Album of the Week 10-2016: Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 3


After two albums of progressive, yet still pretty conventional music – just how conventional an album that involves Peter Gabriel and Robert Fripp can really be is open for debate – Gabriel really immersed himself into synthesizers, African rhythms, drums without cymbals and proto-electronic music on his third self-titled record, nicknamed ‘Melt’ for its album cover. It says enough about how ahead of his time Gabriel was that this album – released in 1980 – sounds like it’s from the mid to late eighties. But even disregarding the album’s progressive nature, the song material itself is among the best Gabriel has ever recorded.

Gabriel has always danced on the line between progressive and accessible and though ‘So’ – an amazing album in its own right – was his mainstream breakthrough, not one other album of Gabriel’s balances out those extremes so perfectly. There’s a lot of darkness in the lyrics on the album, but Gabriel and his producer Steve Lillywhite always find a way to give the songs a hook. That’s probably how the cynical ‘Games Without Frontiers’, which spots a distinct guest performance by Kate Bush, became this album’s unlikely hit song. In fact, it was his most successful single at the time.

There’s not really anything like a common sound throughout the album. Though apart from the somewhat upbeat ‘And Through The Wire’, most of the songs are dark and rhythmical. The maniacal ‘I Don’t Remember’ with its fantastic Chapman stick work courtesy of Tony Levin and ‘Not One Of Us’ bring sound like they’re built from the same artistic ideas as what the Talking Heads were doing at the time, whereas the tuned ideophones of the brilliantly structured ‘No Self Control’ seem to prelude his later forays into African-inspired music. Speaking of the African inspiration: there’s ‘Biko’, Gabriel’s stately, brooding tribute to the anti-apartheid activist.

My personal favorite of the record is the bleak, dark opening track ‘Intruder’. With it’s pronounced drum pattern – Gabriel’s former Genesis mate Phil Collins and his first experiment with gated drum sounds – and dissonant main riff, as well as the subdued danger in Gabriel’s voice make this song amazingly atmospheric. Nightmare fuel maybe, but it’s a great mood-setter for an album that isn’t all that cheerful anyway. The somewhat more conventional sounding ‘Family Snapshot’ is another highlight. It builds from a piano ballad to several fantastic climaxes and as a result, it has a sense of drama that is rare in progressive music.

Of course, Peter Gabriel would become more famous with subsequent albums, but while his first two self-titled albums had a couple of amazing moments, this is the first album to fully capture his unique and as of yet unequaled artistic vision. While not without hooks, this masterpiece is rather an album that slowly reveals its secrets to the listener through multiple spins and in a way, those are usually the albums with the largest replay value. Highly recommended to everyone who likes profound, truly progressive music and doesn’t mind a cynical, gloomy observation every now and then.

Recommended tracks: ‘Intruder’, ‘Family Snapshot’, ‘I Don’t Remember’

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