Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jam of our times: "Abacab"

A big tune off a big album that certainly deserves a full track by track appreciation, but it's the title cut to 1981's Abacab that'll get the spotlight this time around.1 Although the Gabriel freaks may have bemoaned Abacab's continued appropriation of the era's new wave and pop aesthetics, here we've got a song that finds Banks, Collins and Rutherford delivering a dose of paranoia wrapped in synthesized threads that provides an eerily prescient soundtrack to our 21st century fueled by fear and cyber-panic.

The title was originally based on the song's work in progress structure, but in its final form the meaningless grouping of letters "A-b-a-c-a-b" comes to stand for intangible menace, an unknown terror lurking just beyond the edge of perception, a smothering unease that jolts the sleeper into a state of asphyxiated alert (but there's a hole in there somewhere). In "Abacab" we're trapped in a tormented mind as this secret agenda plays out, a helpless observer. 

And the music squarely sets "Abacab" in a tech-infused Tronscape, crackling to life with an incessant electronic bass pulse - robotic, unfeeling, and merciless. It's the unrelenting mechanical churn that'll drive this tune forward, as an icy dagger of lead guitar slices through the intro and enters into a call and response with ghostly bursts of synthesizer. The falsetto vocals on the chorus seem to taunt us with their intoning of the title, Phil cries out in protest but there's no reply at all. It all reaches its apex amidst the tangled circuitry of the bridge, human and electronic voices merging into one amidst flurries of strobe like sythesizer. Back for the final verse an irritating electric chirp keeps time with the hi-hat, the digital world now closing in, impossible to escape.

A woozy, wrung out from the stress synth line leads into the track's extended outro jam, the drums down shifting as we enter the final stages of assimilation. Tony's writes code via sparse, fuzzy blurps, Mike answers back with howls at the moon, the two in consort navigating the nerve net of this new flesh for the final three minutes as some unfathomable creature screeches in the distance.

1. [yeah, talking about the full 7min LP version, not the criminally edited single release.]


  1. I always thought it was weird that Phil Collins decided to nix Abacab from their most recent tour because he "had no idea what it was about."

    I have to say, as much as I like the studio version, I think the live one off of Three Sides Live is one of their best efforts ever. Phil's drumming during the instrumental section is a perfect example of pushing the tempo with energy but not letting go of the pocket. I used to play to that and TSL's In The Cage so much that my father would come storming into my bedroom, "you're gonna drum right through the ceiling, Son!" My response? "Get me outta this cage!!!"

  2. Great writeup on a great tune that been beguiling me for the past year after I heard it on a great comp called 'KEYBOARD POWER', which I should send you a copy of.

    "Phil cries out in protest but there's no reply at all."

  3. Glad you were "keepin' it Rael" when confronted by pops!

    Oh man, "Abacab" woulda sent me rolling down the aisles of the Hollywood Bowl for sure. Yeah it's a great live number, Phil 'n' Chester communicating by pure telepathy, the tune begging to be stretched out into the beyond. They shoulda released an extended 12inch mix.

    'Keyboard Power' - I'm intrigued!