Early into the Genesis DVD Sum of the Parts comes a supposition confidently floated by New Statesman editor Kate Mossman, who suggests that Charterhouse, the school at which the band formed in 1967, provided rigors the fledgling musicians could kick against in constructing something unique. As plausible, and perhaps true, as that statement is, it is just as plausible, after listening to the various group and individual interviews scattered throughout the two-hour official documentary, that it was the band members themselves getting kicked. It’s a challenge to find a frame where Tony Banks is smiling comfortably, let alone describing any idyllic moments from the past with or concerning Peter Gabriel. There does seem to be some genuinely sly delight from Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins when they talk about the Banks/Gabriel dynamic, and, in fact, it is Collins’ humor that offsets the gravitas of the Gabriel years and their resulting albums, a welcomed by-product of his replacing drummer John Mayhew in 1971 for the band’s third record Nursery Cryme.
With a sound reflective of serious compositional aspirations, plus the musical mechanics and limitless talent to realize that vision, Genesis invented a determined progressive rock that could survive the internal tension of two of its creators, Banks and Gabriel, for only so long; eight years as it turned out. Sum of the Parts doesn’t reveal many, if any, regrets but Banks does seem pressed in acknowledging an affinity for hit records, despite being in a group for over 45 years that has sold in excess of 130 million albums, the multi-platinum pop monsters coming after Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett left the band. Hackett points to a competitive environment, one so claustrophobic, that quitting was his only recourse. Certainly the solo careers pursued by of all the members- Collins’ and Gabriel’s being the most fruitful- can be explained as a necessary release from the effort working as Genesis required.
Sum of the Parts may be as close as it’s going to come to a full-fledged reunion. That’s too bad. It’s mind-reading, admittedly, but it’s difficult to listen to them talk of those formative days and not think that the stately, incredibly successful men of Genesis wish, just a little bit, that the ambitious, rigor-kicking boys of Charterhouse could’ve worked it all out.