Like It Or Not: Abacab Turns 40

From Prog to Pop, this 11th Genesis LP marked another new bold beginning for the legendary trio

Abacab European Tour Poster (Image: Google)

The appearance of Abacab on September 18, 1981, confirmed the fact that Genesis, once a shining peer of England’s progressive community, was no longer the band it once was. 

Of course, that came as no surprise to anyone that had followed the band from the beginning. Down to only three core members — singer/drummer Phil Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist Mike Rutherford — and supplemented by the Earth Wind and Fire horn section on the song “No Reply At All,” the core combo had opted to soldier on after the loss of former lead singer Peter Gabriel, the man most responsible for their initial craft and creativity.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

The transition had begun with …And Then There Were Three three years before, but at that early stage they still seemed intent on maintaining their prog posture. However Duke, released two years later, clearly reflected a commitment to hew towards a more commercial sound, yielding two of the group’s most successful singles to date — “Turn It On Again” and “Misunderstanding” (a third single, “Duchess,” progressed no further than the middle realms of the record charts). It also made it clear that the trio were intent on expanding their following and in an effort to entice the musical mainstream.

Genesis Abacab, Atlantic Records 1981

Abacab, recorded under the aegis of producer Hugh Padgham, the man that had helmed Collins’ earlier solo excursion, Face Value, was conceived at the band’s newly purchased studio The Farm and mostly borne from a series of jams and collaborative songwriting sessions. By that point, Genesis were a tightly-knit trio with extensive roadwork under their collective belts. As a result, the sound is crisp and clean, immaculately polished and precise. The band still retained its instrumental dexterity, and indeed, on songs such as the title track, “Dodo/Lurker” and “Keep It Dark,” the group’s instrumental instincts were clearly intact. The fact that there were only nine tracks in all allowed room for the group to stretch out, even while retaining a series of concise pop hooks. Once again, the album yielded several singles destined for the pop charts — the title track, “Keep It Dark,” “Man on the Corner,” and “No Reply At All,” the catchiest track on the album. 

Abacab was originally conceived as a double album, but eventually whittled down to a single disc owing to the fact that the group deemed the additional material to be too repetitive of their earlier efforts. Yet while certain songs — the ever-insistent “Who Dunnit” in particular — showed they were still willing to expand the template, it retains the group’s quintessential sound and a style associated with the latter day Genesis’ full pop appeal. Consequently, those looking for stand-out cuts were rewarded with two tracks in particular — the upbeat, brass-infused “No Reply” and the more meditative “Man on the Corner.”


VIDEO: Genesis “No Reply”

Still, there were those that lamented the fact that Genesis had changed so dramatically from its early incarnation to the commercial combo they had become. When performed in concert, songs from Abacab were often booed by those who preferred the earlier, more adventurous efforts. While certain elements were kept in common — the keyboard textures and the pacing in particular — the ‘80s had essentially ushered in a new band, making for a clear divide between past and present.

That of course was evident, and as clear as A-B-A-C-A-B.



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

One thought on “Like It Or Not: Abacab Turns 40

  • September 21, 2021 at 8:53 am

    Love that Genesis driving sound from the early 80’s – reminds me a bit of Synchronicity II by The Police. My favorite tracks are Abacab and No Reply with that dynamite brass.


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