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 Post subject: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 3:16 am 
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Peter Gabriel deserves his own thread.

I've gone down a rabbit hole this past week, trying to expand my understanding of his music beyond my existing familiarity with his greatest hits collection, his work through Real World studios and WOMAD, and a couple specific albums (Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ and So.

I've devoured his first six records in full over several days, and feel like I'm just starting to scratch the surface. Some context might be helpful:

1. Basic background:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gabriel
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_World_Records
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_ ... _and_Dance

2. Genesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_(band)
I am by no means a Genesis expert, but I think this song is as good a place as any to appreciate from where Peter was coming before launching his solo career. This song is bonkers.



After recently discovering his third solo album, 1980's Melt, I dove in headfirst. My method: Downloaded his first six albums, put them all on shuffle, played it throughout the week. I would tag any songs that stuck out as worth revisiting. I made a playlist of those songs, and then shuffled that playlist for the last few days.

My thoughts on Peter Gabriel's first six solo albums:

1. Car (1977)

Spoiler: show
Immediately different from anything I've found in the Genesis catalog. The opening track Moribund the Burgermeister is one of the most confounding in his entire catalog on account of its combination of genius and silliness. A simple, spacey beat indicates a new sort of studio experimentation, before an epic, explosive prog-rock chorus eliminates any pretense of restraint. His debut solo album follows the template of the opening track, bouncing between A) the confidant minimalist experimentation and vulnerability that would become common in his later works, and B) the indulgent 70s prog-rock that hung over his first couple albums like a funk.

It's notable that Solsbury Hill -- perhaps the prototypical Gabriel song (or maybe it's In Your Eyes) -- appeared on this record, and set the stage for the healing and rejuvenate world music that he would revisit occasionally, before completely focusing on with 1986's So.

This album is all over the place, and one can hear a man wading through then-popular radio, older musical influences, and bold studio experimentation in a throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks search for his own sound as a solo artist. From the hokey barbershop quartet of Excuse Me, to the milquetoast first half of Humdrum, to the by-the-numbers blues of Waiting For the Big One, there's a lot here that doesn't seem to warrant more than a single listen. But then there are a few tracks that stand up against his later stuff, and even within the margins of the lesser songs are multiple examples of studio expertise and songwriting prowess. Like Willem de Kooning mastering conventional painting by the time he was twelve before embarking on a more experimental path, this record plays like Gabriel's way of demonstrating his vast knowledge of his craft before embarking on a more adventurous career.

Standout tracks: Morobind the Burgermeister, Solsbury Hill, Here Comes the Flood.


2. Scratch (1978)

Spoiler: show
While the radio rock of the 1970s still looms large here, it is dialed back considerably in favor of a more confident identity. Opener On the Air is pure Elton John, and the pleasures of D.I.Y. can't outweigh the clunky chorus. Mother of Violence is unremarkable except for the fact that it helps establish a uniquely human approach to his vocals that would ultimately become one of his calling cards. A Wonderful Day In a Wonderful World is notable simply for its composition; while it doesn't sound anything like his more popular later works, it would have been the highlight of any Steely Dan album from the same era, and so it gets a nod from me.

Sleeper track Indigo is at first nothing remarkable, but after nearly three minutes of wishy-washy meandering, the song settles into a stone groove that supports a vulnerable, catchy lyric through the outro. I can almost imagine that his 1986 counterpart would have cut those first three minutes and just focused on the raw power of that last minute, because it's a stunner.

Exposure is one of the purest joys of this entire journey. Full of sticky, sexy swagger, there's nothing else in this collection that sounds quite like it. Reminds me of David Essex and Prince.

Other tracks impress, but do little to set him apart from his contemporaries of the period. Echoes of Elton John, John Lennon, Steely Dan, and Yes abound, but less than half the songs approach what I would consider noteworthy.

Standout tracks: Mother of Violence, A Wonderful Day In a One-Way World, Indigo, Exposure, Home Sweet Home


3. Melt (1980)

Spoiler: show
The album that sucked me in. Where the first two albums indicate a man struggling to identify with himself and his place in the world of popular music, here finally is a cohesive work that reflects an internal struggle between a deep fear of the world, and a deep desire to rescue it.

Opener Intruder immediately sets the album apart from the last two, with it's paranoid, stripped-down beat laying the bedrock for a cold confessional from a serial criminal. "I like the touch and the smell from all the pretty dresses you wear" whispers Gabriel, in between painful howls from what sound like children. I can't help but picture bad things when he "leaves his mark"; it's like a Michael Mann film in audio form.

The Steve Reich-influenced No Self Control would be ridiculous in its blatant art-rockiness, were it not for its impeccable execution. While I Don't Remember takes a cue from popular no-wave of the era -- XTC, Talking Heads, etc -- it goes beyond the established template by virtue of Gabriel's voice, and the risks taken with the fairly abrasive sounds he includes in the track.

Games Without Frontiers has always been my favorite Gabriel track. Through woozy synths, Kate Bush's enigmatic chorus, and brilliant lyrics, Gabriel takes aim at the fallout seen in 2nd- and 3rd-world countries by the leaders of the UN. Apart from Radiohead, has anyone else ever made such an indictment of free trade and violence-shrouded-in-diplomacy and made it sound so compelling?

