Genesis just keeps getting weirder.
The only solid thing about its latest album, "Abacab," is a stubborn ambiguity plopped onto the tracks like a parked car. It's the group's downfall, this insistence on erasing all the outlines, but it's not without its appeal.
A near-miss quality pervades "Abacab"; songs are tossed off, not with the reckless genius of, say, Little Feat, but with the competent shrug of underachievers pressed to perform. Yet one has to admit, even admire, the sluggish intensity of this trio.
The title track sets a spare, highly rhythmic tone. Drummer Phil Collins exacts a perfectly sharp upbeat from every measure; keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford blur the edges with half-time pulses, giving the song's momentum the rubbery urgency of windshield wipers.
The song's beat (and certainly its title) suggests structure and form, yet the melody goes from a monotonous holding pattern into a middle eight of frenzied software before dropping back into its motorized groove, from which it meanders off in a disappointing fade-out. The song's lyrics, like most on this album, seem to gurgle up from some Freudian sump of unfocused paranoia: Look up on the wall Down on the floor Under the pillows Behind the door There's a crack in the mirror Somewhere there's a hole in the windowpane Do you think I'm to blame Tell me do you think I'm to blame
"No Reply" follows the pattern of guilt, accusation and general paranoia ("Dance with me / You never dance with me"), but this time the insecurities are made danceable, thanks to the horn section of Earth, Wind and Fire, who also helped to make Collins' summer solo effort, "Face Value," a success.
Side one is fleshed out by "Me and Sarah Jane," a kind of acid-rock ballad, and "Keep It Dark," a Zeppelinesque plaint whose lyrics lose some of their impact to Banks' synthesizer: It seems strange to have to lie About a world so bright And tell instead this strange old story About a world of night. . . Keep it dark
"Dodo," which opens side two, features the album's most forgettable melody and inane lyrics ("Fishy got a hook in his throat / Fishy got problems"). But "Lurker" gets the album back on its murky psychological plane, and "Who Dunnit?" is a perfect follow-up, with its guilty cries of "I didn't do it" and "We know, we know / We all know."
Collins is well-suited to this anxious brand of rock, as was evident on "In the Air Tonight," his hit from "Face Value." His voice has a perpetual neck-straining quality, as though he's on tiptoe, actually trying to see the notes he's targeting.
"Man on the Corner" is the second song most likely to get air play. It's as full of musical software and mental hardware as the title track, but comes on lighter, brighter, less intense. Banks also provides a running synthesizer hook that's less threatening than his usual contribution.
The final two cuts are fine, but they don't seem to fit into Genesis' latest incarnation. "Like it or Not" sounds like the Genesis of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," while "Another Record" seems a faint, chanty tribute to former member Peter Gabriel.
Generally, "Abacab" is a highly interesting album, the members showing less inclination to technical exhibitionism and more to a compactness of sound. There's an economy at work throughout the record that suggests Collins is taking more of a guiding role in the band, now that their number has dwindled to three.
"Abacab" sounds more like Genesis than any of their other albums, the way Foreigner's "4," at long last, gave that band a trademark sound. Yet, as always
THE ALBUM -- Genesis, "Abacab," Atlantic SD 19313.
THE SHOW -- Monday at 8 at the Capital Centre.