Genesis – Selling England By The Pound


“You were there when we needed it”. These were Phil Collins’s last words to the 500.000 fans at the Genesis concert at Rome’s Circo Massimo. It was the night of the 14th of July 2007. However, their hour of need for help and support was long before then, back in 1972, when the English band, deep in debt and not very popular in the U.K, was very close to a break up. In the April of that year the five talented twenty-year-old young men, resigned to their own destiny, came to Italy and had a huge and unpredictable success. After their triumphal concerts at Rome’s Piper Club, the band gained a new lease of life and, to cut a long story short, in 1973 published the Selling England by the Pound album.

I have now come to the hardest part, as I find myself facing the embarrassing task of reviewing a complex, fascinating record, a real masterpiece, which would require an exhaustive study. There’s also another problem not to be overlooked. I know this album by heart. However, every time I listen to it, it sounds different. I always (and I really mean always) find a guitar phrase by Steve Hackett or a flute passage by Peter Gabriel, which I had never noticed before. Paradoxically, even the lyrics are never the same. For instance: young Romeo and Juliet, the two protagonists of the long song The Cinema Show never have the same faces or the same appearance. Twenty years ago I was convinced that Romeo was very thin and wore a floral tie, but today I couldn’t focus on him any more. In the Eighties, Juliet used to wear a lavender perfume. Today it’s vanilla beans. I believe that this depends on the fact that both the music and the lyrics have been conceived to evoke feelings and states of mind. The listener falls immediately into the trap and, taken into a sort of pleasant haze, he loses his sense of reality. There is neither logic nor consequentiality in the lyrics: metaphors, allegories, oblique quotations taken from English pre-romantic, romantic and even gothic traditions. Thanks to the five visionaries’ wisdom, all these suggestions turn into an irresistible drug for the poor listener. Besides the aforementioned The Cinema Show, the magic comes ever and ever again with the epic Firth of Fifth, with the mysterious  Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, with the joyfully nonsensical I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), with More Fool Me – where Phil Collins’s falsetto acquires the texture of the pure crystal –, and with the moving After the Ordeal. I shall leave it to that as I don’t know what  else to add. I have tears in my eyes. Even if it’s really true that the Italians saved Genesis, I can state, without fear of contradiction , that this is the only good thing that our people have done in the last fifty years.

Translation by Michele Curatolo (edited by Sabrina Macchi)