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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

This is a "Land of Confusion," but we have the power to change that

Genesis capture the strife which penetrates our world on all levels, while also leaving the door open for humanity to still work things out.

It's Monday. Normally, I wouldn't feel great about it being Monday, with all the stress and work the new fiscal and academic week brings... but it's Big Game Week, so I woke up energized and ready to attack these next few days. (I guess I took my musings on yesterday's entry to heart.)

After going through most of the day, though, I wonder if my energy is just a bit too... chaotic in a world that's already got enough chaos in it from top to bottom. In thinking about the extent of both my internal and the world's external disorder — and how we may begin to try and harness our energies and passions for the better — one of my favorite 80s songs leaped to the front of my mind. With "Land of Confusion," Genesis captured a world plunged deep in strife, with just minutes to proverbial midnight... but also gave the whole situation an air of hope in the brightness of their pop production and the presentation of their focal message in the chorus. Let's dive into the song with its off-the-walls video:

...well, that's certainly a video. Using puppets from a British show called Spitting Image, the fast-paced 80s pastiche humorously captures some of the anxieties of the world as it was then through various popular musicians and cultural figures. I could go on about the video, but I'd probably have to take a good few hours to dissect it all. (Honestly, a frame-by-frame analysis of the video would be really cool... I should pass along that idea to someone more capable than I.)

On to the song itself: "Land of Confusion" is a banner track of Genesis' post-Peter Gabriel days. Once a five-piece progressive rock outfit, Genesis gradually made the transition into a premiere pop rock group once Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett departed. The group found their greatest popular success as a trio, with Phil Collins serving as lead vocalist and drummer, Tony Banks as keyboardist, and Mike Rutherford (also of Mike + The Mechanics) as guitarist and bassist. This lineup is behind the group's most highly sold album, 1986's Invisible Touch, from which "Land of Confusion" was the third single.

Genesis try their damndest on "Land of Confusion" to bring an edge to what had become their typical poppy sound, and they definitely succeed to a certain extent. Collins' snare drum hits sound even punchier than normal, especially in his attention-grabbing opening fill. He also adds a bit more grit to his usually soft-edged vocals, which admittedly sounds a little out of place to me, but works for what he and Genesis are trying to accomplish on the tune. Rutherford's guitar work also gives off more of a rock affect than pop; even when kept behind the percussion and bass instruments, the grinding harmonies propel the song forward with a bit of agitation.

Make no mistake, though: Genesis and "Land of Confusion" remain a pop rock band and song, respectively, as Rutherford's metallic, treble-heavy bass and Banks' plethora of synths are more than happy to remind us. That isn't a bad thing, though, because 1) it means the band knew their boundaries, how far they could go before they sonically lost who they were; and 2) the synth and pop side of Genesis is still really fun. Banks' pulsating, syncopated synth bass is married to Collins' straightforward drum line, and the two instruments together keep the song moving with a really fun groove.

The lyrics, penned by Rutherford and sung by Collins, tell of a society being torn apart at the seams, with no savior in sight. Moreover, there's a sense of denial from those in power regarding all the world's problems the public can clearly see:

Now did you read the news today?
They say the danger's gone away
But I can see the fires still alight
They're burning into the night

The use of fire is poignant in current times as we continue to grapple with structural failure to mitigate climate change, humanity's self-inflicted wound which may ultimately doom us all. The recently concluded COP26 did little to allay climate-related fears with the late alterations made to wording which would have done much more toward phasing out the use of coal. The burning fires also remind me of the riots following the murder of George Floyd nearly a year and a half ago, and the fragility with which the United States and the world inch toward progress on the social justice front.

Amid all these issues, Genesis lament that the world has lost itself in the arguing and debating, and that neither action nor compassion are anywhere to be found:

There's too many men, too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see this is a land of confusion?

The title-stating pre-chorus is a damning of the world's sociopolitical quagmire, particularly as those with the greatest power neglect their responsibilities to the citizenry of their nation and beyond. However, it isn't all fire and brimstone for the greater population who exist underneath these rulers and systems... yet. While the window of opportunity is difficult to open, there does remain a possibility for sheer people power to lead for meaningful change if coordinated well enough. The chorus speaks to this potential:

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth living in

While Genesis wrote those lyrics in a late Cold War context, they are just as applicable in today's world. The greater power structure is at its least stable in decades in the wake of a pandemic which has considerably altered the international landscape. It's easy to feel discouraged and disenfranchised at such a point in time, but "Land of Confusion" reminds us that this is the sort of time where we can come together for positive growth. If we "stand up" and "start showing / Just where our lives are going to," as Collins sings in the final lines, we might just be able to work upward from our current state and get the ball rolling toward changing our destiny.


Postscript: I know I've done a lot of these lately, but they've all been worth it, and this one is no different. In 2006, metal band Disturbed put out an excellent cover of "Land of Confusion," which I considered featuring as the main subject of this article instead of the original. It doesn't have as much of the sonic 'hope' factor as the Genesis version (hence why I opted for the Genesis take), instead leaning more into the titular confusion and chaos. Take a listen and find out which version better fits your own mood and worldview.


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