Issue 2011-013: The Watch - Timeless - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
The Watch - Timeless
Tracklist: The Watch (1:47), Thunder Has Spoken (4:48), One Day (4:09), In The Wilderness (4:05), Soaring On (4:23), Let Us Now Make Love (4:39), Scene Of The Crime (5:13), End Of The Road (6:21), Exit (0:57), Stagnation (8:34)
Geoff Feakes' Review
There’s a well known saying that goes ‘imitation is the highest form of flattery’. That being the case the ex. members of Genesis should feel very flattered indeed because conscious of it or not they remain one of the most influential bands in the history of progressive rock. As is the case with many successful acts, Genesis imitators usually fall into one of two categories. There are the tribute bands (ReGenesis, The Musical Box etc.) that recreate the songs note for note and then there are the sound-alike bands (IQ, Knight Area etc) that produce their own (albeit heavily influenced) material. The Watch on the other hand have a foot in both camps, regularly undertaking tours performing ‘classic’ 1970’s albums in their entirety (something Genesis themselves never did) whilst producing albums of original music that owes a debt to Tony Banks and co.
Given that The Watch have been around since the late 90’s they have a relatively small number of studio releases to their credit (five so far) although this release follows relatively hot on the heels of 2010’s Planet Earth? Touring obviously occupies a good deal of their time although the inherent qualities of the albums have not gone unnoticed with three out of three DPRP recommendations to their credit. This has been achieved despite an almost complete line-up change (with only vocalist Simone Rossetti staying the distance) occurring somewhere between 2004’s Vacuum and Planet Earth? In addition to Rossetti the band currently includes Giorgio Gabriel (guitars), Guglielmo Mariotti (bass), Valerio De Vittorio (keyboards) and Marco Fabbri (drums).
Like its predecessors, Timeless clocks in at around the 45 minute mark and appears to be something of a halfway house containing three Genesis covers and seven new titles. Although the latter songs include new music, arrangements and lyrics they are in fact based on themes from Genesis’ 1969 debut From Genesis To Revelation. This is the album that was disowned by Genesis soon after its initial release because they were unhappy with the production and arrangements and has remained persona non-grata ever since. What The Watch have done in essence (to my ears anyway) is deconstruct the original songs and recreate them in a manner more in keeping with the Genesis sound of the mid 70’s.
One particular song In The Wilderness appears as a reoccurring motif throughout Timeless. In addition to the cover version here, the main choral melody crops up in the opening song The Watch as well as the two concluding tracks End Of The Road and Exit. The cover version differs quite significantly from the original given a harder, sharper edge although the ridiculously catchy chorus still shines through. Only the Hackett flavoured guitar break lets it down a little, sounding a tad listless whereas for me the acoustic rendering of the same melody during The Watch fairs much better. I’m unsure whey they named this particular song after themselves because the mood is noticeably too downbeat to provide an effective anthem.
The up-tempo and wonderfully titled Thunder Has Spoken is based on In The Beginning which is probably the closest From Genesis To Revelation gets to a raunchy rock song. The Watch have added some strong themes of their own and I particularly liked the Mellotron crescendo at the end which evokes The Lamia from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Surprisingly, the stately One Day is not the 1968 Genesis song of the same name but instead takes the bittersweet Am I Very Wrong as its inspiration. In addition to the memorable choral hook it features a lively synth solo and will be part of the set list for the up and coming ‘Green Show’ tour.
The lyrical Soaring On is probably my favourite song here. It’s a beautiful elegy that captures the mood of vintage Genesis with its gentle flute, full 12-string guitar sound, a wall of Mellotron strings and Rossetti’s poignant vocals. Let Us Now Make Love is the second cover version and is another song from the 60s that didn’t (officially) see the light of day until 1998 as part of Genesis’ Archive 1967-75 box set. It’s a lovely song (with Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks sharing vocals on the acoustic original) that fully deserves its reappraisal here. Following a sweet flute introduction, it’s updated with a vibrant riff and some particularly inspired guitar work which doesn’t overshadow the song’s naive charm.
