It’s time to give Genesis’ Calling All Stations, ex-frontman Ray Wilson a fair hearing

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Fans and critics alike pretty much ripped Genesis’ final album Calling All Stations to shreds when it arrived on September 1, 1997, 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 Phil Collins, Disney’s go-to guy, 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 Genesis 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 Genesis’ dramatic title track, or the velvety ballads “Shipwrecked” and “Not About Us” — and enough non-offensive filler that Calling All Stations remains a surprisingly intriguing listen.

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

Tom Johnson

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.
Tom Johnson
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  • Mark Kenyon

    According to the BPI Calling All Stations went GOLD on the 1st September 1997…. this information was given to me in 2003.

  • Lee Edward McIlmoyle

    I was a fan of this album from day one. I believe it was done a complete disservice by both radio and the pop consuming audiences of the day who completely misunderstood what Genesis was. I also think Ray WIlson was completely robbed, and it’s the one black mark I have against Mike and Tony, that they lost faith with their band because of a tepid response to their first/only album with Ray. They should have stayed the course and followed it up.

  • sickofthecrazies

    Just like many Genesis fans, I am guilty of buying this record, giving it half a listen, and then waiting over a decade before giving it another try. I often wonder, if Van Halen wasn’t finding the totally unexpected success with their current tour, would their much maligned single album with Gary Cherone as vocalist from 1998 be getting a second look over 15 years later? Somehow, I bet it would.

    • chutch15

      Nah, VH’s “III” still pretty much stinks. “One I Want” and “Fire in the Hole” are the one real shiners IMO.

  • Art R

    It just doesn’t make my soul soar. I’ve tried on several occasions. Much the same for Peter Gabriel’s Up.

  • chutch15

    CAS is a good album. I enjoy it very much actually. You mentioned out that they hadn’t done long, complex arrangements since “Abacab”. That’s not true. In fact, “Abacab” only had one (“Dodo/Lurker”). “Genesis” had “Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea” and “Invisible Touch” had “Domino” (“The Brazilian” was nice and proggy as well.) But then you get to “We Can’t Dance,” Phil Collins’ last album with the band and there were three long songs on it: “Driving the Last Spike,” “Dreaming While You Sleep” and the fabulous “Fading Lights.” CAS’s best songs, IMO, are the longer ones: “The Dividing Line,” “There Must Be Some Other Way,” and “One Man’s Fool.” I wish a 2nd album with this lineup had been produced.

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