Original UK vinyl cover
|Studio album by|
|Released||18 September 1981|
|Singles from Abacab|
Abacab is the eleventh studio album by the English progressive rock band Genesis, released on 18 September 1981 in the United Kingdom by Charisma Records and 24 September 1981 in the United States by Atlantic Records. After their 1980 tour in support of their previous album, Duke (1980), the band took a break before they reconvened in 1981 to write and record a new album. Abacab is the first Genesis album recorded at The Farm, a recording studio bought by the group in Chiddingfold, Surrey. It marked the band's development from their progressive roots into more accessible and pop-oriented songs, and their conscious decision to write songs unlike their previous albums.
Abacab received a mostly positive reception from critics and was a commercial success for the band, reaching No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 7 on the US Billboard 200. Genesis released four singles from the album, the most successful being "Abacab" and "No Reply at All". The album continued to sell, and was certified double platinum in 1988 by the Recording Industry Association of America for two million copies sold in the US. The Abacab Tour visited North America and Europe in 1981, recordings from which formed most of their 1982 live album and concert video Three Sides Live. In 2007, the album was remastered with a new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mix.
In June 1980, the Genesis line-up of drummer and singer Phil Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks, and guitarist Mike Rutherford, with touring drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist and bassist Daryl Stuermer, wrapped their 1980 tour of the United Kingdom and North America in support of their tenth album, Duke (1980). Following a period of rest, in November 1980 the band bought Fisher Lane Farm, a farmhouse with an adjoining cowshed near Chiddingfold, Surrey, as their new private rehearsal and recording facility. In the process of remodelling the building into a studio, the trio reconvened there in March 1981 to write and rehearse new material which initially took place in the living room. Abacab marks the first Genesis album that was recorded in England since A Trick of the Tail (1976). The success of Collins's debut solo album Face Value (1981) had gained momentum by the recording stage; Banks claimed it did little to alter the sound or style of Abacab or the relationship towards him or Rutherford as they had been friends for a long time.
Genesis recorded Abacab in two months, working for as long as 14 hours each day. The new environment had a productive effect on the writing process and the band had written enough for a double album, but they discarded one hour's worth of songs because they sounded too similar to their past albums. Though the band did not alter the way in which they approached the songwriting for Abacab, Banks said a conscious effort was made by the group to avoid "Genesis cliches" such as using a tambourine for a chorus and lengthy instrumental passages, and keep melodies as simple as possible, which signalled further changes in their direction. Rutherford pointed out that the omission of familiar sounding tracks was done in order to avoid Genesis becoming "a caricature of ourselves" so a change in direction was therefore necessary. A rehearsal session that failed to go anywhere was no longer a problem as the absence of a schedule from renting studio time elsewhere allowed the group to stop and work on something else.
The band's shift in direction was also underlined in their production with the departure of David Hentschel, their producer and engineer since 1975, and the arrival of Hugh Padgham who was chosen following his work on Face Value and former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel's third solo album. The band praised Padgham's input on Abacab; Banks pointed out his attractive ideas for the sound of the drums, and his lack of in-depth knowledge in handling keyboards suited Banks as he aimed to obtain the sound he heard in the studio before it was recorded onto tape. The band marked Abacab as a departure from their previous albums as it is closer to their natural live sound. For the first time in their history, the production duties were solely credited as Genesis. Padgham is credited as the album's engineer. The band produced a selection of different mixes of finished songs and selected the mix they liked best.
In a contrast to their previous album covers, the artwork for Abacab depicts an abstract piece designed by Bill Smith, and the sleeve is absent of lyrics. Banks reasoned this to reducing the emphasis on the lyrics, something that he thought was overdone on previous albums, to make them a greater part in the album's overall sound.
Abacab is formed of nine tracks, six of which are group written with the remaining three solely credited to one of each member: "Me and Sarah Jane" is from Banks, "Man on the Corner" by Collins, and "Like It or Not" by Rutherford. Banks later said the album consisted of mostly collectively written songs as it is what became the strongest material on Duke.
Rutherford spoke about how the title track was arranged: "There were three bits of music in 'Abacab', and we referred to them as 'section a', 'section b', and 'section c' ... and at different times, they were in different order. We'd start with 'section a' and then have 'section c' ... and at one point in time, it spelled Abacab. On the final version, it's not that at all, it's like 'Accaabbaac'." The song developed from a group jam session that had them playing along to a looped drum track until the tape they were using to record on ran out.
The lyrics to "Dodo/Lurker" were written by Banks. He included a riddle on the "Lurker" section which had fans wondering what the answer to it actually is. In a 1997 interview, he said: "There is no real solution [...] It was a bit of a joke [...] I honestly didn't really have a specific idea in mind".
"No Reply at All" is a rhythm and blues style track that features the Phenix Horns of the American band Earth, Wind & Fire. This marked the first instance of Genesis using outside musicians for one of their tracks since a string section was used on their debut album, From Genesis to Revelation (1969). The band wanted to emulate the brass keyboard sound that was used on some parts on Duke, and Collins had used the Phenix Horns on Face Value and suggested to Banks and Rutherford that they use them for the track. Collins thought the horns was a good move to "suddenly jar people and take them off automatic pilot" from the predictable ideas they had considered Genesis to be. Their involvement created some initial reservations from Banks, but he grew to enjoy the track by the time it was complete. In rehearsal, Banks played a drum machine while Rutherford and Collins played a guitar and drum part, respectively, and played until they found ideas and sequences that worked. Collins had the idea of writing a song that The Jackson 5 would have wanted to record, and direct the band in a direction that they never had before. Collins wrote the lyrics.