Scene Of The Crime is the most un-Genesis sounding song here but ironically for me it’s also one of the strongest. A melancholic tune with a lilting rhythm, basic piano and strummed guitar is enlivened by Beatles flavoured harmonies and ethereal keyboard dynamics. End Of The Road is much more in the Genesis vein and seems to be loosely based on Where The Sour Turns To Sweet in addition to the aforementioned In The Wilderness. It’s the latter’s melody that provides the song’s majestic coda courtesy of Giorgio Gabriel’s fluid guitar lines which are quintessential Hackett.
This set concludes with a ‘bonus track’ Stagnation taken from The Watch’s ‘Blue Show’ tour in 2010 featuring Steve’s brother John Hackett on flute. This song is Genesis’ first true epic from the 1970 Trespass album and remains a particular favourite of mine. The song’s coda would also be reprised in later Genesis shows (as part of I Know What I) proving to be a highlight of the When In Rome 2007 concert. The Watch give an accurate and atmospheric rendition with a particularly spirited performance from Rossetti in true Peter Gabriel fashion.
It would be unfair of me to recommend this album to The Watch and Genesis fans only although to be fair your enjoyment will very much depend on your appreciation of vintage Genesis. Personally speaking I have a soft spot for those much neglected early tunes when the band was fresh out of school with Anthony Philips in the line-up. This release is a reminder of just how good they were as songwriters even then as well as providing a welcome stroll down memory lane. It also demonstrates (if there was any doubt) that The Watch are more than mere copyists, capable of producing their own memorable music that does justice to the Genesis legacy.
Jez Rowden's Review
The Watch have come quite a way from their beginnings and can no longer be thought of as merely Genesis clones. They have put together a string of formidable albums and their original material is certainly capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with the early-Genesis classics that pepper their live set which they play with a passion and reverence that sets them apart from the majority of “cover” bands. Leader Simone Rossetti (vocals) has fronted the band from the start with his Peter Gabriel vocals and although a number of musicians have passed through the ranks the current band can be thought of as the definitive line-up with Giorgio Gabriel (guitar), Guglielmo Mariotti (bass), Valerio De Vittorio (keys) and Marco Fabbri (drums) comprising a formidable live unit. As an additional point of interest John Hackett (brother of Steve) adds flute to a couple of tracks here.
The Watch will not receive many reviews where the ‘G’ word does not crop up but as their sound is so firmly rooted in Gabriel-era Genesis this is the only sensible comparison to make. This is not to denigrate the skill and talent of those involved as their original material is of a very high quality in both writing and performing as 12-string guitars chime and vintage keyboards recreate the vistas of the past with a resolutely retro sound.
Timeless is bookended by two brief acoustic tracks; The Watch offers a vocal variation to the main theme from In The Wilderness from Trespass (which is also incorporated into End Of The Road) and Exit, a solo piano interlude. Thunder Has Spoken is all mellotrons and atmosphere with the bombast necessary to lift it, Rosetti’s vocal filled with passion and Georgio adding fine Hackett-style guitar. The playing throughout the album is imbued with the influence of Banks/Hackett/Collins/Rutherford et al but this is not plagiarism, rather heart-felt tribute borne from respect. The original material fits sweetly between the classics and there is no suggestion of any drop in quality. End Of The Road is a straightforward but very well presented track and One Day (NOT the Genesis track of the same name) is simply lovely with changes of tempo and feel and great playing from all.
In The Wilderness is a wonderful re-working which simply sparkles, possessing the mark of a well travelled band, particularly towards the end of the track, rather than a group of youngsters at the start of their career as on the original. Let Us Now Make Love is a surprising choice but the band pull it off in some style with special mention to Giorgio and Valerio. There is much variety in these songs and rather than simply cloning their influences The Watch’s music is broad and imaginative. The recording is superb and it is a real treat to hear “old” music with modern sound quality. The bonus track is The Watch’s version of Stagnation, a beautiful and accurate recreation of the Trespass classic.
