We tend to cover album milestones with a certain frequency here. Whether it’s an iconic album, a personal favorite, or both, we’re no strangers to commemorating the anniversaries of records that matter to us. This time we’re going to make an exception and focus on an album that does not meet the above criteria but is worthy of our analysis, nonetheless.
Generally speaking, self-titled albums tend to be debuts. And when they're not, there is a tendency to dig a bit deeper into this particular significance, often ascribing an artist defining, statement-of-purpose label to the decision behind not naming the release. And while there are surely instances of that to be found—'a scattered, sprawling and indulgent piece of work, by a lethargic, yet often brilliant quartet which no longer operates as a unit', seems to be the message behind the nomenclature of The Beatles’ self-titled release aka ‘The White Album’—more often than not, the self-titling of an album, deep into an artist’s career, has no real significance.
In this particular case, the decision to self-title was based on writing the songs as a unit, a valid yet uncommon reason for not naming an album, but then again, these gentlemen used to be bandmates with someone who had a very interesting take on all of this: Peter Gabriel decided his solo albums would all be self-titled; like issues of a magazine, he likened it to. Until his record company put a see thru sticker of his fourth and called it Security [Geffen-1982], Gabriel had managed a trifecta of self-titled albums. That he called his three following albums So [Geffen-1986], Us [Geffen-1992] and Up [Geffen-2002], respectively, probably says more than he wanted to let on about his views on naming albums, but we digress.
Gabriel’s influence pops up on Genesis in the form of leadoff track and first single “Mama”, which harkens back to Gabriel’s third album [Mercury-1980], on which Phil Collins played drums, and which later influenced his own “In the Air Tonight”. The band’s most successful UK single—which contains a maniacal laugh by Collins, inspired by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s hip-hop classic “The Message”, making the song a doozy of a trivia game answer—"Mama" opens the album seemingly implying a more direct return to the band’s art rock roots. No dice.
“Mama” is a ruse; Genesis is the album that marks their official delving into the straight up pop music sweepstakes and the unforgivable “Illegal Alien” is part of that Faustian development. Yeah, towards the end of the album they take a stab at such prog-leaning, Duke [Atlantic-1980] and/or Abacab [Atlantic-1981] approved fare with “Silver Rainbow” and “It’s Gonna Get Better”, but by then the damage has been done.
Genesis is the last of the band’s transitional albums before they unofficially became The Phil Collins Show, which is oddly fitting for a self-titled album, but there you go.