Album Review: Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976)

When Peter Gabriel departed Genesis in 1975, thus ending for many ‘the classic years of Genesis’, the remaining members auditioned as many as 400 replacements before opting for already incumbent drummer Phil Collins as the groups new vocalist. Collins vocal ability for the material was not in any doubt. In fact critics of the day suggested he sounded too similar to Gabriel. However, the prospect of replacing the theatrical and active Gabriel with a singer stuck behind a drum kit was a little more concerning. Obviously this was no great problem in a studio environment but was a cause for concern if they were to continue with the flamboyance of the live shows. For this reason Bill Bruford of Yes and King Crimson was hired as second drummer (a drummer of far too great ability to be referred to as ‘second drummer’ but I’m sure you know what I mean) for live performances. He did not play on any of the studio sessions and Collins continued to handle all the drumming duties on the album.

With the new line up in place and plenty of song ideas Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins went into Trident Studios in October 1975 and recorded what was to become their best selling album to date. In fact “A Trick of the Tail” more than doubled the bands previous album sales.

The album itself is a beautiful collection of songs all written or co-written by keyboardist Banks, which is probably why the overall feel of the album is that the songs are far more keyboard than guitar driven. This, of course, was eventually to drive Hackett away from the band once and for all. His somewhat spartan writing credits of just three showing the constraits he felt within the band.

The opening track ‘Dance on a Volcano’ is one of only two songs on the album to be credited as a group composition. On previous albums all tracks had been credited to the group but for “A Trick of the Tail” each track had indivudual composer credits. Starting off with a very distinctive riff it soon builds into a peice the equal of any of the Gabriel era tracks. ‘Entangled’, often cited as Tony Banks favourite track from the album is a nicely layered song with gentle verses and a slightly more powerful chorus. The ending of the song, which lyrically deals with serious illness, has a powerful cathedral like sound about it courtesy of the choir section of Banks’ mellotron. ‘Squonk’ is a much heavier track and according to Collins was a nod in the direction of Led Zeppelin. Collins drumming is certainly heavier than normal and rocky as the track is it has more in common with the eighties Genesis than Led Zeppelin for me. Initially called ‘Indians’ it tells the mythical tale of a squonk which dissolves into a pool of tears if it is captured. ‘Mad Man Moon’ starts with a beautiful keyboard melody introduction before Collins melancholy vocal is backed with a fine understated piano. The song gradually builds into a far more powerful track and after a long instrumental passage Collins returns with a more menacing vocal in an entirely different tone to the melancholia of earlier before reverting back to the initial style. The flute like melody of the introduction then returns to become the ending. It is probably the most structured piece on the album and melody/vocal wise is surely the highlight.

Collins does his best Gabriel impression on ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’ using the former frontmans habit of characterising parts of the song using different voices and accents. ‘Ripples’ is the longest song on the album and once again starts in a very quiet understated way before a more powerful and catchy chorus takes over. The song, as with many on the album, is heavily piano driven but also features some very prominent 12 string guitar. Title track ‘A Trick of the Tale’ was originally written around the time of the “Foxtrot” album and has a mythical almost Narnia like theme to it. Despite the apparent sadness of the lyric is has a very upbeat feel to it. Album closer ‘Los Endos’ is a jazz like instrumental which features several melodies and riffs from previous tracks, most notably ‘Squonk’ and ‘Dance on a Volcano’. Towards the end of the song Collins can be heard singing a couple of lines from ‘As Sure As Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)’ from the “Foxtrot” album as a tribute to departed vocalist Peter Gabriel.

I remember “A Trick of the Tail” along with the following years Fleetwood Mac album “Rumours” being particularly popular with the girls in my o’level art class. Our trendy and hip teacher allowed us to play records whilst we worked. The boys of course put on Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin etc and would groan audibly when the lighter choices of the girls got played. Secretly though we enjoyed every minute of them !

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM February 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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5 Responses to Album Review: Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976)

  1. kevmoore says:

    Some bands have grabbed me in the moments when, in the populist view, they have taken a nosedive. The James Gang with Tommy Bolin as opposed to Joe Walsh, Marillion with Steve Hogarth as opposed to Fish, and Genesis, when Mr. Collins went to ‘stand at the front’. This album was ‘ a guilty pleasure’ for me too (along with those ‘o’ level art girls!) I still love this album, and Collins has always done his best work with Genesis, his solo outings becoming more and more ‘wallpaper’ after the personal anguish of Face Value. Interestingly, I love Gabriel’s work, but at the time, I needed Collins as the bridge to discover and appreciate it.

    • I loved the Troiano James Gang albums too, and even the post Bolin ones had their moments. ‘Trick of the Tail’ is one of those special albums that is somehow more than just an album if you know what I mean. Although maybe thats got more than a little something to do with the ‘o’ level art girls !!!!

  2. trople says:

    Great retrospective on the album!
    Mad Man Moon is my favourite Genesis song, can’t believe they never performed it live. Also nice to finally know what the lyrics are during Los Endos’s fade-out!

  3. Miguel García González says:

    Out of doubt “A trick of…” is one of my all-time favorites, only to compare, for example, with “Abbey road” from the Liverpooleans. “A trick..” is a clasic taste, enjoyable in many senses.
    My mother, liked “Mad mad moon” very much and some good friends of mine were atracted
    by the mesmerizing “Ripples”, like me. I have a special relations with “Entangled”, a solace,
    comfortgiving song, in the event of illnes and further. It’s a dreamy state of mind about a nurse of the heart, to wake up again and feel good. In fact (but not only), “A trick of the Tail” is a healing bunch of songs, a therapy for the soul an body. I thought the middletheme in “Ripples” is a synthetised-gitar solo by Steve Hackett. I met Hackett for an interview, years ago, in Germany,
    and we talked about Gitars, but i forgot to ask him what about “Ripples”…

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