Genesis had always leaned heavily on progressive rock, meaning their songs featured both thematic and musical exploration. The last Gabriel album was “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, a two-record concept album that earned high praise in the prog rock world; topping it would be an impossible task. So the band, now consisting of Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarists Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford, came back with some material that still had one foot solidly in progressive rock, but with a toe towards more popular musical trends. Interestingly enough, this marked the first Genesis album to individually credit the band members who wrote each song; previously, the writing had been attributed to the entire band.
One of the strongest tracks from the album is “Squonk”, a song based on the legend of a creature who would turn into a puddle of tears when captured. In true Genesis fashion, the song featured a number of musical changes, and a lyrical basis in the fantastic. The song does not have any long instrumental portions, but it’s driving rhythm made it popular with fans, and got it some radio airplay.
This marked the first album for which the band produced promotional videos for some of their songs. The first was the title track, written by Banks. The band plays around a piano, while a miniature Collins jumps around on some instruments. The song, about a creature from a “city of gold” is captured and abused by humans before escaping and returning to it’s home, did garner some interest. It features a catchy, bouncy rhythm and is very melodic compared to songs from previous albums.
Also getting the video treatment was “Robbery, Assault and Battery”, which features all band members playing a role in the song’s story, about a criminal who robs and kills an old man. This one feels more like a folk song than a prog song, due to it’s subject matter, musical structure and livelier beat. Like several songs on this album, there is no particularly long musical segment that had been the trademark of the band to this point. The third song to get a video, “Ripples”, does lean more on instrumentals than much of the album. The video is simply of a performance, and the song feature Hackett’s lush guitars combining with Banks’ atmospheric keyboards to make a beautiful, softer song. This was played throughout the 2007 reunion tour.
Though much of the album gets away from long instrumental sections, two songs embrace them. The opening song, “Dance on a Volcano”, is a classic Genesis tune, in that it features several dramatic changes in structure and tone. The closing track, “Los Endos”, is an instrumental piece that became a concert standard for many of their tours, including the reunion tour. It’s am epic piece that brings in some musical themes from other pieces in the album, most notably “Dance on a Volcano”, making it a nice bookend for the album.
“A Trick of the Tail” marked a new direction for the band. While it was still very much prog-based, it started working towards shorter songs, with less emphasis on long instrumental sections. The formula works for most of the album, which has a very cohesive feel. This is still a band trying to find their identity, but the journey is largely an enjoyable one.