on 6 June 2011
'Trespass' is a strange album in the context of Genesis' recorded output as it represents a very distinct yet very short-lived period in the bands development. This period was the period when they were led musically and compositionally by their then guitarist Anthony Phillips who, following the recording of the album, left the group due to problems with fatigue and the horrible affliction of genuine stage fright. However, during his short tenure with Genesis, Phillips sowed a very important seed that would continue to grow to much success throughout the band's entire career. This seed was a love of the quality of Englishness, a strange thing with both profound and ridiculous dimensions. On this album, however, Englishness takes on its lyrical, even slightly trite form with many delicate pastoral passages knitting together more hard rocking sections within the six songs on 'Trespass'.
Which brings me to my main observation about this album. I think it is fair to say that, when I think of this album in my mind, I always hear these pastoral passages and forget the hard rocking sections. This has positive and negative implications. On the positive side, the fact that the album has a strong trademark sound is a sign that there is plenty of strong material present but, on the negative side, the fact that I can easily forget the hard rocking sections means that there is also much material that doesn't work. It is a shame that the only song which features hard rocking sections that work ('The Knife') is the last song on the album when most of the damage has been done in previous tracks. In a recent interview, Anthony Phillips himself admits that, although he desperately loved heavy rock, he and the other fan of the same genre within the band (bassist, Mike Rutherford) were simply not equipped at that point in their lives to compose truly original hard rock riffs. Perhaps leaving off 'The Knife' and saving it for the next album might have been a good idea as it would have given them time to develop the pastoral side of 'Trespass' even more and make it a slightly purer folk-rock album. I think this approach would have particularly helped a song like 'Dusk' which has so much promise as an acoustic piece that goes unfulfilled.
Not to get bogged down in negative comments, 'Trespass' has many very powerful moments such as the majority of the lengthy and dramatic 'Stagnation', the beginning and end of the opening piece, 'Looking For Someone', the intro of 'White Mountain', most of 'Visions Of Angels', and, of course, 'The Knife', the rather jarring affect of its juxtaposition with preceding tracks notwithstanding. All these songs could potentially have sounded fantastic being performed by the post 'Abacab' incarnation of Genesis, as exemplified by their inclusion of the conclusion of 'Stagnation' in their 'Old Medley' on their 1992 and 2007 tours. It just takes a musician like Phil Collins, attuned to issues of orchestration and musical pulse, to lift these slightly limp recordings to a completely different level of effectiveness. Fortunately, Collins was to join Genesis for the creation of their very next album and, from that point on, the band sounded much more like a real rock band.
With regard to my advice in purchasing a copy of this album, I would highly recommend it for the reason I hinted at in my opening sentence. Most fans of Genesis divide the band into two eras: the Gabriel era and the Collins era with the Hackett era forming a transitionary period. However, I think there are three eras, the Phillips era making up the third. His musical sensibility is so distinct (listening to his solo work makes this abundantly clear) and the knowledge of this combined with the knowledge that he was, by all accounts, group leader during the 'Trespass' days makes this 1970 album essential for a proper understanding of the basics of Genesis' achievements. As to which version of the album one buys, I cannot comment on the 2007 remixes as I have not given them enough listening time for a proper appraisal. I have written this review based on my copy of the 1994 remaster and it sounds great to me. However, no remix or remaster can hide the fact that the members of Genesis were simply not the players they were, say, ten years later. This said, the playing is absolutely fine. At the end of the day, its the content of the songs and the spirit behind the recording that matters so go buy whichever version you like best!