Peter Gabriel – was a founder member of early 70’s prog-rock band Genesis (see G). After ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, Peter left the bnad (quite amicably for a change) and decided to record solo. He is also famous for titling his forst 4 records simply as Peter Gabriel. The first is known now as Peter Gabriel 1 Car as the cover is him sitting in a car. Well, what an album; from the first notes of ‘Moribund the Burgermeister’ to the epic closer ‘Here Comes The Flood’ it simply sweeps you away. A multitude of styles; the almost vaudeville of ‘Excuse me’ and the great single ‘Solsbury Hill’. This must rate as one of the most accomplished debut records of all time. The following year he released what is now known as Peter Gabriel 2 scratch. Well, not quite as good as PG1 I think. Some excellent songs but maybe it was rushed out a bit too soon; in those days artists were expected to churn out a new album every year. It was album tour, short rest for writing then album and tour. There doesn’t seem as much invention either in the sounds or the lyrics. Some good songs though; ‘On The Air’, ‘Exposure’ and closer ‘Home Sweet Home’ are memorable. As usual though listening again a couple of times after so long and it all comes back and I really enjoy the record. Peter Gabriel 3 Melt came out in 1980 and what an album; probably the most sinister and psycho record I have ever heard. Most of the songs are to do with mental illness ‘No Self Control’ or assassination ‘Family Snapshot’, about the John Kennedy killing) and ‘Intruder’ – about a real pervert. Saying this, it is a superb sounding record. Peter along with producer Steve Lillywhite wanted a starker drum sound and with Phil Collins developed the ‘gated’ drum sound where there is no reverberation and no cymbals in the drumming just a stark sharp sound. This became almost a hallmark of the ‘Eighties sound’ but this was the first time it was used. The songs seem to blend with each other too, as if it were a concept album (which Gabriel denies) but this album really broke Peter through into a wider audience, and the last song ‘Biko’ about Steve Biko who was killed in South Africa is a tour de force. Not forgetting the hit single ‘Games Without Frontiers’ All in all this must be my favourite Peter Gabriel album.
2 years late his last self-titled album came out – known as Peter Gabriel 4 – Security. This is almost as good as PG3 but the sound is fuller and the production heavier. Only 8 songs but most are longer than 6 minutes, and quite varied too. A continuation of the sound on PG3, sharp gated drums, although many ended up being sampled. First track is probably the best ‘Rhythm Of The Heat’ based on African drumming; Peter was becoming very involved with World Music and spent years promoting it on his own record label, Other great songs include the hit single ‘Shock The Monkey’, ‘San Jacinto’ and ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’. Next up is Peter Gabriel Plays Live, I used to have this double album on vinyl but now just have the highlights on CD. I did see him play live, twice actually – first time was just as PG3 was released and it was the best. Then a few years ago when he played for just an hour at a festival somewhere. The album is superb, brilliant renditions of songs from his first 4 albums and one song ‘I Go Swimming’ recorded for PG3 but not on that album. In 1986 Peter released his biggest selling album. He was persuaded to give it a title and chose a simple word So. Well, despite this being by far his most popular record it was never my favourite. It had the huge hit ‘Sledgehammer’ with its award winning video and the duet with Kate Bush ‘Don’t Give Up’. Despite those two standout tracks I find the album a bit boring; gone are the innovative ideas, the weird lyrics, the sinister songs and instead we have pretty commercial sounding songs. Oh well. I was actually so disappointed that for a few years I stopped buying his records – not that there were so many, apart from soundtracks, only two more solo albums in 20 years. I did buy his greatest hits ‘Shaking The Tree’ (1990) and I enjoyed it; a pretty good selection of songs, quite a few re-recorded or different versions and a couple of soundtrack songs, heavily relying on tracks form So and Security but still a nice record. And then a rather strange little treasure. In 2007 Peter agreed to release a sort of Greatest Hits on a free giveaway CD with The Daily Mail. I cannot imagine that many of the Mail readers enjoyed it, but I certainly did. A rather strange compilation – some tracks from the records I missed (Us and Up) and a few live numbers and a couple of remixes. Best new tracks ‘Father and Son’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ but I really liked the live versions of ‘Solsbury Hill’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’ too. I actually saw him again in Hyde Park (he wasn’t the headline act) around this time and he was good but not fantastic.
I mentioned before that Peter after an initial burst of recording slowed down almost to a halt later on. After only 2 albums in the eighties and nineties, it was 2010 before he released a new studio album, and then it was a covers record; Scratch my Back. This was a concept where he would record a song by artists and they would record one of his. It didn’t quite work out though. Still, the album – opens with 2 familiar songs ‘Heroes’ by Bowie (see B) and ‘Boy in the Bubble’ by Paul Simon (see S). Most of the other songs were lesser known so appeared fresher to my ears. The record is orchestral and voice, which is nice but somehow it lacks something too. In fact one wonders just why he bothered. He obviously was not composing any new songs himself; perhaps he thought he could bring something new and innovative to songs he had always admired. But I think he failed; the record is ponderous and very low key, his voice often no more than a whisper when it used to soar, and the record leaves me cold. A pity, as it could have been really something. The last album (so far) that he has released is New Blood, released in 2011, just a year after the last one. This is a radical re-working of many of his earlier songs, again using just orchestra and piano and voice, mostly quieter versions but a better album than its predecessor. Nice to hear the old songs again with different if mostly quieter arrangements, but really I still prefer the earlier dramatic production. A strange one, Peter Gabriel; so much talent and he left Genesis to do his own stuff which for 4 or 5 albums was brilliant, then he sort of stalled and has seemed uninterested in his remarkable talent ever since. Oh well.