Discipline Reviews: Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (1980) [CLASSIC ALBUM]

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PETER GABRIEL

Oh my god, what's wrong with your face!?

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Artist: Peter Gabriel
Released in: 1980
Genre: Art Rock / New Wave
Label: Charisma, Mercury, Geffen
Producer: Steve Lillywhite
Length: 45:18
Tracks: 10
Best Track: any of them, but for the sake of it, let's say Biko.

TRACKS: 1) Intruder; 2) No Self-Control; 3) Start; 4) I Don't Remember; 5) Family Snapshot; 6) And Through The Wire; 7) Games Without Frontiers; 8) Not One Of Us; 9) Lead A Normal Life; 10) Biko

NOTE: this review was supposed to be posted this Saturday, but due to Daylight Savings Time, I was unable to post it then, presumably because of errors in the time of posting that would ensue. So here it is on Sunday instead.

Introduction

Today, we talk about the best solo record released by a member of Genesis that wasn't Steve Hackett.

Out of all the solo careers that progressive rock group Genesis has created, there are at least (well, at most, even) three worth mentioning: the first is that of Phil Collins, maybe the last pop superstar, the second is that of guitarist Steve Hackett, who has done more intense progressive rock efforts than most of his contemporaries in the mid-70's and is still kicking strong with his 2011 album Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, and the third is that of Peter Gabriel.

Peter Gabriel has, admittedly, had a very fruitful solo career. His first album was already a big success in the UK, and his 1986 album So not only featured hit singles like "Sledgehammer", "Red Rain", the unbelievably disappointing duet between Peter and Kate Bush titled "Don't Give Up", and "In Your Eyes", but could be considered one of the best and most recognizable pop albums of the late 1980's. That's without going over the other albums he's made truckloads of money with before he'd end up shitting the bed and, instead of making new material, making covers and orchestral re-recordings in Scratch My Back and New Blood respectively.

After a successful debut and a slightly less successful second record, (PRODUCED BY ROBERT FRIPP!!!!!11!!!!!!1ELEVEN!!11!), he released his third self-titled album (also called Peter Gabriel III or Melt due to its cover), which has hit #1 on the UK Charts with the force of a steam truck and is considered, as of this day, the best album he has ever put out. Why is that so? Let's find out, I'm here just for that purpose.


The Album

Let me introduce you all to the term "floored". In terms of listening to music, this word is more or less used to define the type of album that you know is incredible right from your first listen: not only do you like it, you're thrown to the floor and kicked right in the gonads by it, it's that good. While this term might be tainted due to someone having said they were floored when they first listened to Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I know at least two albums that have floored me straight away.

The first one is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, by alternative rock group Wilco, which I reviewed not long after I first checked it out and realized how fucking great it was, and the other is Peter Gabriel III. I know I first listened to it while walking from one place and back on Saturday, the 5th of April, 2014, because that's when I gave it a rating on Rateyourmusic.com. I gave it 5 stars back then, and it's still worth 5 stars now: I just decided to put it on because it was on my iPod and I hadn't listened to it before.

It's a good-ass album. Really, the fact that Phil Collins, Kate Bush and my god Robert Fripp are in a track here and there doesn't actually explain at all why this album is so good. Say all you want about the performances (even if Phil Collins did make the amazing drum pattern in "Intruder", and Robert Fripp did do the intense guitar lines in "No Self-Control" and "I Don't Remember") of the musicians featured in this album, but Peter Gabriel made this masterpiece himself.

But what is it about? It's about lots of things, really. My first idea was to call it a prototypical The Terror, but while Peter Gabriel III does feature intense elements of fear and paranoia, this is only very pervasive in the first half of the record. But the thing is that this half, especially for the first two tracks, has such an impact that it's easy to say that "this album is fucking scary as shit". But it's far from that: it touches upon quite a few other things, and not in any worse fashion than the first two songs.

The opening song, "Intruder", immediately gets you in the rhythm of the album with one of the most imposing drum patterns in art rock, and then piles up a whole bunch of effects, including the sampled vocals of some children singing and screaming at the same time, an incredible guitar line from a fellow called David Rhodes, and the main man Peter Gabriel doing vocals. His performance is nothing short of amazing: the lyrics, which come from a burglar breaking into a house, set the tone for one hell of an album.

