Sunday, 5 January 2014
124 Peter Gabriel (3)
Purchased : May 1989
Tracks : Intruder / No Self-Control / Start / I Don't Remember / Family Snapshot / And Through The Wire / Games Without Frontiers / Not One Of Us / Lead A Normal Life / Biko
This was another purchase from Britannia.
Here I come up against the TPL conundrum. It's fine if I get to an LP before Marcello does but if it's the other way round he doesn't leave much to say and I tend to assume anyone coming here also goes there though I don't imagine the reverse is true.
Anyway this was the third of Peter Gabriel's pre-So self-titled albums , also known unofficially as "Melt" for the front cover , and the biggest seller due to its big hit single. It was released in May 1980 and gave Peter his first number one record. It's also notable for its eclectic roster of guest stars.
The opening track "Intruder " is said to be the first track to feature the "gated" drum sound popularised by the man on the sticks here Phil Collins. He opens the song with a typically thunderous drum pattern which remains the backbone of the song. Gabriel adopts a proletarian accent for his first person account of a burglar breaking into a rich couple's house for the thrill. The music tells the story from the point of view of the occupants , striving to re-create the unsettling feeling that there's an alien presence in the home with creaks and scrapes, an unhinged xylophone solo and scary backing vocals ( pilfered wholesale by Tears For Fears on The Prisoner and this isn't the only track they were listening to ).
"No Self Control" was the second single from the LP and reached number 33 which was pretty good going for an utterly undanceable song about mental illness with no real chorus. Collins sticks around but he's not there for the whole song as the quiet verses are set to a bubbling rhythm played on marimbas. Robert Fripp supplies the needling guitar and Gabriel's friend Kate Bush echoes his declaration of the title as Collins cuts loose in his own inimitable style. It's heady stuff but does lack any hook that you could really remember the song by.
Start is a brief saxophone instrumental played by jazz legend Dick Morrissey. It sounds more like the coda at the end of a song rather than the beginning which may be the joke.
"I Don't Remember" could be about amnesia but is more likely about a man under interrogation. It's a crunching modern rock song that could just as easily been on Bowie's Scary Monsters. XTC's Dave Gregory makes his presence felt on guitar, Tony Levin's Chapman Stick gives the track a queasy feel with Gabriel's wordless wails subtly suggesting a move onto actual torture. It was a non-charting fourth single release in 1980 but a live version scraped the bottom end of the charts three years later.
"Family Snapshot" is an account of the Kennedy assassination from the point of view of Oswald. It has a tripartite structure beginning as a piano ballad as Oswald awaits the President's arrival then becomes more threatening as the cars arrive and Jerry Marotta's drums and Morrissey's sax point the way to the tragedy. After the line "I let the bullet fly" it all dies down again to John Giblin's bass and a little quiet synth as Gabriel finds the attention-seeking little boy in Oswald's motivations. Tears For Fears listed it as one of their favourite songs in an early interview for Smash Hits and it's not hard to join the dots.
"And Through The Wire" features the most surprising guest player Paul Weller on guitar. This wasn't mentioned at all in Paul Honeyford's book on The Jam so his name on the credits was a real surprise to me. Apparently The Jam were working on Sound Affects in the same studio and Weller was invited to contribute. It's a bracing listen with Weller's power-chording and Marotta's cowbell combining with a half-snarled vocal to abrasive effect. It seems to be about the inadequacies of a relationship by telephone.
Side Two starts with the incomparable "Games Without Frontiers", an anti-war song that mocks militarism by comparing the mentality to children's games and the mindless TV game show It's A Knockout ( Gabriel must be glad he didn't namecheck Stuart Hall ) . Kate Bush turns up again to sing the refrain "Jeux Sans Frontiers" as Gabriel recites the nursery rhyme lyrics. The arrangement is superb with Marotta's percussion working with David Rhodes's needling guitar and Larry Fast's synths to conjure up a sinister atmosphere before a brief whistled melody ( c/o Gabriel and producers Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite ) leads into the agonised chorus. A number 4 hit in February 1980 it should have gone at least 3 places higher.
"Not One Of Us" is pretty clearly about prejudice and discrimination and with Fripp back on board is noisy and rocky. Marotta pounds away throughout sounding not unlike XTC's Terry Chambers . For me it's one of the weaker tracks with an unsubtle chanted chorus.
"Lead A Normal Life " is mainly a quiet instrumental with piano and percussion supporting a simple Satie-esque melody and one verse about life in a psychiatric hospital. After that synth noises and distant drumming hint that all is not well beyond the visitors suite.
"Biko" was Gabriel's muleheaded choice as third single and was partly vindicated by its Top 40 placing. It's a slow unremitting protest song about the black activist murdered in South Africa three years earlier, resting on a simple percussion hook ( again pilfered by Tears For Fears for Ideas As Opiates ) . Collins returns halfway through the song to play the surdo ( a huge bass drum usually used in samba ) while Gabriel recounts the story in his most impassioned tones augmented by Larry Fast's bagpipes ( on paper an unlikely combination but it works ). The song is bookended by snatches of the African song of defiance "Senzeni Na " which was sung at Biko's funeral. With due regard to George Harrison the road to Live Aid began here. As a single it baffled me but it makes more sense in this context.
As Marcello's piece said this album was recorded in a febrile threatening time and impressively reflects that. It doesn't make it an album for all seasons and no doubt many of those converted by So recoiled when this went into the CD player (which might be justification enough).
That's where we leave Peter in this story. Although his 1992 comeback single "Digging In The Dirt" was a belter the next one Steam was so blatantly a rewrite of "Sledgehammer" that it killed any interest in its parent. As to PGs 1,2 & 4 if I'd seen one of them in a sale I would probably have taken a punt but that simply never happened .