty much is, except that a lot of Genesis fans struggle with it for reasons I’m hard-pressed to explain. They don’t struggle with it as hard as they do ABACAB, but then, that one really is a dividing line between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Genesis. Duke is sort of a progressive pop last hurrah, and for me, it’s their finest, most cohesive statement as a band.

      Tormato is a strange album, as it seem to lack some of the energy and spontaneity that Going For The One (before it and Drama after it had. I love Close To the Edge, but it’s also not for everyone.

      Good luck with the Wagner. I find I have trouble with his work, but only because I’m not a fan of opera. *shrug*

      Nice to meet you. 🙂

  • Nice to meet you too!

    It’s funny that, the simpler they got, more records they sold, We Can’t Dance was a huge success in the whole world XD, my god! Lou Reed once said, after Sally Can’t Dance, that the less he contributed to his albums, the best they sold, and if he didn’t do anything at all in the next one maybe he’d get n.1…

    I’m not an opera fan either, but always loved Wagner, and some months ago I watched the entire Ring in YouTube, as if it were a TV series, in my sofa with popcorn, with english subtitles, and I enjoyed it a lot!!! well, sometimes is a little boring, of course, and sometimes I didn’t understand anything, but nevermind, and besides, there are some sublime moments, unequalled in history of arts, it’s absolutely worthwhile, something you have to watch at least once in your life. And ooooooohhhh my goood, Matti Salminen playing Hagen wwoooooooooooowwwwwww!!!!!!

    Wagneriann Grrrrreeeeeetings!!!

    PS: Before all that, I had already listened to a “lot” of the Ring (it’s about 15 hours!), is a question of patience, but if you don’t really want to dive into the Ring, just want a small portion to watch for curiosity, I reccomend you the Hagen’s call and the choir of the gibichungs, with Salminen (or Gottlob Frick, one of the best and darkest wagnerian basses). Other (compulsory) would be the Siegfried Trauermarsh. Well, I hope you enjoy!

  • Someone can explain to my, all the duke history song by song, for understand the concept?

    Thanks, and bye

    • This is tricky, because the story of Duke isn’t a continuous one like, say, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As well, I’ve never read a proper storyline breakdown of the suite, and so can only give you my impressions.

      The Duke Suite consists of:
      Behind The Lines: the narrator apparently is going to tell us a story that is ‘written in the book’.
      Duchess: the Duchess is a diva singer who loses touch with her audience, and loses her popularity.
      Guide Vocal: the Duke leaves.
      Then we have an intermission, followed by…
      Turn It On Again: features the Duke sitting at home doing nothing but watching soap operas and fantasizing about the characters being his friends.
      Another intermission, and then we go to…
      Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End: Truth to tell, I have no idea how the story ends, because it’s largely instrumental, and has a short reprise of the Guide Vocal. This is why I tend to think that the whole album is a larger, more nebulous concept where the Duke and Duchess go through a number of changes in their relationship, ultimately reconciling in some fashion, though perhaps not coming back together. It’s that instrumental ending that leaves a huge question mark over the whole thing. I want to believe the Duke finds his redemption and regains his drive, but who knows?

      Anyway, that’s my take on it. I don’t think I’ve helped you, but I hope I haven’t diminished your appreciation of this fabulous album, at any rate.

  • i Have a question:

    “From Genesis to Revelation”, “Trespass”, “Nursery Crime”, “Foxtrot”, “Selling England by the pound”,” A trick of th tail”, and “Wind and Wutherin” are concept albums?

    • I’ve never considered those albums concept albums in the strictest sense, but they are definitely great Prog Rock albums.

      • you say that you never considered those albums concept albums in the strictest sense, but if we are talking about concept albums without strictest sense,
        have this albums, a kind of concept, without be strictest an hisory, like alan parson´s project´s albums?

        A wanted to say concept album, like “In the court of the Crimson king”(an album about hte occidental mitology element: the fire)

        • I believe that there is a way to regard virtually any album as being a concept album, depending on how you look at it. It can be very subjective. However, my personal take is that a concept album usually needs a fairly deliberate attempt to convey a unity of thematic and/or narrative meaning between most or all of the songs on a given album or set of songs. If it’s really just one or two songs on an album of otherwise unrelated material, it’s not really unified.

