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Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 3 [Aka: Melt] CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

4.20 | 915 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Best Bounceback of All Time

In 1980, Peter Gabriel released III / Melt, arguably the best album of his career. After the exploratory debut and extremely lackluster follow-up, PG finally discovered his solo identity. Discarding modern pop rock for electronic studio experimentation, Gabriel established the sound and style that would carry him for the rest of his career (though he would add world music increasingly into the formula over time). Never before had he used his voice so much as a sonic instrument, never before had he successfully recorded the full breadth of his vocal range, and certainly never before had he ventured so wide with keyboard textures.

Designing an almost completely new sound for himself, Gabriel adopted a "no-cymbals" credo for his rhythm parts, a move that turn long time drummer Jerry Marotta from a solid session player into one of the most interesting percussionists on record. Phil Collins also returns and this record marks his first recorded use of the reverse gated drum sound that he would later use in the most famous drumming of all time, on his huge hit "In the Air Tonight." A variety of bass sounds are used - from Tony Levin's Chapman stick, to John Giblin's fretless work, to bass synths by Gabriel and Larry Fast. Building the songs bit by bit up from very consciously composed rhythm parts rather than stock beats, Gabriel adopts a new way of constructing music, with all textures being part of a whole.

Interestingly, while going beyond a normal singer-songwriter format, Gabriel succeeds in producing some of his best lyrics and vocal performances. Despite numerous vocal effects and layers, the words come out more clearly than either of his first two albums, and he is able to convey sadness, menace, humor, desperation, and hope with his full conviction.

1. Intruder - The first sounds we hear are Phil Collins' colossal drum beats, which were a very novel sound at the time. Gabriel takes the most progressive track on Scratch (Exposure) and improves it in every aspect. A more elaborate lyric and a scary vocal announce that the last album is being left firmly behind. Armed with new energy, PG is jumping headfirst into an experimental realm, what most fans had hoped for from the beginning. The bone-chilling whistle at the end of the song reminds of moments from Genesis, but Gabriel's development as an artist, his increased command of his sonic palette, has gone far beyond anything he did with his former band.

2. No Self Control - Astoundingly, the music gets more intense and frankly better on the second song. Collins plays like a demon on this tune, his work certainly spurring the change in Marotta's style. A textural masterpiece, the bell sounds and creepy guitar sounds make me think Robert Fripp must have contributed significantly to this song. The fretless bass is monstrous, the dynamics incredible.

3. Start - A brief instrumental break with heavily reverbed sax, this serves mainly as a transition between two extremely intense songs.

4. I Don't Remember - This is the first song to have a pop sound on the record. Still, the lyric and tone are quite dark and Gabriel relies heavily on a distorted vocal sound that appears on numerous songs on the album. This time, it is Tony Levin on the Chapman stick that provides the phenomenal bass work that act as the primary accompaniment. Some of my favorite lyrics appear here like "Stop staring at me like a bird of prey," and the entire first verse.

5, Family Snapshot - This song is a triumph, a perfect example of how far Peter has come since Scratch. Some of the basic theme is similar to PG II's opener "On the Air," but here the sophistication has been deepened by about 4 to 5 layers. The single phrase "Shoot into the Light" has so many implied meanings (compared to the straightforward Scratch lyrics) that despite hundreds of listenings, I find myself discovering new meanings found in this song. The dynamics here range from gentle and spare to accelerated and manic. Hidden behind the Lee Harvey Oswald ? like story is a more universal statement about the need to find meaning and recognition. The metaphor does have some limits, but Gabriel's vocal performance (perhaps the best of his career) makes this song drip with meaning and emotion.

6. And Through the Wire - This is the only song that harkens back to the style of the second album, though it's much better executed than any of those songs. Here the repeated refrain does get old, which happens nowhere else on the record. Still, the song is listenable and is only a minor hiccup on an otherwise flawless album.

7. Games Without Frontiers - Combining pop sensibility, one of the best opening lyric lines in history, and a chilling vocal from Kate Bush, this song once again showcases how far Gabriel has come as a composer and artist. Unashamedly electronic, the song still holds up 30 years later which is astounding given its reliance on technology.

8. Not One of Us - This one opens with a multi-colored texture feast courtesy of Gabriel and Fripp before settling into a dark pop song. The lyric is about division of ideas rather than the usual superficial demarcations, suggesting almost a scary need to segregate.

9. Lead a Normal Life - This one is a slow burner. A beautiful bell rhythm and almost ambient piano yield to distorted dissonance, perfectly depicting a mental patient in a pastoral asylum. Truly chilling, the song begs the question ? are we the patients and who is holding back the knives?

10. Biko - This compelling protest song about how the death of Stephen Biko brought attention to apartheid is a perfect ending to this near perfect album. Simultaneously beautiful and dark, armed with dead serious lyrics delivered with raw emotion, this song embodies everything that made this album work and the previous one fail. It also hints at the depths to which future work would rely on world rhythms and tonalities.

Gabriel took huge risks on this album, and in the end provided fans with perhaps the best music his genius would ever create. Interestingly, the record company dropped him for this record and only later came crawling back after it became clear what a monumental (and popular) piece of work this would be. It is the freshness of that risk that makes this album so powerful. Later albums continue to include phenomenal pieces of music in the style established here, but never quite capture Gabriel's desperation and full creativity simultaneously like this. It is an absolute masterpiece, a must have piece of every prog collection.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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