England - Full Moon 168 - 05/28/10
Peter Gabriel: Peter Gabriel
Following up our retro scope series of 2006 and 2007 - here's the New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents
from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. This moonth we're setting the Lunar spotlight on an album turnning 30 this Sunday (originally released May 30th 1980) - the third, self-titled solo from the former red-dressed fox-man.
I first heard the music of Genesis a little before Peter Gabriel quit in 1975. Still, Genesis was my favourite band of the 1970s and Gabriel one of my greatest musical heroes. His first self titled album (1977) proved he was capable of more than singing progressive rock epos. With his second self titled album (1978) he proved he could rock, too, and had noticed something was changing in the popular musical world. When he visited Oslo in August of that year, he scared the hell out of some of the old hippies present with a punk version of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale". With his third self titled album (30 May 1980) he reached his creative peak and managed to blend the best elements of his former musical life with the best elements of the new wave as we called it back then (post punk is the term nowadays). Peter had also turned his lyrical focus from stories to psychology, being inside the minds of other, mainly sinister, persons.
The first single off the album, "Games Without Frontiers" from February 1980, however, was quite a happy little whistle-friendly song, apparently, introducing the high-pitched voice of a young Kate Bush in Gabriel's sphere. But, the guitars were sharper than usual from the Genesis-Gabriel camp, and if you listened closer to the lyrics, the song wasn't that happy, 'Games without frontiers, war without tears'... The next single "I Don't Remember" was scarier, about total amnesia: 'Stop staring at me like a bird of prey, I'm all mixed up, I've got nothing to say, I don't remember'.
When the album finally was released we were in for lots of even sharper guitars than on "Games Without Frontiers", some of the staccato new-wave kind. Gabriel had recruited guitarist David Rhodes from Random Hold, a band at the intersection between progressive experimental rock and the new wave. On "And Through The Wire" a young and still aspiring Paul Weller from The Jam took command of the sharp chords whereas a ditto Dave Gregory from XTC did the same on two other songs. Also the many keyboard sounds points in different directions, from the creepy xylophone kind to the symphonic, created by synthesizer-wizard Larry Fast and Gabriel himself. Contributors of the old school include Robert Fripp of King Crimson (guitar and guitar-burst), the late Dick Morrissey of If (sax), Peter's former band-mate Phil Collins (drums and drum-pattern) and Phil's mates from the jazz-rock-band Brand X, namely Morris Pert (percussion) and John Giblin (bass). The album was produced by renowned new wave knob-twister Steve Lillywhite. The sounds and production throughout is a unique mixture of the clinical and organic, traditional melodic and experimental.
The opener "Intruder" with the ominous drumming and scary sounds at the start not only knows 'something about opening windows and doors'. He also likes 'to feel the suspense when I'm certain you know I'm there, I like you lying awake, your bated breath charging the air...'. There's also the description of the person with "No Self Control" who 'hate to see your pain, but I don't know how to stop'. Apart from Peter's voice, the only familiar element from the Genesis era is the drum roll of Phil Collins halfway through this song. A lot can be said about his whimpering divorce songs, but he certainly is (or used to be) one hell of a drummer. Another psychological
figure, so to speak, is the political/JFK-type of assassin in "Family Snapshot", whereas in "Lead A Normal Life" we get a glimpse from asylum. The anti-apartheid hymn "Biko", about the black South-African activist Stephen Bantu Biko who was killed in prison in 'September 77, Port Elizabeth (weather fine)' doesen't really fit with the psychological songs. On the other hand, the album wouldn't be complete without it, with bag-pipe sounding keyboards, authentical South-African chanting, definite single drum beat at the end and all. In retrospect it was the most important song of them all for Peter's later activities including his involvement in human rights and artists against apartheid, the world music festival Womad and ditto record label Real World.
Well, I don't buy the one minute and about ten seconds of horrible sax playing on the short instrumental "Start" in the vein of a slick, mid budget, mid 1980s, romantic Hollywood movie. And also the somewhat cheap explanation at the end of "Family Snapshot" that the principal character is turned into an assassin because of lack of attention from his parents when he grew up. Apart from that I see no weaknesses in the melting wax album. I clearly remember holding the LP in my hands for the first time thirty years ago and putting it on my record player, trembling with excitement (those were the days...). The expectations were soon fulfilled. Some 97 percent of the album still makes my neck hair stand on end. Later the album was released with the lyrics in German. Wicked!
Copyright © 2010 JP