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Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 1 [Aka: Car] CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

3.57 | 690 ratings

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4 stars I got to know Peter Gabriel's work in a very ass-backwards way. First of all, it wasn't until early '76 after he'd gone solo I discovered how great his former outfit Genesis was. See, up till then I was such a rabid Yes freak I dismissed any group that did anything akin to what Yes was doing out of hand, thinking they'd only be an inferior imitation of the real thing. I was between bands at the time, working in a record store to make ends meet when "Trick of the Tail" was released. I was so taken with that album I actually entertained the far-fetched notion that I'd been wrong to snobbishly ignore them so long. Though Peter wasn't on that particular platter I soon realized what a gifted singer he was as I systematically accumulated the Genesis catalogue and developed affection for their brand of progressive rock music I found to be on a par with Yes' but wholly different. I wasn't upset that Gabriel had left the fold because their records from "Trespass" through "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" were all wonderfully new to me and, besides, the group had shown they were still going great guns without him. To be honest, it wasn't until Peter's 3rd disc came out in '80 that I deemed he was worth investigating and that was the beginning of a long-term relationship with his art that continues unabated.

I was aware of him, of course, but my infatuation with Genesis was so strong in the late 70s I didn't pay him the respect he deserved. I knew he was an eccentric kind of guy who'd been associating with the likes of Robert Fripp but, other than repeated exposure to the irresistible charms of "Solsbury Hill," I didn't hear much of his other stuff on the radio so I was content to stay ignorant about what I was missing. That changed when "Games Without Frontiers" caught my ear and I became acutely aware that he was creating interesting sounds that were right up my alley. I bought that album and, soon after, his 2nd and hungrily devoured both but, for some strange reason that escapes me to this day, I never delved into his debut until 34 years had passed since it initially hit the record bins. Yeah, pretty weird. I wholeheartedly agree. But better late than never, eh?

Starting with a tune called "Moribund the Burgermeister" would be considered a strange opening act for most anyone else but in Peter's imaginative sphere of existence (the same where the grotesque Slipperman lived) it was risky business as usual. The track's electronic rhythm is a distinct departure from Genesis' motif but the tune's theatrical aura is pure Gabriel and what his fans were relieved to hear he'd not abandoned. "This thing's really outrageous, I tell you on the level/it's really so contagious must be the work of the devil/you better go now, pick up the pipers, tell them to play/seems the music keeps them quiet, there is no other way," he sings as if addressing his flock. The aforementioned classic "Solsbury Hill" is next. It's most unexpected that he'd produce something so universally accepted (and enduring) when what was anticipated was music that'd be very eclectic and likely inaccessible to the masses. Yet its popularity eclipsed any single that Genesis had ever released up to that point yet it doesn't sacrifice any of its composer's uniqueness. So catchy was it that John Q. Public hardly noticed the unorthodox 7/8 time signature. Two poignant lines sum up his decision to move on in his career. "I was feeling part of the scenery/I walked right out of the machinery," he relates. "Modern Love" follows and this straight-ahead rocker is a step down, mostly due to the overall production being too busy, detracting from any potential impact the song might've had.

Then comes the eyebrow-raising "Excuse Me." A delightful, harmonizing barbershop quartet provides the focus as it evolves into a nostalgic 20s-styled ditty that proves Gabriel wasn't about to ride exclusively on the coattails of his previous persona. "I'm not the man I used to be," he explains with a wink. I first heard and fell in love with "Humdrum" on his superb "Plays Live" album so it's a special treat to now hear the original with its vast array of instrumentation. The opening words, "I saw the man at J.F.K./he took your ticket yesterday/in the humdrum/I ride tandem with a random/things don't run the way I planned them/in the humdrum," are indelible and Larry Fast's dense wall of synthesizers drenching the last segment are glorious. "Slowburn" gallops out as an aggressive rocker (I've read this is a rare version in that respect) but soon reveals it's much more complex in structure than found in typical rock & roll fare. The progressive arrangement is unpredictable and consistently dramatic. The slow, hard blues atmosphere he uses for the foundation of "Waiting for the Big One" came as a complete shock for this aging monkey. Topping that revelation, Peter takes on the countenance of a tipsy lounge singer, a tactic extremely odd in a novel yet attractive way. The number has a Randy Newman-ish tone I don't mind at all (he's a favorite of mine) as Gabriel slurs, "I pray the snow goes, be bad if it settles/'cos I follow my nose and the dried up rose petals/like the man says, sure hope Moses knows his roses/or we'll all be waiting for the big one." Steve Hunter's gutsy guitar solo is no joke and the ending is deliciously pompous.

Peter hauls in a regal symphony for "Down the Dolce Vita" and the churning rock beat roiling underneath offers a fascinating contrast to the orchestral score's seamless intrusions. There are many layers inside this hefty burrito but that's what adventurous, bold prog is all about. I surmise he's referring to touring when he sings "'So long,' said four men to their families/'Be strong till we get back home/and if not, take care of all the children/until then just hope and pray/we're gonna find a way to make it alive.'" I'm more familiar with the awesome, stripped-down version of "Here Comes the Flood" included on his best-of collection, "Shaking the Tree," but I find the haunting intro here sublimely sets up the somber mood he wraps around this beautiful song. On this cut his emotional voice delivers the undiluted power of the poetic lyrics dynamically. "Lord, here comes the flood/we'll say goodbye to flesh and blood/if again the seas are silent/in any still alive/it'll be those who gave their island to survive/drink up, dreamers, you're running dry," he cries mournfully. It does come off a bit heavy-handed (Gabriel has expressed that he felt it was overproduced) so I continue to prefer his later rendition but it still packs a punch that shouldn't be downplayed.

Peter wisely enlisted the help of bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin, drummer Allan Schwartzburg, Hunter and Fripp on guitars and Jozef Chirowski on piano along with Fast's synth expertise to construct his first project and, as such, is an impressive piece of work. It has some rough edges, to be sure, but they add to the ambience rather than erode the effective presence of his youthful enthusiasm. The album peaked at #7 on the UK charts (which isn't all that surprising) but it rose to #38 in the states and that's remarkable considering that Genesis still had barely more than a cult following here in 1977. By any measure what Gabriel achieved with this record is quite admirable and I'm only sorry that it took me so many years getting around to listening to it. My bad.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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