But still they wanted more
We sweat and we toiled
Good men lost their lives
I don't think they knew what for
I sold them my heart
I sold them my soul
I gave everything I had
Ah, but they couldn't break my spirit
My dignity fought back
(just fight back)
We Can't Dance is the fourteenth studio album by English Progressive Rock-turned-pop rock band Genesis, released in 1991. Their last album with frontman Phil Collins and consequently the last to feature the most recognizable three-man contingent of Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks, the album marked an end to the band's four-year hiatus that followed the end of their successful Invisible Touch tour in 1987, during which time the trio returned to focusing on their individual solo/side projects, with Collins notably releasing his blockbuster success ...But Seriously during the interim. With Collins' success as a solo artist more than well-established, Rutherford and Banks fully expected Collins to ditch the group to focus on his own work, only for Collins to stick around for another album as part of Genesis.
Musically, We Can't Dance continues the pop rock style that Genesis had been finding success with throughout the previous decade, but strips down the production to offer a better balance between their pop and prog elements. Notably, the thumping, twinkling synths that were omnipresent throughout Invisible Touch are replaced with more subtle, softer synth pads more reminiscent of Banks' keyboard work when Genesis was fronted by Peter Gabriel. The album also leans more closely into the prog side of Genesis' sound, with tracks like "No Son of Mine", "Driving the Last Spike", and "Fading Lights" demonstrating that the band were still willing to hold onto their roots, though still accentuated with a number of more pop-friendly songs like the anti-televangelist satire "Jesus He Loves Me" and the crooning ballad "Hold on My Heart".
The end result was an album that, suffice to say, was anything but well-loved. By 1991, Genesis and especially Collins had become so thoroughly exposed in the mainstream that a huge backlash against them had already begun to form. Critics were apathetic towards the album, having previously sung high praises of Invisible Touch despite its highly polarizing reception among fans, while Genesis fans continued to be divided on what exactly to make of this album. Some saw it as an improvement over Invisible Touch, others saw it as banal trite. Not helping was the fact that the album came out long after the emergence of Alternative Rock in the American mainstream during the late 1980's. Also contributing was the more recent explosion of popularity in grunge with the release of Nirvana's Nevermind— just one month prior to the release of We Can't Dance. All of this led the album and the band as a whole to come off as hopelessly out-of-touch with the zeitgeist, and with the general public more than eager to dispose of Genesis, the writing was on the wall. Collins departed in 1996 to focus on his solo work, and Genesis attempted one final album in 1997 with new vocalist Ray Wilson, geared more towards an alternative rock audience; it bombed so hard that it directly led to the band's dissolution in 2000, putting an ignoble end to one of the biggest bands in progressive rock.
Despite its mostly negative reception (though not without a noticeable contingency of fans), We Can't Dance was still a huge commercial success for Genesis, topping the charts in the UK, Australia, and several other European nations; it reached #4 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in the US. It was certified quintuple-platinum in the UK and quadruple-platinum in the US. We Can't Dance was furthermore supported by a lengthy eponymous tour spanning 78 shows between 1992 and 1993, selling out arenas and stadiums worldwide. The songs from this tour were later compiled on the live albums The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts and The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs, respectively released in 1992 and 1993 (with the former also including tracks from the Invisible Touch tour). Even if the album was largely detested upon release, it certainly allowed Collins to leave the group on a financial high note.
We Can't Dance was supported by six singles: "No Son of Mine", "I Can't Dance", "Hold on My Heart", "Jesus He Knows Me", "Never a Time", and "Tell Me Why". Only one of those broke the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: "I Can't Dance" (#7). That matched its highest position in the UK, where "No Son of Mine" beat it at #6. "I Can't Dance" was nominated for the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals Grammy in 1993, though ultimately lost to Céline Dion & Peabo Bryson's cover of "Beauty and the Beast".
- "No Son of Mine" (6:41)
- "Jesus He Knows Me" (4:23)
- "Driving the Last Spike" (10:10)
- "I Can't Dance" (4:04)
- "Never a Time" (3:52)
- "Dreaming While You Sleep" (7:21)
- "Tell Me Why" (5:00)
- "Living Forever" (5:42)
- "Hold on My Heart" (4:40)
- "Way of the World" (5:40)
- "Since I Lost You" (4:10)
- "Fading Lights" (10:27)
- Tony Banks keyboards, synth bass
- Phil Collins drums, lead vocals, percussion
- Mike Rutherford guitars, bass guitar
"We both know we've troped here before"
- Accidental Murder: "Dreaming While You Sleep" covers the narrator accidentally running over a woman in the rain, and spending the rest of his life hiding the fact that he was the one responsible, all the while knowing that it's become a high-profile topic in the news and that even if he does manage to take the secret to the grave, it'll haunt him constantly.
- Album Title Drop: Played with; "I Can't Dance" features several title drops for the song itself, but it doesn't outright say "we can't dance" outright.
- Book-Ends: The closing track, "Fading Lights", quotes portions of the melody to the opening track, "No Son of Mine".
- Bowdlerize: The edited version of the "Jesus He Knows Me" video removes the scenes showing televangelists being caught having sexual relations with people of both sexes. This version is the only one available on the band's YouTube channel.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Reversed in "No Son of Mine." The song tells the story of a boy who runs away from home, and after some consideration attempts to return, only to be berated by his jerkass abusive father. Phil Collins has said in interviews that the lyrics are deliberately vague as to whether the narrator or his mother is the victim of the abuse.
- Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover and liner notes feature a variety of lavish watercolor paintings by Felicity Roma Bowers, with the ones in the liner notes corresponding to individual songs. By pure coincidence, former frontman Peter Gabriel would pull a similar stunt with Us the year after this album and Up a decade after that, though in those cases the song art was each done by a different artist. In the case of both We Can't Dance and Us, the song art formed the basis for the cover art of each album's associated singles.
- Epic Rocking:
- "No Son of Mine", "Driving the Last Spike", "Dreaming While You Sleep", and "Fading Lights" all surpass the six-minute mark and then some.
- The album also deserves mention: at 71 and a half minutes, it holds the position of being Genesis' longest studio album since the 94-minute The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway 17 years prior and acts as their second-longest studio album overall. The whole thing is just a hair's length from maxing out CD copies, and vinyl releases ended up marking Genesis' first double-LP studio album since the aforementioned Lamb.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Jesus He Knows Me" sneaks in the lines "I believe in the family / With my ever-loving wife beside me / But she don't know about my girlfriend / Or the man I met last night." These lines are preserved in the single and video releases, even after the video was edited to remove the visual references to these lyrics.
- Grief Song: "Since I Lost You" is one for Connor Clapton, Eric Clapton's four-year-old son, who fell to his death earlier in the year.
- I Have No Son!: "No Son of Mine", natch.
- Insult Backfire: In the video for "Jesus He Knows Me", Phil Collins wears a suit and wig and affects a voice similar to those of American televangelist Ernest Angley, making him a specific target for the song's skewering of televangelism in general. Collins revealed in his appearance on Room 101 that Angley was apparently flattered by his "portrayal".
- In the Style of...:
- "I Can't Dance" is Collins' attempt at mimicking the vocal style of Fine Young Cannibals frontman Roland Gift.
- The historical drama of "Driving the Last Spike" doesn't really echo any Gabriel-era sounds or themes, except for maybe its longer length compared to other songs on We Can't Dance and a couple of time changes, but the song certainly wouldn't look out of place if it had appeared on 1978's ...And Then There Were Three.... On the other hand, the lengthy instrumental midsection of "Fading Lights" could be considered Genesis' re-imagining of their '70s symphonic prog sound for the '90s, though it still sounds somewhat less complex than much of the band's '70s material, owing mostly to its slower tempo. It even incorporates their '70s-era habit of reprising melodic material from an album's first song in its ultimate or penultimate track.
- Large Ham: Phil Collins' televangelist character in the music video for "Jesus He Knows Me" is very bombastic in his sermons and behavior, with the ham factor ramping up as the video goes on (especially in the uncut version, where he gets so hammy his aides have to drag him off the set). Note that the song and video are both meant to mock televangelists, who themselves are known for their hammy delivery.
- Longest Song Goes Last: The 10:27 "Fading Lights" closes out the album.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The protagonist of "Dreaming While You Sleep," who hit a girl/woman with his car and drove away.
- New Sound Album: Well, more "new old sound album"; We Can't Dance strips back the synth-heavy production of Invisible Touch and goes back to the middle ground between "Prog Genesis" and "Pop Genesis" that defined the band's 1978-1981 output.
- Progressive Rock: The album version of "No Son of Mine", "Driving the Last Spike", "Dreaming While You Sleep", and "Fading Lights" all show that the band hadn't quite forgotten where they came from; arguably, they lean closer to it on this album than on Invisible Touch.
- Protest Song: "Tell Me Why" is one against government inaction against poverty and hunger.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Since I Lost You" was inspired by the death of Eric Clapton's four-year-old son Connor, who accidentally fell from the 53rd-story bedroom window of his mother's friend's apartment.
- Recurring Riff: Part of Tony Banks' keyboard solo in the instrumental section of "Fading Lights" (around five or six minutes into the song) is melodically reminiscent of elements from the bridge near the end of "No Son of Mine". It's not exactly identical, but it's close enough that it stands out and provides a sense of bookends to the entire album (since they're the last and first songs, respectively).
- Religion Rant Song: "Jesus He Knows Me" (a critique of televangelists) falls under Type 3.
- Rock Opera: "Driving the Last Spike" and "Dreaming While You Sleep" are latter-day examples of mini-rock operas, being incredibly lengthy songs telling self-contained stories.
- Shout-Out: The music video for "I Can't Dance" spoofs the infamous ending of Michael Jackson's then-recent "Black or White" video.
- Take That!: Lots of them. Among other examples...
- "Jesus He Knows Me" is a pretty open one against televangelists; it's made even more clear in the uncut version of the song's music video, which features scenes of Phil Collins' televangelist character becoming so unhinged that his aides have to tear him away from the camera.
- "I Can't Dance" ridicules stylistic, male model-heavy Dada Ads selling blue jeans (Phil felt the backing track sounded like an artsy/trendy Levi's ad, and the illustration for the song in the liner notes shows a man wearing blue jeans, taken from his backside).
- "Living Forever" mocks self-help trends, new age philosophies and fad diets.
- "Tell Me Why" criticizes wealthy governments for doing too little to help poverty and hunger.
- Title Track: Kinda-sorta with "I Can't Dance", which is similar in name to the album title, but uses the singular first-person pronoun rather than the plural.
- Vaudeville Hook: Almost. At the end of both the "I Can't Dance" video and the uncut "Jesus He Knows Me" video, Mike and Tony come in from offscreen to drag Phil away.
- Yellow/Purple Contrast: Features throughout the cover and liner notes for the album, to highlight contrast between day and night.