Last year, Tony Banks went A Chord Too Far with a career-spanning box set; now, the Genesis keyboardist has teamed once more with Esoteric Recordings for a CD/DVD edition of his sophomore solo album, 1983’s The Fugitive. The first disc presents a new stereo mix of the album plus two bonus tracks, while the DVD includes a DTS 5.1 surround mix, a 96/24 PCM stereo mix, and a promotional music video. The Fugitive has recently arrived alongside a new pressing of the similar 2009 CD/DVD reissue of Banks’ first solo release A Curious Feeling. That last reissue was fetching high prices on the secondary market, making Esoteric’s re-reissue more than worthwhile.
Banks’ solo career began in 1978 during a brief Genesis sabbatical when he embarked on the recording of A Curious Feeling. The album was originally conceived as a musicalization of Daniel Keyes’ novel Flowers for Algernon, about an intellectually disabled man whose intelligence is artificially (and temporarily) “upgraded” by scientific means. Though the author consented, he revealed to Banks that Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie, Annie) and David Rogers were already working on a stage musical of the novel. Banks pressed forward with the album but adapted his songs for a different story. (In his liner notes to Esoteric’s reissue, Banks respectfully notes that the musical “was really not bad,” and indeed, Strouse’s songs are typically tuneful. But Banks admits that he should have pursued the project anyway, as the “plot” songs on Curious Feeling are tied so specifically to the novel’s plot.)
Though he played every instrument on A Curious Feeling save the drums (played by Genesis touring drummer Chester Thompson), Banks still didn’t feel confident enough to debut as a vocalist. Kim Beacon of the band String Driven Thing, instead, provided the album’s raspy, reedy vocals. Banks also produced along with David Hentschel. The project’s theatrical roots are clear on the instrumental opening track, “From the Undertow,” which serves as an Overture of sorts; the album also is clearly developed from Genesis’ early progressive period. Two other instrumentals allow Banks to stretch as a composer and arranger: the dark “Forever Morning” and the gentler (though not without its moments of prog pomp and majesty) “The Waters of Lethe.”
The lyrical perspective is primarily in the first person, introduced on the first vocal track “Lucky Me.” One could imagine a narrator and a protagonist sharing “The Lie,” which cedes to the dramatic, prog opus “After the Lie.” On the latter, Banks deftly showcases his instrumental prowess as the album’s main “character” based on the novel’s Charlie “sees things in a different light…And the complicated structures of scientific knowledge/Once just mad, they seem so simple now.” A bright, upbeat melody to “A Curious Feeling” contrasts its lyrical questioning (“It seems the more I know, the more I don’t know/Does this ever end?”) while the dark undercurrent continues on “You,” a conventionally pretty love ballad that morphs into an energetic, prog keyboard workout.
One is sorry that Banks never did pursue writing a musical as his instincts were spot-on as to certain moments in Flowers for Algernon that lent themselves to song; in the lengthy “Somebody Else’s Dream,” Banks chillingly captures the moment when the Charlie character realizes his newfound intelligence – and the love that he was able to finally feel – is soon to be a thing of the past. Banks concludes A Curious Feeling with a one-two punch. “For a While” (“It sure felt good for a while/Yes, it was good for a while/I found somebody to take my hand/To the promised land of the loved”) is pure, wistful pop before, on “In the Dark,” Banks’ “Charlie” character realizes, “For now I’ll live in the dark” as this ambitious concept album comes to a close.
For his next solo album, Banks had something else in mind. Not only would the songs be less dense and melodically complex – and not based a on a story or concept – but he would sing all of the songs on The Fugitive himself. As he puts it in his new liner notes, Banks was aware his voice wasn’t in the league of his Genesis bandmates: “I had to simplify some melodies a bit. When I was writing songs for Phil [Collins] or Peter [Gabriel] to sing, I didn’t always think about what song a key was in, or how complex the melody or lyrics. I’d just expect them to sing it! When it came to The Fugitive, I had to think more carefully about this aspect.” The resulting songs weren’t necessarily simple, but they were certainly simplified from the lengthier excursions of A Curious Feeling. They also add up to perhaps Banks’ finest, and most accessible, hour as a solo artist. The Fugitive is primarily a pop album, very much of its time, with rock and progressive touches. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Banks is joined by a band including Daryl Stuermer (guitar), Mo Foster (bass), Tony Beard (drums), Steve Gadd (drums/percussion) and Andy Duncan (drums).
Despite his reservations, Banks’ voice is strong and confident, if rough-hewn, on The Fugitive. The melodic, uptempo opening track “This is Love” (also the album’s first single) established the album’s contemporary feel with its up-front, metallic keyboards, vocal effects, big drums and crisp guitars. The lyric, a straightforward address to a lover on the brink of her leaving, reflected Banks’ determination to “keep ideas a little bit shorter and perhaps more sing-able.”
“And the Wheels Keep Turning” was selected as the second single off the LP, but it might be its strongest track. Surely Banks’ melody is his most insinuating on The Fugitive; the rockier guitars give an edge to the rumination on life’s changes and the inevitability of it all. The upper reaches of the tune are a stretch for Banks’ voice, but he pulls it off with appropriate vulnerability and resignation. “At the Edge of Night” is more rocking, combining a pop bounce with AOR muscle. It features a guitar solo from Daryl Stuermer over the course of its 6+ minutes.
The pop direction is emphasized on the romantic ballad “Say You’ll Never Leave Me,” with Banks’ most traditionally attractive melody on the LP. “By You” offsets its warm lyric (“I see your sunshine calling to me…”) with a repeating keyboard bass motif and “processed” vocals. Other tracks are more off-the-beaten-path, like “Man of a Spells” which nods to Banks’ progressive roots as a tale of wizards and magic. As on A Curious Feeling, the artist also included instrumental compositions. “Thirty Three’s” naturally shows off Banks’ keyboard prowess as he journeys through various textures, sounds and rhythms, while the burbling video-game sounds of “Charm” drive its heavier, still multi-layered soundscape. The enigmatic “Moving Under” closes the original album on a high note with another big, upbeat melody and one of the album’s strongest vocals. Two previously issued bonus tracks, “K2” and “Sometime Never,” have been added to Esoteric’s reissue; Banks’ vocals seem influenced on these by John Lennon, particularly on “Sometime Never.” Alas, the extended 12-inch mixes of “This is Love” and “And the Wheels Keep Turning” have not been included among the bonus material.
Though the original LP mixes are absent, both A Curious Feeling and The Fugitive each feature a new stereo mix by Banks and longtime Genesis associate Nick Davis on both CD and DVD (96/24), but the key attraction on both reissues may well be Davis and Banks’ 5.1 surround mix (in DTS, not full-resolution DVD-Audio). The surround mixes of both albums are far from flashy but make for a more immersive, enveloping listening experience. For some longtime listeners, the new stereo mixes may not supplant the originals, but they undoubtedly bring out new instrumental detail throughout. Two music videos are on Curious Feeling: “For a While” and “The Waters of Lethe,” while The Fugitive has the video of “This is Love.” Note that the DVDs are Region 0, playable worldwide on all standard DVD players.
Both releases are superbly packaged, as well. A Curious Feeling is in a jewel case within a slipcase, and The Fugitive is housed in a casebound hardcover book-style format. Banks has penned revealing liner notes to both. If you’ve ever had a curious feeling about the solo career of the Genesis keyboardist, look no further than these two splendid CD/DVD reissues.
You can order the above releases as follows: