After Phil Collins’ departure from Genesis, the remaining two members Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford kept writing music and hired a new singer: Ray Wilson, born in 1968, known as lead vocalist of the band Stiltskin.
Ray Wilson was announced as Genesis’ new singer in June 1997. Before that, the band had been in their ‘The Farm’ studio in Surrey, where they had recorded their new album Calling All Stations. Like its predecessor, it was produced by Nick Davis. The drums on the album were played by drummers Nir Zidkyahu and Nick D’Virgilio. In early September 1997, Calling All Stations, the first Genesis album since Phil Collins’ departure, was released.
Calling All Stations: The songs
The album opens with its title track and has, according to music journalist Chris Welch, ‘a pessimistic yet defiant tone’1, a tone that is observant over the whole album. Band biographer Alan Hewitt writes that ‘Calling All Stations’ is ‘a genuine piece of traditional Genesis with sterling work by both Rutherford and Banks.’2 Ray’s dark voice suits the sombre atmosphere. While for some, the album’s style was a return to their melodramatic past, for most listeners, Phil Collins’ direct and driving approach that had been an important part in Genesis for years at that point, was clearly missed.
Also, Tony and Mike, now the main songwriters with Ray only contributing to some of the songs, had to arrange the drum parts and the vocal lines as well. They managed to keep these elements in Genesis-style with some Gabriel-like vocal lines and Collins-type percussion parts.
The title track is followed by the first single from the album, ‘Congo’, which had breached the Top 30 in Britain. The single-version is slightly different to the album version. It is build on a driving, but steady drum beat and heavy guitar work with Ray’s dark voice in the centre. This was the first taste of the new Genesis, and many fans were not too convinced.
The song is followed by the next single ‘Shipwrecked’, a sad ballad about a failed relationship. This style went even further with the next single, ‘Not About Us’, a song about loneliness based on an acoustic guitar riff by Mike Rutherford.
The band did not help themselves, when they kept releasing sad pop ballads with a despairing mood as the album’s singles. Some fans probably avoided the album because of songs like these.
Also, placing these ballads at the beginning of the album may have been a reason some people did not listen further. After the pop ballads, the album provides some brilliant rock numbers, notably ‘The Dividing Line’ and ‘There Must Be Some Other Way’.
Chris Welch says about ‘The Dividing Line’ that its beat ‘lifts the all-pervading despair created by the preceding hymns to darkness’ and ‘the eight-minute epic’ includes a ‘lenghty introduction’ and ‘an instrumental crescendo’. Still, he points out that ‘Wilson seems to be singing in the same key and tempo as before, still plunged in gloom despite the musical fireworks going off all around.’3
‘There Must Be Some Other Way’ opens with ‘doomy chords and mysterious percussions’4 and is a heavy song in which Ray Wilson really shines. The song is a prime example of what direction the band could have taken with him if they had continued.
Calling All Stations in the charts
The album charted at no. 2 in Britain, but only peaked at no. 54 in the United States. The band realized how important Phil Collins’s name and popularity had been for Genesis, too. Mike Rutherford explains in his autobiography: ‘We did it [the album, note of the author] because Tony and I had written some songs together that we liked. We had replaced a singer before, although I was very aware that the hill to climb was pretty big this time around.’5 Without Phil Collins’s familiar face and voice, the band had lost an identity and the most important part of their public image.
The press about Calling All Stations
The critiques were harsh, the NMW saying that ‘the world doesn’t care enough about Genesis’ and ‘like the rest of the population, they’ve forgotten why they were once any good’6. Q wrote that the album consists of ‘just darkness, confusion, individual isolation’ and described it as ‘one-paced and one-dimensional’7.
Touring Calling All Stations
After the album’s release, the band toured Europe. Ray Wilson was not the only new member. Album drummer Nir Zidkyahu took over the drumming duties, and the Daryl Stuermer’s replacement on guitar and bass was Anthony Drennan (who plays with Mike Rutheford in his band Mike & The Mechanics nowadays). Ray Wilson proved that he could not only sing the new songs, but that he was also able to sing great versions of old Genesis classics (his voice especially suited the Gabriel-era songs). The two new touring members added some fresh air to the music, too, but the loss of the familiar faces of Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer may have added to the reluctant acceptance by fans. Still, the band added some new elements to epics like ‘Second Home By The Sea’. The band also played an acoustic set consisting of ‘Follow You Follow Me’, ‘Lover’s Leap’ and ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’. But also, some of the songs that were so much associated with Phil Collins and his voice like ‘Turn It On Again’ and ‘No Son Of Mine’, lacked something on this tour.
Due to the bad charting of the album in the United States, the American shows of the tour had to be cancelled. After they finished the tour, the band went into a hiatus and to this day, Calling All Stations remains the last official Genesis studio album.
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Hewitt, Alan (2000): Opening The Musical Box. London: Firefly Publishing.
Platts, Robin (2007): Genesis. Behind the lines, 1967-2007. Burlington, Ont., Canada: Collectors Guide Pub.
Rutherford, Mike (2014): The Living Years. London: Constable.
Welch, Chris (2005): Genesis. The complete guide to their music. London: Omnibus Press.