"Keep it Dark" tells the story of a man who gets taken to a surreal and peaceful alien planet but does not tell anyone as he thinks no one would believe him. Its original working title was "Odd", and became a favourite track for Banks. It features the band taking two bars of a drum pattern previously recorded and playing the song to it.
"Me and Sarah Jane" originated from takes that the group had recorded from the second day of recording. Banks described "Who Dunnit?" as a "real one-off piece". He obtained the track's distorted keyboard sound by changing the presets on his Prophet synthesiser as he played the notes. Padgham wanted the drum sounds to sound loud and exciting, and not like typical drum recording sounds of the 1970s. Rutherford played the drums alongside Thompson during live performances of the song on the album's tour.
Among the songs that were left off the album were three that were picked for release on Genesis's second EP, 3×3. This contained "Paperlate", "You Might Recall", and "Me & Virgil" which were included on the North American edition of their third live album Three Sides Live, both released in 1982. Two other songs, "Naminanu" and "Submarine", originally part of a four-song suite with "Dodo/Lurker", were released as B-sides on the album's singles.
Abacab was released on 18 September 1981 in the United Kingdom by Charisma Records and 24 September 1981 in the United States by Atlantic Records. It was simultaneously released in four different colour schemes.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
In a review for Melody Maker, reporter Paul Colbert thought the album was the band's least consistent and therefore, least predictable in three years. He recognised a "heavy PC [Phil Collins] twist to the sound" on "Man on the Corner" and "No Reply At All", but "he does not have it all his own way". Colbert, however, thought Genesis had produced "a couple of Frankensteins" such as the latter half of "Abacab" which he deemed "unstructured" and "uninspired" compared to their past instrumentals. He named "Keep It Dark" and "Who Dunnit?" as "the most exciting and innovative music" the band had produced for several years, and concluded with the album is "by far more promising" than Duke or ...And Then There Were Three.... Ken Kubernik of the Los Angeles Times wondered if the success of Collins' solo album Face Value was an influence on the group, to which he replied, "Yes and no". He praised the album for its "thick, resonant instrumental passages, quaint imagery in the lyrics, and superb production", but "beneath the surface are some new wrinkles in the trademark Genesis sound", noting a reduction in harmonies for more simple vocals and Collins' drum sound replacing Banks's keyboards as their "vortex". Kubernik did, however, praise Collins' vocals. Jim Bohen for Daily Record recognised Abacab had largely taken its direction from Collins's Face Value with its structure based around a "a huge, booming drum sound". He noted the instrumentation is less restrained than previous Genesis albums. "Who Dunnit?" was described as "an Ian Dury like tongue-twister", yet deemed "Dodo/Lurker", "Like It or Not", and "Another Record" as "less noteworthy". Bohen concludes, however, that the album "drags this trio of art-rockers into the 80s at last". A positive review was published in The Pittsburgh Press by Pete Bishop. He named Abacab a "state-of-the-art" album and picked "Abacab" and "No Reply at All" particularly good tracks despite Collins's vocals not being "the world's strongest". Bishop said "Who Dunnit?" as the album's only "dud", yet believed overall, the album will please Genesis fans. An uncredited review in The Coshocton Tribune in Ohio predicted the album will be Genesis's first top ten album in the US due to its similarity to Face Value, but rated it ahead of "the dreary Duke".
David Fricke of Rolling Stone praised the album for shedding the "ivory-tower artistry" of their previous albums, turning to sparse arrangements and "highly rhythmic interplay" and drawing inspiration from popular contemporaries such as XTC and The Police. In his retrospective review for AllMusic, critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine echoed this sentiment with greater emphasis, declaring "Duke showcased a new Genesis... but Abacab was where this new incarnation of the band came into its own." He also argued that although the album is far richer in pop hooks and accessibility than the band's previous works, at its heart Abacab "is truly modern art rock, their last album that could bear that tag comfortably."
Genesis toured in support of Abacab from September to December 1981, covering Europe and North America. Shows in New York City and Birmingham, England comprised the Three Sides Live album released the following year. The tour also marked the first appearance of the Vari-Lite automated lighting system, in which Genesis invested.
|2.||"No Reply at All"||4:33|
|3.||"Me and Sarah Jane"||Banks||6:02|
|4.||"Keep It Dark"||4:33|
|3.||"Man on the Corner"||Collins||4:28|
|4.||"Like It or Not"||Rutherford||4:58|
Credits are adapted from the album's sleeve notes.
- Genesis – producers
- Hugh Padgham – engineer
- Bill Smith – album cover
- Chris Peyton – sleeve adaptation (for The Redroom)
- Carol Willis – project co-ordination
- Tony Smith – manager
|France – SNEP||Gold (100,000 units)||1981|
|Germany – BVMI||Gold (250,000 units)||1988|
|Italy – AFI||Gold (50,000 units)||25 October 1981|
|United Kingdom – BPI||Gold (100,000 units)||24 September 1981|
|United States – RIAA||2x Platinum (2,000,000 units)||11 February 1988|
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