          What makes an album like Duke seem like a concept album to me is that even the songs that aren’t officially part of the ‘Duke Suite’ still connect to it thematically. The album is of a whole cloth, despite the fact that the band only perceived the links between the six parts of the suite. Stories of love and loss, of seeking redemption, permeate the album. Genesis didn’t intend Duke to be a concept album, but I believe quite accidentally is one.

  • for me FGTR is a concept album since they have to re-write many of the lyrics to match the concept

    • I think that FGTR, it´s a concept album, about the Genesis book; Ttrespass, it´s about a man that knows that will die killed by a man that will kill him, in name of freedom; Selling England by the pound, it´s a concept album about England; …And then there were three… it´s an album about the comings and goings; and invisible touch it´s about nuclear holocaust

  • Great review!

    I always liked Duke and over time discovered its B-Sides which I like, also.

    It would be nice if you could do an Abacab review.

  • It’s good to read the views of a true genesis fan who appreciates the talent of everybody and sees beyond the Gabriel heliocentric bullshit

    • Well, I’m a big PG fan, too, but yeah, the band was definitely more than just the sum of its parts. I’m even a huge fan of Anthony Phillips, which not a lot of people can claim.

  • Good review, it’s one of my favorite Genesis albums. Great album no matter what the era.

  • This has always been my favorite Genesis album, with Nursery Cryme being a very close second. It’s too bad that people tend to lump Duke in together with the “sell-out” Genesis albums from Abacab onwards, I always thought it was the last and finest prog effort by the band with some pop tunes here and there. But then again, even Gabriel-era Genesis albums had some pop songs, Nursery Cryme had Harold the Barrel, Selling England had I Know What I like and so on, and I was perfectly fine with that.

    Amazing review overall, I agree with everything you said.

  • Your review pretty much reflects my own views. This is the album that got me into Genesis in 1980 and to me it is their best. Even Tony Banks agrees. It is also my own personal favourite album ever and the one I play more than any other. It seems to capture the band in a state of re-energising itself and that comes through in the song writing and in the performance. Phil has never sung better than here. The raw emotion he conjures really captures the ear and heart of the listener. As you say the songs are varied yet seem part of a whole feel and theme. Heathaze is an overlooked gem and Duchess captures so much magic in its five or six minutes. Although released in 1980 it still sounds fresh today.

  • Re: Open Door,

    “Phil singing earnestly about a poor servant who feels compelled to do his master’s bidding, despite a strong wish to be free and know love. […] There is perhaps a metaphor at work here that I still don’t understand or appreciate properly”

    It’s a song about death. The “master” isn’t him upstairs (employer) – it’s Him “upstairs” (God.)

    • Thank you. Due in part to my relatively recent conversion to Atheism, I sometimes forget the religious bent of songs written by bands whose lyrics I don’t regard as being explicitly Christian in nature.

  • This review certainly does this Masterpiece some justice. Although this has been around for so many years, I have always believed that only true musical aficionados could appreciate this great album. This was a fine review of this timeless classic…at least to me. Some of these pieces have that dynamic power that gives them the feel of flight! Others have allowed me to connect with painful memories of the past while being enveloped in the comfort of these masterful collaborations of music and lyrics. This album is truly an old friend to me.

    • Thank you. I feel the same way about this classic album.


  • Thanks for posting this. I’m glad I am not the only person (it sometimes feels like it !) who loves this album and thinks it is vastly underrated.

    I first listened to Genesis in the early-mid eighties, when I was in my mid-late teens. In those days, I loved the Gabriel period Genesis, and did not think so much of the albums following And Then There Were Three (with the odd track excepted e.g. Abacab, understandably !). After the dire We Can’t Dance (great video though), I left Genesis and have only recently returned to them. Funnily enough, I now find the Gabriel period Genesis a bit amateurish (heresy I know), and love the sheer quality of the albums following And Then There Were Three (We Can’t Dance still excepted).

    This is fabulous, high quality music, and Duke is the transition album that contains all the best (in my opinion) components of the old and new Genesis. The prog elements of Heathaze and Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End sit perfectly alongside the newer, poppier material. The ‘pop’ songs are surprisingly touching, particularly (for me) Please Don’t Ask. And I love the circular nature of the album, the reprise of Guide Vocal and the Behind the Lines motif in the final two tracks.

