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The Story of Genesis’ Career-Boosting ‘ … And Then There Were Three … ‘

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How exactly did Genesis, progressive rock’s defining band, manage to survive so much turmoil? The group weathered the loss of key members and a shifting musical landscape to produce … And Then There Were Three …,  the 1978 album that introduced a leaner three-man lineup and helped them move from prog toward the poppier sound that would define their career in the ’80s.

When their singer, Peter Gabriel, left their ranks in 1975, the remaining quartet picked up their instruments and kept on refining and expanding the band’s music, now with drummer Phil Collins on vocals. Then, two years later, guitarist Steve Hackett — feeling constricted as a songwriter — decided to quit, just as punk rock was ravishing England and pushing most prog musicians to the fringes of the music industry. But the seemingly indestructible Genesis silenced their critics with … And Then There Were Three … , which was released in April 1978.

“The idea of trying to keep the songs a little more concise to get more ideas on the album was quite appealing,” said keyboardist Tony Banks in the DVD interviews accompanying the album’s 2007 reissue. “[It’s] something we’d sort of wanted to do regardless.” And Three is indeed a pivotal turning point for the band; the songs are more concise, more sculpted and intimate, placing prominence on Collins’ expressive belting and Banks’ elegant synthesizers and organs.

In a way, Hackett’s departure was the catalyst for the band’s more straightforward approach. Without his technically dazzling fretwork (and expansive approach to song construction), they were forced to cut the fat from their arrangements, and Rutherford — a more direct, less virtuosic guitarist — naturally brought a more simplistic approach to his riffs and leads.

“I think we started to relax a bit, actually,” Rutherford added on the same reissue DVD. Even the record’s proggiest moments (the drum-heavy 10/8 clatter of opener “Down and Out,” the frosty mysticism of “Burning Rope”) harness a classy restraint, favoring texture and churn over lengthy solos. The lyrics were also evolving; instead of writing about ancient volcanoes or dueling knights, Genesis were slowly opening their hearts.

“Follow You, Follow Me” closes the album with a moment of reflective, groovy calm; with Collins’ deft hi-hats circling around Rutherford’s guitar flange and Banks’ chilly synth atmosphere, Collins sings Rutherford’s simple love song with a soulful quality previously untapped in Genesis’ music. Audiences responded to this new approach, as the song landed in the Top Ten in the UK and the Top 40 in the US. It was their first legitimate hit, and it marks a distinctive new chapter in the band’s evolution.

“You have to remember this came out just after punk,” Banks says. “It was kind of a strange thing — we were sort of still surviving, but I couldn’t quite work out why. ELP had died; Yes had died, but we were still going along. And we were lucky to have this hit single come out sort of in the middle of all this, and we were okay.”

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