"No Self-Control" doesn't ease up either. Featuring a highly technical and frenetic xylophone line, some terrifying guitar and synthesizer lines, and, yet again, Peter Gabriel's marvelous vocals, this one captures perfectly someone who starts losing their sense of self-control, trying all they can to subdue their inability to stop and the creatures that are out to get them via eating, sleeping, violence or even lurking the streets for hours on end. The bridge makes the mood reach an impossible fever pitch.

After a short but moody and groovy instrumental called "Start" (featuring a remarkable saxophone line that immediately brings up images of waiting for bombs to drop during the Cold War), we get to "I Don't Remember", which, like "No Self-Control", features Robert Fripp on guitar and more incredible vocals from Peter. Admittedly, this song isn't as great musically or lyrically as the first two songs, but I'm still very fond of it thanks to the various effects, the ending, and the lyrical subject concerning someone with amnesia and who flips their shit over the fact that they don't remember their past.

"Family Snapshot" is also certainly a highlight: not only is it based, musically, on mood and rhythm instead of melody (which already makes the song very interesting), but it's a masterpiece of storytelling. The lyrics are about a presidential assassin who flashes back to his troubled childhood, where his parents kept fighting, but it could also be easily about a kid fantasizing about assassinating the president, and eventually snapping out of it to practice on his parents. Either way, the pacing and vocal execution of this story is done masterfully: this song has a better-executed concept than the entirety of The Wall.

After that comes my personal least favorite track, "And Through The Wire": as with all masterpieces, though, it's still a great song. Lyrically, it's about maintaining a long-distance relationship and fearing that you're being continually traced, and while the song isn't as paranoid as the lyrics imply, it compensates by being a very rocking and very optimistic track to finish an otherwise very downbeat and tension-filled first side.

The second side begins with "Games Without Frontiers". While the lyrics have, in parts, grown off of me, this is still a top-notch effort thanks to the various sound effects, Kate Bush saying "jeux sans frontières" in the background, and all of the types of tones and notes and percussion lines that give the track a guerrilla warfare feel. "Not One Of Us", a rocker about oppression from the perspective of the oppressors, is maybe the most straightforward track, and it works very well thanks to the drive it has.

I find it strange, though, that "Lead A Normal Life" is often considered the weakest song on this album. It's an instrumental mainly driven by a xylophone, a piano, the occasional guitar and voice effects, and Peter, who pops in for a few moments to bring in a wonderfully subdued performance. I like this instrumental a lot: after a quite strong 8-song stretch, this is a very good breather, and it's up to you if you want this to be peaceful or falsely peaceful (as the lyrics could be about someone in a psychiatric hospital).

We then come up with the closing "Biko". Lyrically being a tribute to Steve Biko, a former anti-apartheid activist who was brutally killed by the South African police in 1977, this song is often played at the end of Peter Gabriel's concerts, with very good reason. People can harp on the concept of an anthem song, but if this is not one of the greatest anthem songs, it is the most touching and moving one: the bare percussion, the guitar and synth lines, the continual stacking of vocal lines five minutes in... the result is nothing short of breath-taking.


Conclusion

Yep, even with all those subtleties, it's still yet another 1980's new wave/art rock album to add to the pile, but what can I say? The 80's did have lots of great records! Not that Peter Gabriel III is, by any sense of the term, reminiscent of the 80's: even ignoring the fact that it came out very early in the decade, this album is simply unique. Not even just unique: timeless. It may be, in the end, sort of comparable to The Terror on paper ("it's about fear kek"), but I know nothing that does what this record does, and certainly nothing that pulls it off this well.

In other words, if you neither want to listen to the pure prog rock masterpiece that is Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings nor the pure pop rock masterpiece that is Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, you can bet your ass that Peter Gabriel III will satisfy in both regards, with some extra stuff on top.

PERSONAL RATING: *****
RECOMMENDATION RATING: ****½
LETTERED RATING: Epsilon


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