I bought a CD copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway from my hometown’s local record store sometime in what must have been late 2007. I was still riding the high of having seen Genesis live with my best friend and decided it was time to buy everything the band had ever released. I knew a handful of songs from The Lamb, but had never heard the album in its entirety before. I didn’t have an iPod yet, so I was forced to carry around a gawky Walkman CD player in order to listen to it on the go.
I distinctly recall this conversation I had with a friend of mine’s mother at the time:
“Is that a Genesis CD you’ve got there?”
“Yeah, it’s great! The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!”
“Which one is that, again? What were the singles off it?”
“Er – Uh, ‘Counting Out Time’?”
*look of confusion/disdain*
It must have been November when I was first hearing it. Strange to think that 41 years ago, on this date, the record was first released. I can’t help but feel I’m late to the party. This post should have arrived a year sooner, on the 40th anniversary. Ain’t that just the way things go?
When I first experienced The Lamb, I remember feeling odd. It’s an unquestionably colder album than those that came before it. Goodbye to the pastoral Victorian English countryside, and hello to the callous triptychs of a Lewis Carroll-inspired New York City. That very tone is set from the packaging alone. Every release prior had been adorned with a hand-painted image, rife with vibrant colors. The Lamb swapped that trend for a grim, black and white graphic – designed by the legendary Hipgnosis.
It has taken me years to make sense of the damn thing, too. A 15-year-old in 2007 doesn’t necessarily know who the hell Caryl Chessman is and doesn’t immediately pick up on lyrical allusions to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve dissected every sinew of The Lamb; I’ve read every existing essay and review. I’ve gone on to absorb each related interview with the band members themselves. Gabriel has been adamant about not going into too much detail about the meaning behind the album’s concept and insists that each listener develop their own unique interpretation. I’ve always admired that. Nothing is worse than establishing your own personal meaning to a story, only to have its author tell you you’re wrong. It takes all the fun out of trying to determine what it means when Rael (the album’s central character/narrator) comes across a dilapidated town inhabited by rubbery STD-people.
There’s a lot of teenage angst being exorcised within the lyrics. Rael is a sex-depraved, angry young man who is being forced to confront his lesser half in order to better himself, and that directly relates to my time in high school. Whether I understood the words or not, I could relate to the venom in Gabriel’s shouts, and the frustration in Steve Hackett’s guitar work. I could unravel my own existence in the sawing buzz of Tony Banks’ synth, and in the rhythmic improvisations of Phil Collins. Perhaps angriest of all is Mike Rutherford’s bass playing – channeled through every fuzz effects pedal known on earth.
It’s a mammoth of a record. It features some of the best lyrics Gabriel has ever written, along with some of the finest playing from each respective band member. It captures a band firing on all creative cylinders, perpetually climbing for the stars.
It is fitting that the finale of the album is “It“. On this track, Gabriel proclaims: “It is here/it is now.” He never gets around to telling us what It actually is. But going back to what I was saying earlier, maybe that’s left to the listener to decide.
It is the soundtrack to my teenage rebellion. It is the soundscape that continuously enthralls my imagination. It is an undying creative inspiration. And today, It is 41 years old. Happy Birthday. – Connor