By 1979, Genesis were firmly established as a trio consisting of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks. As a trio, they had now released several perhaps uneven, but fairly well received albums since the departure of front man Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett - notably A Trick Of The Tail.
The band had a period of inactivity prior to Duke's release due to Phil Collins' personal problems. He had moved to Vancouver, British Columbia to be near his wife Andrea and their children. She had, in no uncertain terms, told him that if he went on tour again, she wouldn't be home when he returned. Collins hoped that the band, whom he felt were on the verge of a huge mainstream breakthrough, would work in Vancouver. But after giving it some time on the Canadian West Coast, he realized his marriage was over.
Genesis eventually regrouped in Shalford in the fall of 1979 to start work on Duke. By then Collins had a huge amount of songs written, including his future hit In The Air Tonight, which the band had passed on. Tony Banks has said he has regretted that decision. Due to having spent time apart, there was a newfound freshness within the band.
The songs for Duke eventually turned into the story of Albert, who is featured on the cover art. In contrast to previous efforts, many songs were shorter and more concise (at least by Genesis standards), except for Duke's Travels/Duke's End which closes the record.
In the final few weeks of 1979 Genesis recorded songs written individually and by the band in Stockholm. Originally, Behind The Lines, Duchess, Guide Vocal, Turn It On Again, Duke's Travels and Duke's End were to be a long 30 minute track. Although the band eventually decided against the idea, they did perform a “Duke Suite” in concert which Collins introduced as the story of Albert.
The final album captures Genesis quite nicely in transition. Duke has a foot in progressive rock, but it's also peppered with pop songs anticipating the 80's, where their biggest commercial hits were yet to come. On the strength of 3 singles, Misunderstanding, Turn It On Again, and Duchess, Duke turned out to be the band's most successful up to that time. So it's no wonder the band embraced their new pop tendencies, it gave them a whole new lifespan.
Off Rock contributor Mike Lang is a longtime rock radio broadcaster and consultant who often writes on his laptop in his living room. Follow Mike on Twitter @theemikelang