The title of the album is perfect given the spread of material from the band’s inspirational source through a re-working of one of their own songs (a gorgeous version of Soaring On From Primitive). It puts the music in perspective, showing the influences and how much the band care about what they do, not just in the recreation but also in trying new things; the past influencing the future. This is, on the whole, quite a pastoral and reflective album and it is unusual for The Watch to include Genesis songs on their studio albums. This could be an issue for them as it may be seen as a desperate selling tactic but my take is that the original versions of these songs were recorded more than 40 years ago now and sound engineering has come on so much in that time that it warrants the songs appearance. Also, the versions here, other than Stagnation, are variations on the originals and are justified as they add so much.
There is plenty to enjoy here. If you are one of those Genesis fans who hold the Gabriel classics in such high esteem as to make them almost Holy relics then you should probably stay away from The Watch. If, on the other hand, you love the sound of early Genesis and love the fact that these guys are respectfully keeping the old material alive and breathing while creating their own music in a similar style then I wholeheartedly urge you to hear them. More power to The Watch and their music.
Woody Harris' Review
If Genesis had a monastery built to take care of their sacred works, The Watch would be the tenders of the eternal flame burning within. The band don the robes of devoted acolytes walking the hallowed halls of the cathedral. Their primary role, to polish and take care of the many splendored gems within. However, on occasion the monks gather and craft their own gems in honour of the band and as homage to Genesis previous works. “Soaring on, still struggling with that song” so the monks intone for a second time as if they were told to return to their studies until this song was indeed finished. So the days are spent in the sacred shrine until eventually, the master overlooker giving his blessing on their work allows the public to come and enjoy a presentation of well polished classics as well as acolyte developed tributes to the band. The monks gather and humbly show the work they have done. In the album Timeless, The Watch piece together the jagged edges of the past with newly developed yet inspired songs offering an album of music from the Genesis that never was.
The album opens with The Watch melding a lyrical band definition with the melody of In The Wilderness (an oft quoted musical mantra running throughout the album). Lyricist Anotonio Desarno however takes the song to an existential viewpoint. The song speaks of pain and desperation,
"sometimes looking from the treetops
everything the same
sensing my great shame
where we once played our games
ruins our lives today
my horror breathes dismay
shedding my dust and decay
I want to look and I try to be brave
this world is now dying in my eyes”
Perhaps the Watch see themselves as guardians of something precious in a world of agony and distress. This is as good a definition as any for defining the lyrical bent of The Watch when crafting their own songs as many songs from previous albums will attest.
Despite this borrowing of song, what The Watch have attempted to do throughout the album is to pay homage to early Genesis. While the band do an excellent job of refurbishing songs like In The Wilderness, Stagnation, and Let Us Now Make Love (with John Hackett providing flute accompaniment no less), the rest of the album taps into the underlying magic present within the Genesis originals. One can easily tune into any song on the album and believe they have encountered a set of lost Genesis tracks. In fact every track is a strong statement of a devotion few cover bands could ever deliver.
In spite of some line up changes, or maybe due to them, the band are more fit for this task then they have been before. The melodic strings of Giorgio Gabriel and Guglielmo Mariotti, the haunting yet bouncy key and mellotron work of Valerio De Vittorio, and the well syncopated back beat of Marco Fabbri (check out the drumming on Thunder Has Spoken), all provide the backdrop for the Gabrielesque presence of Simone Rosetti and syncopate with the lyrical prowess of Antonio De Sarno, to deliver an album that you will listen to over and over for a long while.
For a Genesis fan, this album stands as a living testament to the spirit of the band. However, non Genesis fans will not be impressed. This album does not in any real sense break new ground but roots itself in the past firmly. If you are looking for innovation you will not find it here. Nevertheless, I feel certain that most music fans will be pleased with this offering. For my part, The Watch have etched a space in my heart due to the care with which they preserve the Genesis sound. So I make my daily pilgrimage to view the cathedral and pay homage to Genesis one of my favourite bands. I pay my tribute, and let my heart go, soaring on!