It's on this album that Gabriel fully taps into his role as a lyricist to combine stories with instrumentation to create entire worlds and characters. Not One of Us and Lead a Normal Life are mini-movies unto themselves, before the album closes with the stunning Biko. Here Gabriel tackles the death of a South African anti-apartheid activist, who died in police custody in 1977. He revisits the healing world-music sounds of Solsbury Hill, but with an overtly political stance. It's easy to draw a line from Biko to his So album.

Standout tracks: Intruder, No Self Control, I Don't Remember, Games Without Frontiers, Not One Of Us, Lead A Normal Life, Biko


4. Security (1982)

Spoiler: show
The logical extension of Melt, here Gabriel makes an intentional shift towards a greater awareness of the world and his place in it, both as a human and musician. Opener The Rhythm of the Heat is a mad descent into the hell of an unnamed third-world country, while San Jacinto takes an empathetic outsider's view of similar subject matter. I Have The Touch, while a little awkward in its delivery, is interesting for its further melding of world music with pop music. The Family and The Fishing Net calls back to the art-rock of his earlier solo works, albeit it with a more confident, stripped down approach to its instrumentation, and an increased reliance on imagery (both instrumental and lyrical) from beyond the US.

Shock the Monkey is such an uncomfortable pop song. Wiki tells me it's about a "meditation on jealousy," but all I can picture is monkeys in cages being subjected to medical testing. More than anything, I think it's a testament to Gabriel's voice that he could write a song so lyrically unpleasant, yet so eminently listenable.

The albums falters in the last stretch, finishing with a trio of songs which, while not bad, are echoed elsewhere in his catalog to better effect.

Standout tracks: The Rhythm of the Heat, San Jacinto, I Have the Touch, The Family and the Fishing Net, Shock the Monkey


5. So (1986)

Spoiler: show
What happened for Gabriel between 1982 and 1986, I wonder? He returns with a bold, thematic album that abandons the genre-hopping and sonic experimentation of his prior records, focusing solely on the world-music-meets-pop vibe he previously offered on tracks like Solsbury Hill, No Self Control, The Rhythm of the Heat, and Biko, but sculpted here into something more slick and radio-friendly with Daniel Lanois taking the reigns for the first of two albums.

He also seems to have abandoned the fear, paranoia, and anger of the preceding albums in favor of overarching themes of redemption and positive growth; where before he sung like a man searching for meaning (and at times afraid that he may actually find it), he now sings like a man who understands the meaning of life is to be a good citizen of Earth, and he just needs help getting there. Even on Sledgehammer, arguably one of the most palatable songs about mindless sex ever created, the song's character seems to outgrow the concept at the end when he sings "I kicked the habit / shed my skin / this is the new stuff."

The whole album is indispensable, but the crème de la crème includes: Red Rain, Sledgehammer, Don't Give Up, In Your Eyes, and We Do What We're Told.


6. Us (1992)

Spoiler: show
With identical production, instrumentation, and themes as So, this record is very much a continuation of the prior effort. It contains some of his strongest work to date, but then it also has a handful of tracks that start to feel a little stale. Steam is a great pop song for its era, but it's also a blatant retread of Sledgehammer. Digging in the Dirt is equally fun-yet-familiar.

The strongest tracks are the slower numbers, where Gabriel seems to take the approach of the more atmospheric songs from Melt and Security and update them with Lanois's take on pop radio. Washing of the Water is sublime peace, with its final lyric "Bring me something to take this pain away" serving as a perfect summation of this entire era of his music. Fourteen Black Paintings is a lovely track, even if its staying power suffers from the deluge of soundalikes that flooded film soundtracks of any film from the era with a social conscience. Closer Secret World caps off the entire run with another slow burn, brought to life with a mellow percolation of bass guitar and percussion.

Standout tracks: Washing of the Water, Fourteen Black Paintings, and Secret World. I'd say that this album is unique in that it has some second-tier tracks that are great if you've got the time, but are retreads of songs he'd done prior: Love to be Loved, Steam, Digging in the Dirt.


TL;DR:

A long and varied runs of records from 1977-1992. His earlier stuff sees him searching for an identity post-Genesis; his middle records find him hitting what I consider to be his creative peak, full of daring experimentation and conflicting emotions; and his later records find him settling comfortably into a signature sound that is equal parts an aim for the charts, and aim for the listener's sense of social consciousness.

Objective best album: So (1986)
My favorite album: 3, aka Melt (1980)

Very best songs from the entire collection:

Spoiler: show
Solsbury Hill (1977)
Here Comes the Flood (1977)
Indigo (1978)
Exposure (1978)
Intruder (1980)
No Self Control (1980)
I Don't Remember (1980)
Games Without Frontiers (1980)
Biko (1980)
San Jacinto (1982)
The Family and the Fishing Net (1982)
Shock the Monkey (1982)
Red Rain (1986)
Sledgehammer (1986)
Don't Give Up (1986)
In Your Eyes (1986)
Washing of the Water (1992)
Secret World (1992)


Also, I admit I may have missed some great tracks in my rush to digest it all, so feel free to set me straight if there's something you think should be included in my best-of playlist.


