Many fans often regard this album as the band’s greatest and most sweeping statement, one that would ultimately see the departure soon after of Peter Gabriel, Genesis’ often eccentric frontman, famous for his stage antics as he was for his outrageous costumes. Conceived in 1974, and released as a double LP, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway saw the group at its most adventurous and sonically inventive. Although the idea was Gabriel’s, the singer was certainly no Pete Townsend or Roger Waters when it came to concept albums, in the vein of Tommy, Quadrophenia (with whom Lamb shares a common albeit tenuous theme) or The Dark Side Of The Moon. Concerned with a young Puerto Rican punk named Rael, as a narrative the album can be somewhat difficult to follow.
Gabriel explained the conception behind it: “It was intended to be like a Pilgrim’s Progress, an adventure through which one gets a better sense of self. I was trying to give it a street slant. It seemed that prancing around in fairly land was rapidly becoming obsolete.”
We begin, appropriately enough, with the title song, a track dominated by modern synths and busy beats. At this point the band (or Gabriel at least) seemed intent on abandoning altogether their neo-medieval influences in favour of more contemporary styles and production methods. “Fly On A Windshield” is Genesis’ very own Kashmir, and remains one of the heaviest hitting numbers they ever recorded. With its Eastern melodies and Collins’ Bonham-like drumming, including atmospheric guitar and keyboards, it hits the listener with all the force of a Sirocco wind. The delicate and appealing “Cuckoo Cocoon” is followed by an ominously claustrophobic “In The Cage”.
“The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging” is entertaining, in a sort of hallucinatory way, although “Back In N.Y.C.”, “Hairless Heart” and “Counting Out Time” are little more than filler. Not so the stunningly hypnotic and melancholy “Carpet Crawlers”, where Gabriel and Collins’ vocals complement each other perfectly throughout the chorus. “The Chamber Of 32 Doors” starts off like something that belongs in the future, before soon shifting into CSNY territory. “Lilywhite Lilith” is another semi-old fashioned rocker (well, kind of), however soon the hallucinations kick in again on instrumentals “The Waiting Room”, “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats”, “The Colony Of Slippermen”, “Ravine”, and “Riding The Scree”. “Anyway” harkens back to their previous LP Selling England By The Pound, even including a half decent guitar solo, while our protagonist Rael greets Death himself, on “Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist”, has his flesh eaten in a swimming pool (“Lamias”), gets his genitalia surgically removed and placed inside a test tube, only to have them stolen by a bird, which he then follows into a cloud (presumably in an attempt to retrieve his precious jewels), descending only to save his brother from drowning, who turns out to be Rael all along (“In The Rapids”). The whole thing is all very confusing.
But everything works out in the end, or at least one assumes, with the upbeat synthesizer driven “it”, drawing to a close what is arguably Genesis’ most perverse collection of tunes ever.
Like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, another mammoth double LP, not every song succeeds in holding the listener’s attention. Perhaps too much of it smacks of a movie soundtrack, hence the lack of cohesion and consistency. It is also a touch overlong, which means that by the end you’ll probably not want to listen to Lamb again for another three months. As Tony Banks remembered: “Making The Lamb started off great, but it turned into hell at the end. And by the time we had finished we were fed up with it. People look back on that album now and say it’s a classic. But it got unanimously bad reviews at the time.”
Being the final LP with Peter Gabriel makes this two record behemoth a must have, despite all its post-rock nihilistic futurisms. Indeed The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was an ambitiously impressive summation of what Genesis had been working towards for the previous seven years. One which they all should be proud of, even if like The White Album, it would have benefited with a bit of editing.
My own advice is to ditch the storyline completely and simply take each song on its own merits, that way the listener has a greater chance of enjoying both the music and lyrics, either of which can range from good, to absolutely brilliant.