Co-founding guitarist Anthony Phillips left Genesis more than four decades ago, and on the newly released Private Parts and Pieces XI: City of Dreams, he may have never sounded further away.
There is little guitar, for instance, and none of the lengthy compositional excursions that have become the coin of the realm in progressive rock. You could, literally, fit four or five of Phillips’ new songs, each of them a burst of intellect and emotion, into the nine-minute closer on 1970′s Trespass — Phillips’ final project with
Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Co.
That’s not to say there isn’t a larger, oftentimes heartfelt narrative to be found on the crepuscular, keyboard-driven, very Eno-esque Private Parts and Pieces XI: City of Dreams. As the album title implies, however, sometimes it just has to be stitched together.
Take the title track, which is at first a pulsing journey across a half-lit cityscape. Seeming here and then gone in a blink of an eye, The piece then returns, five cuts later, as “City of Dreams II.” This time, there is very different, almost pastoral wonder, as Phillips slows the composition’s heartbeat to a ruminative pace. Nine tracks further along, “City of Dreams III” begins with a luminous wash of keyboards, and then a shifting, very dark portent surges through the track — as if a very dark night has fallen. Finally, another 14 songs later, there’s “City of Dreams IV,” with its twinkling promise of a new dawn.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A trip through the old Genesis albums had us singing the praises of "Firth of Fifth" all over again, along with several other cuts from both the Peter Gabriel- and Phil Collins-led eras.]
Phillips, over the course of two thirds of City of Dreams, has constructed a layered composition that works like a series of interconnecting short stories, though none of the individual editions of “City of Dreams” goes much longer than two minutes. A similar connective atmosphere surrounds “Mystery Train,” which moves with an undulating, trance-like current in three segments across the length of this new album, which is the sixth in a sequence of unreleased and incidental music that goes all the way back to 1978.
Elsewhere, Phillips dabbles in a phantasmagorical array of textures, ambient cadences and passions. From the serrated nihilism of “Piledriver” to the echoing undersea quietude of “Coral Island,” from the heartbroken stoicism of the piano-driven “Air and Grace” to the deep-space curiosities of “Star’s End,” Phillips never seems to paint with the same brush twice.
Those looking for a return to the folk-based whimsy of his early work with Genesis won’t find a lot of connective material here, though there seem to be hints of impish delight within “Astral Bath and “Sea of Tranquility,” among others. Too, “Across the Steppes,” an angular and searching piece, shows how much Phillips has to offer on guitar — even if he rarely picks it up on City of Dreams.
Those quibbles aside, there still is much to be learned from, and to be felt within, Phillips’ latest journey in miniature. Sure, he may be using fewer words than he used to, but that doesn’t mean these anecdotes aren’t still fascinating to behold.