Some albums are just masterpieces. No other way to describe them, they are what they are.
Sitting between the prog-art records of his GENESIS days and the commercial pop-radio friendly tracks on his 1986 album ‘So’, PETER GABRIEL’s self-titled 1980 solo album is a brilliant experiment. Gabriel pulls out all stops portraying an ever-morphing musical maniac. Sound therapy for your soul.
None of these ten tracks
sounds feels the same, incorporating different instrumentation from an assortment of musicians. Jazz, prog rock, experimental art rock, pop, hard rock, classical, tribal rhythm all mashed up. The melting face cover is a good way to describe what’s inside, a warping collection of sound, rhythm, and melody.
Co-produced with Steve Lillywhite. Gabriel put an emphasis on rhythm and the big drum sound. A raw, primal feel.
Ten songs. Lots of darkness, with a just little light helping to guide our way…
- Old GENESIS pal Phil Collins is the driving force on opener “Intruder”–debuting the “gated drum” sound used in Collins’ later solo albums. Unquestionably unsettling and creepy with an eerily whispered vocal from Gabriel.
- “No Self Control” slides a rhythmic synth vibe into a traditional rock song. Think Jan Hammer’s ‘Miami Vice’ soundtrack sound with Gabriel’s great voice and a xylophone(!) solo.
- The smooth Dick Morrissey jazz saxophone instrumental “Start” opens into “I Don’t Remember”. A kinda precursor to “Big Time” with a dominant Tony Levin bass line and a sweet flowing chorus. Crazy, jazzy pop rock with Robert Fripp on space guitar.
- “Family Snapshot” brings a well of sorrow with each listen. Potency that begins with a simple piano melody and Gabriel’s impassioned voice. A building crescendo of bass, sax, and snare drums in a disquieting lament of a sniper’s troubled childhood.
- Joyful defiance flows through “And Through the Wire”. A nearly normal pop rock song. Easy (not necessarily simple) rhythm, consistent melody and refrains with a fuzzy hook from THE JAM guitarist Paul Weller.
- “Games Without Frontiers” shows us what Gabriel can do in the world of pop. His friendliest radio track since “Solsbury Hill”. Quirky and playful, full of funny odd lyrics and weird funky sound effects. With the marvelous Kate Bush providing backing vocals.
- Fripp’s guitar textures the melody and off-beat rhythms of Hard Prog rocker “Not One of Us”. Love the angry chorus, “You’re NOT one of us!”. A precursor of things to come for his 1982 self-titled follow-up (called ‘Security’ in the US).
- The introspective “Lead a Normal Life” is a powerfully mellow track. The piano/synth built melody slowly brings on sweet, hopeful vocals–like a tropical island breeze. Simple elegance.
- Gabriel crafted a soulful celebration to fallen South African apartheid activist Stephen Biko in the epic “Biko”. From the first few beats of Collin’s surdo we’re entranced. Stirring bagpipes(!), tribal rhythms, chanted shouts, and Gabriel’s best noble warrior battle cry, “Biko, Biko…!”. Seven minutes of sonic bliss capped off with a powerhouse chorus. The perfect closer.
Gabriel forces you to find meaning through the emotion of the haunting melodies and energetic rhythms as his lyrics are, at times, rather cryptic/dense. If only to crawl inside his head for a guided tour;)
PETER GABRIEL refused to name his first four solo albums, all simply titled ‘Peter Gabriel’. Only the cover art, the record label, and the year distinguish them.
This, his third album, is probably my favorite in a rich catalog of masterworks. Ten tracks fulfilling music’s promise to give emotion to sound. At the time of release this album was considered not commercial enough and his record label promptly dropped him–WTF?! One of the best albums ever wrote/produced and without hesitation on my desert island short-list. A Must Own!
(This review originally appeared on www.chadrschulz.com)