And then there were three, by three! Genesis released their 11th studio album this day in 1981, the third with the band consisting of only the core trio of Banks, Collins & Rutherford.
Abacab came out only months after Phil Collins first solo album (Face Value) and to many sounded rather like a follow-up to that instead of a follow-up to Duke and prior Genesis recordings. (Perhaps that was in part due to Hugh Padgham’s presence on both, although on this one he only assisted the band self-producing the record.)
Few complained though. It hit #1 at home in the UK , where it was their second chart-topper, and scored them their first top 10, multi-platinum release in the U.S. The abstract title track and “No Reply At All” were both hits on both sides of the ocean, the latter being noteworthy for the prominent, lively horns borrowed from Earth, Wind & Fire. With “Man on the Corner”, it gave them three American top 40 hits, after having only a pair in total before. It could perhaps have had four; they also recorded the song “Paper Late” at the time, and while it wasn’t in the finished product, they did put it on their ’83 album Three Sides Live and released it as a single then.
If Abacab sounded a bit different for Genesis, it was no fluke. They self-produced the record, and made it at an old farmhouse they’d bought and converted into a studio. Tony Banks says they made a conscious decision to sound different than before and to keep the melodies simpler. Also a little different, six of the nine tracks were written collectively, but each member got to pen one song by themselves. For Tony Banks it was the pastoral “Me and Sarah Jane,” Mike Rutherford came up with “Like it or Not” while no one could miss Collins’ mark on “Man on the Corner”, which he wrote.
Rolling Stone liked what it heard, comparing them to XTC and the Police and noting it “Contrasts sharply with the forbidding ivory-tower artistry of the past.” Even Melody Maker, which found the record “inconsistent” and stamped with a “heavy Phil Collins twist” described it as the band’s “most exciting ” work in years. The odd title by the way is derived from the making of the title track. Mike Rutherford says they were jamming together and decided to mix up three separate parts of a song in the works. They dubbed them “Section A”, “Section B” and “Section C.” At one point in the studio, the record had parts played A-B-A-C-A-B. Hence the name. He noted though that after the final play through and mix, it ended up more like “Accaabaac.” Which would have been harder to say.