Nursery Cryme


Atco Records, 1971

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


For their third release, favorable reviews and a growing fan following eager for their live shows had energized Genesis as they headed into the studio. But, they were also challenged by the departure of guitarist Anthony Phillips and drummer John Mayhew. Enter guitarist Steve Hackett and a diminutive drummer (their third in two years) with a huge sound and bombastic style, whom you might have heard of -- a young Phil Collins. Collins would stick around for the life of the band, and go on to…well…other things.

Hackett proved to be a perfect match for Genesis, with his intricate style and gift for using guitar effects to produce a myriad of colorful sounds. Also, he tended to favor heavier compositions, which would add a harder edge to their songs. Collins was another excellent addition, and would prove to be one of rock's finest drummers. Also he could sing, which would help to add some depth to the bands previously weak vocal harmonies. The infusion of new blood would help to be a catalyst that helped form the structure and style of the bands future.

Genesis' first two albums tended towards a soft, pastoral sound. Slow and mid-tempo songs were the norm. Often the energy of the music was not in synch with the power and depth of the lyrics. A groundbreaking song from their previous release Trespass, "The Knife," changed all that with its harder edge and driving rhythm. A lot of listeners were charged up by this blast of musical power, and it became the showpiece of their live set. The band took the hint, and Nursery Cryme fuses their traditionally softer style with a power and drive that was largely missing from progressive rock on the whole.

Another change was apparent with vocalist Peter Gabriel, who displays a vocal style very different from his earlier work. Previously he had stayed within pretty standard vocal stylings. On Nursery Cryme he begins to expand the scope of his abilities by using his dynamic range and gift for inflection to create a myriad of voices and characterizations.

Genesis was hard at work creating a sound that smoothly fused classic symphonic music with rock music and modern instrumentation. At the time many progressive bands were using the influence of symphonic music, but they frequently ended up sounding like electronified orchestras. What Genesis was creating was much closer to symphonic rock. A huge part of this was the work of keyboardist Tony Banks. Banks' complex and dynamic style blurred the lines between classical compositions and rock with a fluidity that many bands lacked.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In addition to breaking new musical ground, Nursery Cryme shows the first signs of the band's talent for creating bizarre stories flavored with fantasy and mythology, and disturbing dark imagery; melding their often bizarre visions with finely crafted, mutated symphonic compositions. Genesis' bizarre lyrical journeys took off with style on this release, beginning with the classic "The Musical Box." Based on a freakish fairy tale, the story of a young girl who, while playing croquet, knocks her young friend's head off with her mallet. Later, the boy's head appears when she turns the key of her beloved jack-in-the-box, and he materializes before her and quickly begins to age. The song is introduced with gentle acoustic guitars while Gabriel as the young boy, softly implores her to play the jack-in the-box and release him into the physical world: "Play me Old King Cole / So that I may join with you." The music builds in intensity, with Banks flailing away at a distorted minuet while Hackett slices and dices in and around the maniacal keys with razor-sharp guitar licks. As the boy ages into senility before her eyes, he pleads with the girl to indulge him in carnal favors before he dies. Gabriel delivers the lyrics with a creepy intensity, softly crooning "Brush back you hair / And let me get to know your flesh," then erupts into fury screaming "Why don't you touch me…touch me…NOW!" as the music rises in majestic chaos to a shattering crescendo.

The first two Genesis albums were distinctly dramatic and serious. On their third album, they display a wicked and absurd sense of humor, especially on the track "Revenge Of The Giant Hogweed," a sort of B horror movie set to music. The "regal hogweed" is stolen from its native Russia and brought to England. Taking root and thriving there, it takes revenge on the people of London, decimating them with its deadly venom. Another such venture into absurdity is the rollicking "Harold The Barrel." Harold, a restaurateur, cuts off his toes and serves them for tea. In shame, he totters on a high window ledge as the crowd below eggs him on, encouraging him to jump. Gabriel uses different voices to portray the many characters who appear in this song.

Two quieter songs on the album reflect the earlier Genesis style. "For Absent Friends" is a brief but touching vignette of an elderly couple reflecting on their past, featuring Phil Collins' first recorded lead vocal. "Harlequin" is a mid-tempo ballad featuring some beautiful guitar work by Hackett. As far as their impact on the album as a whole, these songs are overshadowed by the more dynamic tracks. They add some placidity to the album but are ultimately less strong for their lack of power and complexity when compared to the rest of the set. "Seven Stones" is another song that suffers the same fate. It probably would have been a standout track on the first two albums, but again lacks the impact of masterpieces like "The Musical Box" and "Revenge Of The Giant Hogweed." Their isn't a bad song on the album, but there are definitely some that are more memorable than others.

Closing the album is another song that would become a staple of future live shows, "The Fountain Of Salmacis," based on the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus. Betrayed by the nymph Salmacis, he cursed all that drank from her spring to become hermaphrodites. With its frequent time changes, complex instrumentation and mythological theme, it's practically a template for the prototypical progressive rock song.

Nursery Cryme proved to be a landmark of progressive rock, and set Genesis on the path to superstardom with its mix of lyrical depth and strong, complex compositions. This is a must have for any prog-rock fan. If you want to check out the best of one of prog-rock's finest, this is a great album to start with.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


Featuring a raw sound mostly absent on other Genesis albums, Nursery Cryme is a personal favorite. The mix of short tunes and extended mini suites enhances both kind of songs. On the lyrics department, this albums is a delight, covering mythology, surrealism, irony, absurdity and a mad sense of humour, most notably on the brilliant Harold the Barrel.

A great place for starters, this album is the shortest in genesis history (mere 39 mins), but also the most satisfying IMO.

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