Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15: Peter Gabriel, "Peter Gabriel (3)"

Artist: Peter Gabriel
Album: Peter Gabriel (3)
Year: 1980
Label: Mercury/Geffen

One of the most challenging tasks for a musician is often the quest to find success as a solo artist after being a part of a successful band. In most cases, the performer in question ends up "trapped" in the shadow of their former band, and rarely move beyond the fan-base they had previously. In a handful of cases, there have been certain musicians who are so amazingly talented, that they are album to completely re-define themselves, and these elite few stand as some of the most recognizable and influential performers in history. High atop this list of artists who were able to overcome their former band stands one of the most progressive and innovative musicians in history, the unmatched Peter Gabriel. Having quickly climbed out of the massive shadow of his former band, Genesis, Peter Gabriel established his place as a solo artist with a handful of hits throughout his first two solo releases. These first two records both cracked the top ten in album sales, as well as spawning a few hit singles. It was Gabriel's amazing ability to fuse together "artsy" musical landscapes with brilliant lyrics and stunning vocal performances that led to his success, but there was clearly something still missing from the albums. Entering the studio in late 1979, Gabriel enlisted the assistance of a few friends, as well as a visionary, up and coming producer and the results remain his most extraordinary work to date, as well as one of the greatest albums ever, 1980's Peter Gabriel.

Peter Gabriel's third self-titled album, also known as 3 or Melt represents his first (and only) release by Mercury Records, though the circumstances surrounding it are a bit odd. After his former label, Atlantic Records, was given the demos for the album, they felt it was not going to be a successful record, and on the advice of John Kaldoner, Gabriel was dropped from the label. Mercury Records was then able to issue the album for about three years, and after their contract lapsed, Gabriel was signed to the newly formed Geffen Records, but their new executive, John Kaldoner. One of the key reasons for the success of Peter Gabriel is undoubtedly the presence of one of musics' most respected producers, Steve Lillywhite. Having worked with everyone from Phish to Talking Heads to Counting Crows, there are few producers in the world today with as impressive a resumé. On Peter Gabriel, Lillywhite clearly has his work cut out for him, as the moods and styles presented by Gabriel are all across the board, from the dark and gloomy sounds of "Intruder" to the complex percussion and synthesizer arrangements scattered throughout the rest of the album. Regardless of the style that Gabriel is exploring, every track sounds perfect, and Lillywhite's ability to balance the myriad of instruments serves as a testament to his amazing ability as a producer and engineer.

This amazing amount of musical complexity could not have been achieved by Gabriel alone, and the list of backing musicians is as impressive as it is lengthy. In what is an exceptionally rare case, one of Gabriel's former bandmates, Phil Collins, lends his fantastic drumming to a few tracks on the album, and each of these is a standout. In fact, Collins used his work on Peter Gabriel to experiment with his own sounds, and the echo-filled, looming sound that he achieves on "Intruder" became one of his trademark sounds, and is the first appearance of the "gated" drumming technique. Shortly before the first reformation of King Crimson, guitar god Robert Fripp lent his talents for a pair of songs on Peter Gabriel, and his presence on the album is nothing short of stunning. Lending backing vocals to a number of songs is the woman who holds the title as being the first female to ever have a number one hit with her own song in the U.K., Kate Bush. One of these songs, "Games Without Frontiers," cracked the top five on the singles charts and remains one of Gabriel's most beloved songs to this day. The song represents one of the most brutal critiques of violence and war that has ever been written, and to this day, the lyrics are still relevant and moving. While the entire lineup found throughout Peter Gabriel play brilliantly on every track, the presence of this trio of musicians is one of the many aspects that makes the record nothing short of legendary.

As amazing as the other musical contributors are all through Peter Gabriel, the album would be nothing without the amazing talent and true musical genius of Peter Gabriel himself. Possessing one of the most wide-ranging and emotive voices in history, Gabriel remains one of the most innovative and dynamic vocalists and performers of all time. Along with his fantastic voice, there are few artists who have pushed music forward as much as Gabriel, as throughout his career, he has constantly been searching for something "new" on every album. His ability to create truly theatrical musical works further sets him aside from his peers, and his live performances are nothing short of legendary. Along with all of this, Peter Gabriel is also one of the finest lyricists of his generation, musing on topics both humorous and serious. On Peter Gabriel, he presents one of his most well known and moving songs in the form of the anti-apartheid, anti-hate song, "Biko." Written about the (then) still recent and shocking torture and murder of South African activist, Steven Biko, the song found moderate chart success, and became the a staple closer for Gabriel's live performances. Furthering the dark overtones of Peter Gabriel is the beautifully melodic, yet hauntingly lyric'd, "Family Snapshot." Written about the attempted assassination of George Wallace, with undeniable references to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, both the mood and vocal performance remain unrivaled to this day. Though he had already proven his ability, it is on his third self-titled album that Peter Gabriel reached his musical apex, and his performance on every song is nothing short of extraordinary.

Finding the perfect balance between melody, pop appeal, and making an "artsy" record, Peter Gabriel's third self-titled record is one of the most mind-blowing albums one can ever hope to experience. Blending together a wide variety of instruments, from rich horn sections to multiple synthesizers, to more traditional guitars and piled vocals, Gabriel creates musical textures like nothing else heard before this album. With musical cameos from some of the biggest names in music, as well as the incomparable production work from Steve Lillywhite, Peter Gabriel stands today as one of the most progressive and forward-thinking albums of all time. The success of the album is somewhat strange, as most records that are as dark and bleak as Peter Gabriel do not see much public popularity. However, this serves as a testament to the phenomenal music found therein, as well as the brilliant writing and vocal performance delivered by Gabriel himself. Truly exploring every aspect of his music, the songs run the gamut in everything from length to theme to the choices in instrumentation, and this enables the music itself to become nearly as memorable as the lyrics and vocal work. Though he made amazing records in his days with Genesis, after releasing his third solo album, 1980's Peter Gabriel, he had unquestionably found his own, unique sound, and both the record, as well as Gabriel himself, remain among the most highly respected releases in the history of recorded music.

Standout tracks: "Intruder," "Games Without Frontiers," and "Biko."

1 comment:

Stéphane Tavera said...

wow ! I'm a fan and your review was a pleasure to read. Do you plan to review PG IV or Passion ?