Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Favorite Album Of All Time-The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

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Being a pretentious snob, I like concept albums. You know, those long, drawn-out albums with 10 minute songs and distracting cover art. Yeah, those. Anyway, they used to be a staple back in the 60s and 70s, but they died out because we became an iPod world and much preferred singles to entire, sprawling albums with a single theme. There are still some great concept records out there from the past decade, most notably Mastodon's Blood Mountain and Green Day's, American Idiot, but the days of concept albums seem to be numbered.

Which sucks.

All the same, my favorite album of all time is a concept album, and it's so good, that I don't think I'll need any other concept records for the rest of my life since the one I'm going to talk about below is so complex and rich.

It's called The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and it's by Genesis, and no other record I can think of even touches it--Not even Pink Floyd's The Wall or even The Who's Quadrophenia. Released in 1974, The Lamb was the last great Genesis album. And though that's definitely a moot statement since many would argue that A Trick of the Tail is also a masterwork (And others who never even knew of Genesis before Abacab would likely say, "What's A Trick of the Tail?), I have to say that Tail is nowhere near as good as The Lamb. It's a "good enough" album that was surprising for being even that.

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The Lamb is so great because it's a real journey. Most concept albums, most notably The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, peter out and don't keep the concept going for very long. In the aforementioned great album, it's only two songs. Listen:

After that, the rest of the album, besides the very end, has nothing to even DO with the fictitious, Sgt. Pepper (Voiced by Ringo, surprisingly). It's a cheap tease. Why did the Beatles' just give up? What a joke!

But The Lamb, while obfuscating and opaque, is a journey through and through, from the opening number:

To the closing track:

The story follows a Puerto Rican named Rael (A reworking of Gabriel, as in, Peter Gabriel, the band's leader at the time), and he journeys into the nightmarish underworld beneath New York City where he encounters monsters like the Slippermen and the Lamia on his quest to find his brother, John. What's beautiful about this album is that it starts out as an adventure and slowly descends into Hell until finally...I don't know. The whole album's meaning and purpose has been debated since it's release and it's purely a decision you have to make on your own about what it could all possibly mean. Is it a real journey or a mental journey? Is Rael really in fact Peter Gabriel, struggling through his problems at the time, or just a figment in one of his dreams? The story of the making of the album is well-documented, but the story about what it all means is not so much.

That said, even if the meaning isn't completely all there, the imagery is fascinating. Peter Gabriel, before he became the "Sledgehammer guy," was notorious for his live performances on stage with Genesis, so much so, that it's part of the reason that the band broke up. Peter, with his elaborate costumes and weird antics quickly became the face of the band, which is awesome. But it's also a shame, because Genesis was such a skilled band musically that I understand why they would be pissed that he was hogging all the spotlight. That said, the band wasn't the same when it was led by Phil Collins. Here's a comparison.


I mean, Phil is okay, but he kind of just stands there. He also didn't don costumes, which Gabriel would do frequently. Here's Gabriel as one of the Slipperman, which, when it was introduced on stage, was meant to look like a mutated sperm cell emerging from a penis.

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How awesome is that?

But back to the album.

My favorite part of this record is that the songs, while difficult at first to get into, really grow on you. And the whole album isn't even that dense once you understand what you're listening to. But like a true concept album aught to do, if you just listen to the singles, it doesn't make any sense. Who is this Rael, and who is his brother, John? Why is he in a cage one minute, and the next, he's back in the city? What's going on here?

Overall, it's not for everybody, but if you like concept albums for the sheer reason that they DO take you places, than The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the album for you. Below are my favorite songs from the record. Take a listen and see if you like them. Again, the lyrics might confuse you when they're separated from the rest of the album, but if you like what you hear, then download it and listen to it yourself. It's a trip.

Back in New York City

The Lamia


The Colony of the Slippermen

(Skip to 1:53 to bypass all the weird noises and get to the actual song)


Mark said...

Thanks for your complete analysis of TLLDOB. To the uninitiated it should easily show them the musical power and pure entertainment factor of the masterpiece. Hats off to you!

Anonymous said...

Hi. I thought this might be of interest to you since it contains additional information about a little known side project related to the Lamb, as well as insider information about a less debatable and more 'close to the vest' discussion about the meaning of the album.