We Can't Dance


Atlantic Records, 1991


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in 1991, I started a music reviews page for the college newspaper I wrote for. I was the features editor, and was eager to express myself after leaving radio in a nasty set of circumstances. (Just wait until one day I write my tell-all autobiography... I could get one asshole fired from that school easily.)

I still remember that the first album we featured was Genesis's We Can't Dance, which had just hit the streets around the time of our first issue. If I only knew then that this -- the first studio album from the British trio in five years -- would be the last outing with vocalist/drummer Phil Collins.

It's still not entirely clear to me why Collins decided to leave Genesis, but what is undeniable is that the songs contained on this disc were some of the most challenging the band had written in a long time. And while it wasn't a complete return to their glory days, it was most definitely a step in the right direction.

The leadoff track and single, "No Son Of Mine," dealt with a surprisingly dark subject for the band -- child sexual abuse and the scars it leaves -- but it also showed Collins, guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks returning to a more natural sound. Collins wisely abandoned the electronic drums that were so overused on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Invisible Touch and started using a real drum kit again. On this one song alone, the difference is refreshing. Surprisingly poppy for such a dark song, "No Son Of Mine" was Genesis returning to the form that made them pop stars in the early '80s.

Of the other singles from this album, "Hold On My Heart" and "Never A Time" are sappy, but pretty, ballads that tended to show the weaker side of the band, especially when they relied too much on them. Of the two, I prefer "Never A Time" the most; this is the hit that wasn't for the band. "I Can't Dance" is a goofy number that features Genesis mocking themselves for being un-hip. (Best line from this song: "Ooh, she's got a body under that shirt" -- dirty old man alert!) If you ever get a chance to view the video, watch it; it's hysterical.

"Jesus He Knows Me" is a slap in the face against television evangelists who are more concerned about fleecing their flocks than shepherding them, and contains some very sharp jabs against the more hypocritical ones. While this song did get featured on The Way We Walk Volume One: The Shorts, this is a track that also woulda, coulda, shoulda been a hit single.

But the highlight of We Can't Dance is the ten-minute "Driving The Last Spike," a powerful epic of laborers building England's railways. If you want to talk about Genesis being a progressive rock band, this is easily the most powerful marriage between the two styles that this band has ever done - and the time flies by quickly.

The whole first half of We Can't Dance is powerful and solid, but the second half falters a bit. Tracks like "Tell Me Why" are still good, but numbers like "Way Of The World" and "Since I Lost You" do not live up to the potential that the rest of the album commandeered. "Fading Lights" is another attempt to create an epic like "Driving The Last Spike," but it falls short of the mark.

Still, a more natural feel to this album is what sets it apart from some of Genesis's '80s work (especially Invisible Touch, which I thought was good, but sterile), and stands as a powerful swansong to Collins's studio time with the band. This album does not get nearly the attention from radio that some of their older works do, but it's worth digging this one out, dusting it off, and playing it full volume. For nearly three-fourths of the way, We Can't Dance does almost no wrong -- and that's not a bad track record. But watch out near the end, when it develops two left feet.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.