Last edited by tragabigzanda on Tue April 24, 2018 4:55 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 3:58 am 
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Also, if anyone wants this entire collection, PM me and I'll get you a link.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 7:40 am 
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That's Phil Collins on Duke. Peter has already left.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 10:37 am 
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Mike wrote:
That's Phil Collins on Duke. Peter has already left.

D'oh! Thanks.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 4:32 pm 
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I listen to his solo stuff often.

Mix on my phone:

01 Biko
02 Solsbury Hill
03 Sledgehammer
04 Steam
05 Red Rain
06 Games Without Frontiers
07 Shock The Monkey
08 Don't Remember
09 Big Time
10 Digging In The Dirt
11 In Your Eyes
12 Shaking The Tree


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 4:34 pm 
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bada wrote:
I listen to his solo stuff often.

Mix on my phone:

01 Biko
02 Solsbury Hill
03 Sledgehammer
04 Steam
05 Red Rain
06 Games Without Frontiers
07 Shock The Monkey
08 Don't Remember
09 Big Time
10 Digging In The Dirt
11 In Your Eyes
12 Shaking The Tree

That's a baller mix, bada.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 4:46 pm 
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Thanks. Its a hits mix but it's a pretty good picture of his solo stuff at least the albums I know. I lost track of him after Us.


Last edited by bada on Tue April 24, 2018 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 4:50 pm 
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bada wrote:
Thanks. Its mostly a hits mix but it's a pretty good picture of his solo stuff at least the albums I know. I lost track of him after Us.

Yeah, but sometimes hits are hits for a reason. As an introduction, it's fantastic.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 11:06 pm 
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bada wrote:
I listen to his solo stuff often.

Mix on my phone:

01 Biko
02 Solsbury Hill
03 Sledgehammer
04 Steam
05 Red Rain
06 Games Without Frontiers
07 Shock The Monkey
08 Don't Remember
09 Big Time
10 Digging In The Dirt
11 In Your Eyes
12 Shaking The Tree


Yep, this is solid. Opening with Biko is a bold choice. Red Rain > Games Without Frontiers is a great transition pick.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Tue April 24, 2018 11:55 pm 
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Intruder is probably my favourite Gabriel song; that nervy, paranoid, new wave thing really works for me.

trag wrote:
world-music-meets-pop vibe

This is where I get off the train.

trag wrote:
Exposure is one of the purest joys of this entire journey. Full of sticky, sexy swagger, there's nothing else in this collection that sounds quite like it. Reminds me of David Essex and Prince

It probably sounds quite different as it was primarily written by Robert Fripp (who produced the second PG album, and plays great guitar all over the first three) and is also the title track of his 1979 solo album:



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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Wed April 25, 2018 4:36 am 
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Birds in Hell wrote:
Intruder is probably my favourite Gabriel song; that nervy, paranoid, new wave thing really works for me.

it's kind of shocking how much of NIN's The Fragile owes to this one song.

Birds in Hell wrote:
trag wrote:
world-music-meets-pop vibe

This is where I get off the train.

what about his earlier, edgier attempts at this (Biko, No Self Control, etc)?

Birds in Hell wrote:
trag wrote:
Exposure is one of the purest joys of this entire journey. Full of sticky, sexy swagger, there's nothing else in this collection that sounds quite like it. Reminds me of David Essex and Prince

It probably sounds quite different as it was primarily written by Robert Fripp (who produced the second PG album, and plays great guitar all over the first three) and is also the title track of his 1979 solo album:


whoa! thanks for this, sounds awesome and i will listen more very soon


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Wed April 25, 2018 2:05 pm 
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I feel like I am finally of age to venture into Peter Gabriel's catalog. So where should I start?


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Wed April 25, 2018 3:26 pm 
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lowlight79 wrote:
I feel like I am finally of age to venture into Peter Gabriel's catalog. So where should I start?

PM sent


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Wed April 25, 2018 3:27 pm 
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Also, here's that great Exposure song Spenno and I were discussing:



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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Wed April 25, 2018 5:08 pm 
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This is the Intruder song we've been discussing. It's a far cry from In Your Eyes:



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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2018 2:52 pm 
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CoS: Peter Gabriel’s music is coming to Spotify


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2018 2:54 pm 
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tragabigzanda wrote:

:hooray:


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2018 7:31 pm 
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i'm listening to Melt on youtube right now


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2018 7:35 pm 
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bodysnatcher wrote:
i'm listening to Melt on youtube right now

:nice: Please share your thoughts.


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 Post subject: Re: Dispatches from the Real World: A Peter Gabriel Thread
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2018 7:51 pm 
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tragabigzanda wrote:
bodysnatcher wrote:
i'm listening to Melt on youtube right now

:nice: Please share your thoughts.


i'm honestly really loving it. this is really hitting some sort of sweet spot that i've been looking to hit with rock music. about halfway through right now. just finished "And Through the Wire". really liked that song.


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