Guilty pleasures: Genesis – Calling All Stations (1997)

by Tom Johnson

Fans and critics alike pretty much ripped Genesis‘ final album Calling All Stations to shreds when it came out, as it seemed to please no one in particular.

The old fans didn’t quite get the full-on prog-revival Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks promised, and newer fans wouldn’t touch it without Disney’s go-to guy, Phil Collins, fronting the band. In the considerable shoes of former vocalists Collins and Peter Gabriel, how was a stranger like Ray Wilson to make an impact?

Wilson’s warm, throaty delivery departed from the characteristic and often downright odd vocals (at least in the early, non-pop years of the band) of Gabriel and Collins, being neither quite as defining nor as charismatic.

The music too suffered from a lack of identity — was this the pop-powerhouse Genesis of the 1980s and ’90s, or the genre-defining prog Genesis of the 1970s? The album attempted to tread a thin line between the two, going further into heavy prog territory with long songs and complex instrumental passages than the band had since Abacab, but it also contained a fair number of the radio-friendly, simpler songs that the band focused on in the years following that quirky album.

And, so, no one really responded, leaving record stores and the label with batch after batch of this commercial dud. I, however, applied my usual critical stance: If it didn’t have the “Genesis” legacy to live up to, would I have enjoyed it anyway? Yes, I likely would have, and so I did.

There are some awkward moments, like the purposely eclectic “Alien Afternoon,” schmaltzy “If That’s What You Needed,” and the completely out-of-place, dated, and unnecessary “Small Talk,” but there are enough solid moments, like the dramatic title track, or the velvety ballads “Shipwrecked,” “Not About Us,” and enough non-offensive filler that it’s an occasionally intriguing listen.

Not to mention that I, at least, particularly enjoy Ray Wilson’s smooth-as-gravel voice.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://blindedbysound.com Josh Hathaway

    Tom, I think we’ve discussed this before but I, for one, liked the single “Congo” from this set. Didn’t buy the record because I’m a very casual Genesis fan that actually likes the Phil Collins-led FM singles. I’m not saying it’s better than the Gabriel-prog era; I haven’t listened to that phase extensively. Anyway, I remember hearing that single and I liked it. A lot. I bought a hits pkg that has “Congo” included and I’m glad it’s there.

  • http://culturefusionreviews.wordpress.com Eric Benac

    Played this for a friend who’s only casually into Genesis…and he loathed it.

    I can think of it as nothing less than a kitsch piece.

  • http://raindog469.livejournal.com raindog469

    Don’t know why this only showed up in my Google News alerts till now, but I also liked that album and wish Wilson had been able to do more with the band.

    There are at least four songs that I think stand above most of the band’s previous 3 or 4 albums, including Dividing Line, One Man’s Fool, Alien Afternoon and, yes, Congo. The latter was the first song I heard from the album, and while the loop-based songwriting left me cold, when the second verse came around and Wilson sang “Like a soldier ant/I will wait for the signal to act”, I suddenly realized I was listening to a cross between early-80s Genesis and early-90s Peter Gabriel solo material. At the time he lacked Gabriel’s gravitas, but he sold me on a Genesis single, something that hadn’t happened since “Duchess”.

    It hasn’t been in frequent rotation on my stereo in about 15 years, but it’s just not as bad as the sales seem to indicate.

    Fans wishing for a taste of more Genesis-with-Wilson would be well-served to find a boot of Steve Hackett’s latest tour, specifically the Milan show, at which Wilson guested on two songs. He did a great job with a band that’s more committed to Genesis’ earlier sound than the band themselves were when they toured this record. I listened to it out of curiosity and was blown away by the whole show. Hackett’s band is actually touring the US with their all-Genesis show this fall. With or without Wilson, I wish I could see them — but they’re coming to my hometown right in the middle of a vacation we booked months ago.