[Review] Genesis: Nursery Cryme (1971)

With Phil Collins and Steve Hackett on board, Genesis enters its classic phase of imaginative storytelling.

Kronomyth 3.0: Peter, Peter, pomp king eater.

The opening of “The Musical Box” isn’t so far removed from their last album, Trespass. Halfway through the song, however, new members Steve Hackett and Phil Collins lead a sonic assault that makes “The Knife” seem a dull exercise. From that point forward, Nursery Cryme never leaves its lofty heights as the band reveals a richer sound steeped in fairytales, madrigals and quasi-classical musical passages of daunting complexity.

Nursery Cryme marks the true beginning of classic Genesis, a period of six or so years during which the group rested comfortably at the top of the progressive rock movement with Yes. I’ll concede that The Yes Album was more artfully done, but both bands take the listener to faraway places for forty minutes, something most progressive rock acts struggled to do for four. The obvious source of change is the addition of Collins and Hackett, but it’s not the only, nor even the biggest, difference. Peter Gabriel’s storytelling is far more imaginative on Nursery Cryme, from his tale of the Triffid-like hogweed to a retelling of the Greek mythological love story between Hermaphroditus and Salmacis. And Tony Banks introduces the mellotron into the music, which gives the arrangements a greater range of expression and dynamism. All put together, the band’s musical vision leaps from its storybook pages into flesh-and-blood reality.

The band would refine this formula over the next five years, even as Gabriel left the group. “Seven Stones,” for example, would be echoed on “Cinema Show” (even down to its ambisexual references), and “Harlequin” bears a striking resemblance to “Entangled” from A Trick of the Tail. While many point to “The Musical Box” as the album’s crown jewel, to my ears it’s just a mishmash of different musical pieces that collectively is only slightly edgier than “The Knife.” The standalone piece, “For Absent Friends,” is just a musical vignette by contrast but paints a more vivid picture. And then there’s “The Return of the Giant Hogweed,” on which the garden wall is completely torn down and the listener is admitted into the fantastical world of Genesis, to be lost for years.

Side two starts with “Seven Stones,” my favorite song on the album. I couldn’t tell you what it means, and yet there’s something uniquely profound in the words and the music. One of the wonders of progressive rock is the idea of great truths glimpsed, which occasions our return but never admits us into its understanding. After all these years, I still don’t definitively know what “Seven Stones” or “Heart of the Sunrise” mean. I think I know what they mean, yet I suspect that knowledge is different for every listener. “Harold The Barrel” is a dark character study that likely owes its inspiration to Gabriel, while also being one of several songs that brings Phil Collins’ voice into the fore (“For Absent Friends” and “Harlequin” being the others).

The real crown jewel of Nursery Cryme, in my opinion, is “The Fountain of Salmacis.” As a lover of Greek mythology, I find the story of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis to be eminently suitable as a song about love’s yearning for communion. One of the things I appreciate about Genesis is their general resistance to presenting their longer songs as extended suites (“Supper’s Ready” notwithstanding). You can easily imagine “The Fountain of Salmacis,” “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” and “The Musical Box” with separate movements lettered A through D, but I believe that would only serve as a distraction. Instead, the movements flow together as a single tale told in one breathless sitting. Drawn with Hermaphroditus into the cool waters of co-union with our lady of the lake, what further adventures awaited?

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Original LP Version

A1. The Musical Box (10:24)
A2. For Absent Friends (1:43)
A3. The Return of the Giant Hogweed (8:09)
B1. Seven Stones (5:09)
B2. Harold The Barrel (3:00)
B3. Harlequin (2:53)
B4. The Fountain of Salmacis (7:54)

All titles composed and arranged by Genesis.

The Players

Tony Banks (organ, mellotron, piano, electric piano, 12 string guitar, voices), Phil Collins (drums, voices, percussion), Peter Gabriel (lead voice, flute, bass drum, tambourine), Steve Hackett (electric guitar, 12 string guitar), Michael Rutherford (bass, bass pedals, 12 string guitar, voices). Produced by John Anthony; engineered by David Hentschel; tape jockey: Mike Stone.

The Pictures

Sleeve design by Paul Whitehead.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in November 1971 in the UK (Charisma, CAS/ZCCAS 1052) {pink label} and Germany (Philips, 6369 916) and in 1972 in the US (Charisma, CAS 1052) {large mad hatter label} and Italy (Philips, 6369 916 L) with gatefold cover; reached #98 on the UK charts. Cassette version switches A3 and B4 in track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in May 1974 in the UK (Charisma, CAS.1052) {small mad hatter label}; re-charted to #39 on the UK charts.
  2. Re-issued on cassette in the UK (Charisma, 7208 552) and Australia and the Netherlands (Charisma, 7164 007) with different track order.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Canada (Charisma, 9211-1052) {small mad hatter label} with gatefold cover.
  4. Repackaged as The Best… with Foxtrot on 2-for-1 2LP in 1976 in the US (Buddah, BDS 5659) with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in Japan (Charisma, RJ-7302) with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-packaged with Foxtrot on 2-for-1 2LP in 1979 in the US (Charisma/Polydor, CA-2-2701).
  7. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in the US (Atlantic, 80030-1).
  8. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in February 1984 in the UK (Charisma, CHC/CHCM 22); re-charted to #68 on the UK charts.
  9. Re-issued on elpee and cassette on May 5, 1985 in Korea (Charisma, YVPL/YVPC-063) with gatefold cover. Cassette features original LP track listing.
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in September 1985 in the UK (Virgin, CASCD 1052).
  11. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, 80030-2).
  12. Re-issued on compact disc on October 21, 1987 in Japan (Virgin/Charisma, 32VD-1026).
  13. Re-issued on cassette in Poland (Virgin, 1052) with original LP track order.
  14. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in Japan (Virgin, VJCP-23114).
  15. Re-released on remastered compact disc on September 20, 1994 in the US (Atlantic, 82673).
  16. Re-issued on compact disc in 1999 in Japan (Virgin, VJCP-68092).
  17. Re-released on remastered, remixed 180g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (Atlantic/Rhino, R1-516780) and Europe (Charisma, GENLPY 2).
  18. Re-released on super high material compact disc in 2014 in Japan (Universal, UICY-76716).

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