    It always surprises me how low this album generally rates in “Best Genesisi Album” type lists. But perhaps that is because it falls into neither the Gabriel era nor the fully Collins era. But, for me, it contains the best elements of both.

    Great review. Cheers.

    • Thank you, Phil. In the 80s, I was still learning to appreciate classic prog, even though I’d been brought up on it. I hadn’t internalized it myself, even though my sensibilities ran to it pretty strongly, even in the pop music I favoured at the time. As for We Can’t Dance, it’s a pretty broad album, and has a little something for everyone, including me. But I consider it something of a nadir, creatively, apart from Fading Lights and a few of the less popular pop songs. I also have come to truly appreciate their final album, Calling All Stations, without either Pete or Phil, which to my mind was another excellent transitional album (very much like Duke, which nevertheless remains my favourite). I like albums that leave a lot of room for narrative flow, even if they aren’t strictly speaking concept albums in the accepted sense. Duke is half a concept album with a lot of interjection between, but I think it still forms their most cohesive effort, even if, and perhaps despite it not being their most experimental or ambitious album.

      All that just to say thanks.


      • Thinking more about it, Duke is also (by far) the most consistent album Genesis produced. Not a weak track on it. Some would argue not any real great tracks (a la Abacab, Supper’s Ready, The Knife, Musical Box etc etc) either, but on those albums, much as I loved them, there was always some filler. Not on Duke.

  • For me personally Duke was the end of what made Genesis magical; at the same time it was the first record that I “called my own”, after being introduced to them by a college girlfriend. I saw 4 show in 5 days in May that year (including the legendary show at The Roxy on 1980-05-25. I stuck with the band up until Invisible Touch, and each f the subsequent albums had its moments….but I found Steve and Peter’s solo ventures (and shows) far more rewarding.
    Having said all that….I admire your passion for the record. I saw a TIOA show in Munich in 2007, and the Duke Suite opening was great. I do ‘like” Duke, I just find it somewhat pedestrian, the opening instrumental section and Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End aside. But that’s what makes music so wonderful: the emotions it can produce within us are unique to each of us. I absolutely don’t dispute anything you said; indeed it makes me feel like I mssed something.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • If you compare “Duke” to another concept album from early 80’s – I mean ELO’s “Time” – then you’ll find it obvious, that “Duke” sucks. Sorry.

    • I daresay you aren’t the least bit sorry. Time was a nice album, and by nice, I mean genteel/polite. I like it, but it doesn’t hit my top floor. If Duke isn’t your thing, then why did you bother to read my review.

      Or did you?

      Anyway, thanks for playing. Call back again sometime, ‘private’.


    • As a man whose brother is mentally handicapped, I take great offense at your misuse of the word ‘retarded’ in your casual trolling. Please feel free to leave.

  • You made an excellent review and I share most of your opinions. Thanks! Not between the top 5 Genesis albums for me but close. I always thought there is a concept behind the album. And I suspect that the band did this deliberately in some way. It would be a typical Banks way in any case. Even the order of the song seems not to be a casualty. Musically has many peaks and of course the master around who everything come and go is the unique Tony Banks the true driving force behind the band in any era. For me there’s not Gabriel or Hackett or Collins eras. Just one era: the Banks era (with Rutherford close). As a paradox Banks never could have the same majestic alone. He was the master but always needed the company of this great cofrady of musicians.

    • Thank you. I definitely regard Genesis as being the perfect vehicle for Tony Banks’ genius. Aside from my oft-stated love of all things Anthony Phillips, I regard Tony Banks as the other great sonic architect that defined Genesis’ soundscape.

  • It may be (pretty much) a pop album, but there’s still that special Genesis ingredient flavoring the entire batch of songs — still an air of Wind & Wuthering very evident. I used to get incredibly drunk & stoned and play Duke in its entirety, really loud with headphones on. It transported me, that way. Especially “Cul de Sac” and “Dukes Travels/Dukes End”. I was lifted into another level of euphoria. Couldn’t get enough; every single track was great. The best Genesis album, imo.

    • Thank you. Those are personal favourites on this albums for me, as well (I can’t remember if I mentioned that in my review).

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.


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