Howdy Carpet Crawlers, welcome to the fifteenth concept album of HACK. If you’ve made it this far, grab your knives and forks—I’ve roasted a delicious HACK of Lamb.
If you’re one of those people who dismisses things by saying, “I just don’t like that type of music,” well, fair enough. I do love this kind of music so I’m way beyond biased. Some would call it “progressive rock.” That’s what Genesis with Peter Gabriel was, I suppose, except um, it was GOOD progressive rock. All you Rush, Marillion, et al. fans out there can cry foul, but I’m calling it right here and now. There is no progressive rock as good as Genesis ever was. I make that argument on both technical and creative levels of musicianship.
One could consider The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway Genesis’ crowning achievement. Twenty-three songs that tell a coherent, albeit disjointed story, rife with Jungian archetypes, universal themes and supernatural metaphors. It’s important to separate the music from the story even though the two seem to blend seamlessly.
Prior to The Lamb the band always wrote democratically. For the concept album Peter Gabriel insisted on writing the entire story and lyrics himself. During the recording sessions Gabriel’s wife had a daughter who almost died due to numerous birth complications. Peter was forced to grow up damn quick, though the band didn’t understand. He would drive 4 -5 hours a night between the hospital with his wife and newborn just to record vocals for The Lamb. He was under pressure, he was emotional, and it shows all throughout this album. The main character Rael experiences a mythical transformation. It’s almost an anti-hero journey. Whatever Peter went through while writing that album, you can feel it.
“It is real. It is Rael.”
So while Gabriel wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals alone or with Phil Collins, musically the album was mostly the work of Tony Banks, Michael Rutherford, Phil Collins, and Steve Hackett. There is something completely unique about The Lamb. Nothing else sounds like it. Every song has its own dimension and yet they blend together into a satisfying narrative ride with all its ups and downs, thrills and chills. In the pantheon of concept albums The Lamb is vastly underrated. Most people hear concept album and think The Who’s Tommy or Quadrophenia, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or Kiss’ The Music of the Elders soundtrack.
All of those are great concept albums but their lasting hype tends to overshadow the genius of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The Wall may topple the Lamb in terms of pure craziness yet still the protagonist is caught in his distortion and blending of real world elements. Tommy and Quadrophenia are also likewise based in the real world. I have no idea what The Music of the Elders is about but I am sure those Elders must be pretty lame.
In The Lamb, the main character Rael enters a subconscious, subterranean homesick journey of transformation. He deals with crisis that are completely human and ultimately spiritual. But it’s all in a world that warps what’s real to the point of being almost entirely unreal. The whole damn thing is peopled with bizarre settings, semi-mythological monsters, punk sentimentality, occult symbolism, slippery lovers, insatiable villains, masturbatorial metaphors, iconic allegories, and a bunch of bad puns. Oh, and don’t forget Brian Eno’s awesome enossification. No science fiction. No hobbits. Fantasy, yes–like Little Nemo of Slumberland raping Alice in Wonderland.
There’s also Rael’s older brother John, who shows up at key plot moments: in the cage, in the grand parade of lifeless packaging, in the chamber of 32 doors, in the colony of the slippermen, and finally, in the rapids. The heart of the Lamb’s story is about Rael’s relationship with his brother John. Spoiler: They’re both ONE. At the end Rael has to decide between going through a portal back into his old life in NYC, maybe his only chance to do so, or saving his brother John who is drowning in the rapids below. He risks his life to save his brother, pulling him to shore. When Rael looks at his brother’s face he is shocked to discover that it’s his own face. Both bodies become one and dissolve into the it. It being eternal lameness, some may argue. It. is most certainly the lamest song on the album. And yet, it’s still catchy.
“It’s only knock and know all, but I like it.”
Live performances of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway are numerous both in video and audio bootleg form, if you know where to look. I personally have somewhere between 10 and 15 different live audio versions of The Lamb. Not bad for a tour that totaled 102 gigs. True to the concept of a concept album, The Lamb Live was a theatrical production, with Gabriel donning his trademark costumes as he performed the major characters from the story. In between sections he’d tell the surrael story which is pure spoken word awesomeness. The costumes, sound effects, pacing and pyrotechnics all never quite worked correctly together. Still, it was the last time Gabriel would perform with Genesis, and he really put it all out there.
So back to It’s The Crew! Only Noel could take these tiny idiosyncrasies about the album that he only knows or cares about because of me and exaggerate them into an entire episode. There’s the main plot thread of me trying to hook the kids on lameness by teaching them the lyrics to Carpet Crawlers. ‘Carpet Crawlers’ is my favorite song on The Lamb. It was Peter Gabriel’s favorite track. And it’s the one song from the album that stands alone as one of the band’s most harmonious creations. So it’s natural that my comic-self would try to brainwash innocent young minds with the catchy refrain, “You’ve got to get in to get out.” However, my lawyer has instructed me not to divulge the meaning of that line.
Then there’s the Colony of The Slippermen. The Slippermen are a horrible race of ugly, lumpy creatures whose only goal is to satisfy the never-ending cravings of their senses. For the main character Rael, it’s a climactic moment on the album. For Peter Gabriel, it had him wearing a giant Slipperman costume with a crotch that blew up like a balloon. Go on, click it. You know you want to.
The ultimate experiment, of course, is for you to listen to the album all the way through, reading the story and being aware of the lyrics. I remember one time in the Riker Quad (college dorm) Doug, Marty, Aaron and maybe Sarah all sat in my room , faithfully listening to The Lamb. They were doing the experiment. They wanted to see if they could come to understand what I felt other than a lame obsession. They listened to each song and let me explain the story between tracks. At the end of the 1st disc, 45 minutes in, they all smiled and said they really liked it. I said, “But there’s a whole second disc the same length.” They disappeared in a flurry of excuses. What can I say? The album came out in 1974 and the world is still not ready.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity enough then it’s my appointed duty to point you to the right links.
Like I said, the lyrics are integral to the enjoyment of the album, so any lyrics search engine will do.
Now, to experience The Lamb Live is a bit tricky. There were no official videos made though there are any number of bootleg excerpts, TV spots and photo stills. Some genius(es) collected ALL OF IT together to create a coherent visual experience of The Lamb live. They used all the known videos, seemed the gaps together with thousands of photos culled from the tour, depicting what would have occurred on stage in real time during the song.
There was always talk of doing a movie. I wonder who the guy is that plays Rael for the album art. I wonder what he’s doing right now.
“But Towel Boy,” you say, “All I wanted to know was–what does a lamb have to do with it?”
“This Lamb has nothing whatsoever to do with Rael, or any other lamb – it just lies down on Broadway.” –Peter Gabriel
The entire album in two parts, with Alice In Wonderland for something to sync your visuals to…
Truthfully though, after years of multiple listens and hard consideration, ‘Anyway’ may be the best underrated track from The Lamb:
Who is this chick??
I still don’t understand why a reunited Genesis removed an entire verse when they redid this song…
Towel Boy had his heart shaved hairless by an anonymous steel razor, to the accompaniment of very romantic music.