all you people in tv land -- i will wake up your empty shells

 

Peter Gabriel

 

You want to know why I can review Peter Gabriel? Because he takes so long to make records (longer than Boston's Tom Scholz even!), I don't have a lot of albums to collect. He's even less imaginative with the album titles -- apparently, his forthcoming album is entitled Up. Wow, creative. Luckily, his music is better than his album titles.

review index: Peter Gabriel (1) / Peter Gabriel (2) / Peter Gabriel (3) / Security / So / Passion / Us / Up

missing albums: Birdy and the live crap

apex: Peter Gabriel (3)
nadir: Peter Gabriel (2)
overlooked: Passion


Peter Gabriel (1) - 1977

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Here Comes the Flood, Solsbury Hill, Modern Love, Moribund the Burgermeister
Worst songs: nope, none, nuh-uh, not at all

 

Okay, now this is interesting. Peter took a few years off after leaving Genesis, and now he doesn't sound anything like Genesis! Instead of talking about the songs normally, I'll tell you what they sound like to me:

"Moribund the Burgermeister" - a bit of Genesis creeps up here with Peter's weird voices, and the synth part sounds Phil Collinsish.

"Solsbury Hill" - acoustic guitar driven, but it sounds nothing like Genesis' acoustic stuff.

"Modern Love" - the intro is total Grand Funk Railroad territory. I'm serious.

"Excuse Me" - barbershop quartet leading into vaudeville tune.

"Humdrum" - um... Peter Gabriel.

"Slowburn" - sounds like a precursor to "On the Air", with a blippy synth riff and politely crunching guitars.

"Waiting for the Big One" - lounge-blues verses and total synth bombast instrumental parts.

"Down the Dolce Vita" - orchestral funk?

"Here Comes the Flood" - dynamic. anthemic. choral arrangement. also probably my favorite Peter Gabriel song. I prefer the acoustic version on Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats, though.

So, in closing, this album = good.


Peter Gabriel (2) - 1978

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: On the Air, Mother of Violence, DIY,
Worst songs: Exposure, Animal Magic, Indigo, Flotsam and Jetsam

 

Put this one on the victrola and you'll scratch your head. Who-ish synth-rocker? Weird bass-driven pop song? If it wasn't for Peter's distinctive vocals, you'd be hard-pressed to pin this down as his. Anyway, side one (1) contains most of the album's best material, including the two previously-mentioned songs as well as the great acoustic guitar/piano song "Mother of Violence". Elsewhich, Pete gets weird in "A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World" and ends up sounding like Genesis in "White Shadow".

So far, so good, huh? Well, Side two (2) is clogged up with dull piano-led songs ("Indigo", "Animal Magic", "Flotsam and Jetsam") and an annoying Robert Fripp collaboration ("Exposure"). He redeems himself with the cheesy rocker "Perspective", but at this point the record's gone to heck. Ah well, he got better, at least.


Peter Gabriel (3) - 1980

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Family Snapshot, No Self Control, The Intruder, Biko
Worst songs: Lead a Normal Life

 

Peter Gabriel is one weird guy, writing songs about assassins, intruders, amnesia, obsession, and exclusion. Sounds like a typical day on Music Babble, doesn't it?* Anyway, I have to admit that even though there's quite a few top-notch compositions on here, there are a few that just don't wow me enough to push me into giving the album five stars: "Lead a Normal Life"? It's just a bit of filler. "And Through the Wire"? Not bad, but just a pretty straightforward pop tune. "Not One of Us"? Great chorus, but the verses drag. The other six and a half songs really rock.

Segue.

Note on the production: this album sounds like the prototype for Peter's "worldbeat" obsession later on. Several of the songs are quite percussion-heavy (and no cymbals were used on the album!), especially those that include some marimbas plonking away.

Segue.

Well, there you have it, boys. Sorry to everyone I disappoint by not giving it five stars.

 

* apologies for the gratuitous in-joke.


Security - 1982

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: San Jacinto, The Rhythm of the Heat, Shock the Monkey, I Have the Touch
Worst songs: no, no, no, NO, NO!!!

 

Yet another high-quality release from Peter Gabriel. He's so annoyingly consistent. I mean, look, I give every album of his (with one exception) 3 1/2 stars or higher!

Well, this time Petey's gotten even more rhythm-centric. "The Rhythm of the Heat" features some mock-tribal-type percussion, "San Jacinto" is driven by a sequenced synth pattern, and surprise surprise, drum machines turn up on "The Family and the Fishing Net" and "I Have the Touch".

Anyway, I don't have much to say. Just yet another quality album by Peter Gabriel.

Oh, one thing: those synthesizers in "The Family and the Fishing Net" sound like the ones used in those commercials for the Outback Steakhouse.


So - 1986

Rating: ****
Best songs: Red Rain, Big Time, In Your Eyes, Mercy Street
Worst songs: We Do What We're Told

 

Pop goes the Gabriel?

Well, no matter -- he may have gone after a more "mainstream" sound, but he was still able to write awesome songs. Other than the sappy "Don't Give Up" and a rather pointless little bit at the end called "We Do What We're Told" (apparently Peter needed help to write the lyrics!), the songs are still excellent. Come on, you've heard half this album before, admit it, you like it too.

Postscript (5.08.02): You know, other than the saccharine Kate Bush vocals, "Don't Give Up" isn't really that bad. I like the production. Rating goes up 1/2 star!


Passion - 1989

Rating: ****
Best songs: With This Love, A Different Drum, It Is Accomplished, Stigmata
Worst songs: it's all good?

 

Pete goes totally into the so-called "worldbeat" genre for this one. No, Virginia, there is no singing on this one, aside from some wordless chanting on a few tracks. This, by the way, in case you didn't know, though you probably did already, in which case you can just skip down a paragraph, otherwise keep reading, because I'm going to tell you a fact about this album, right now, in just a second, once you finish reading this, was the soundtrack for Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ", and the music effectively evokes the Middle-Eastern vibe one would expect from a soundtrack to a movie about that guy. Of course, I really have no idea what Middle-Eastern music really sounds like, as I'm just some white American guy with absolutely no connections to the continent of Asia.

Err...where was I? As I just taped this off of a library CD, I can't say anything about specific songs because I don't know the titles, and quite frankly, am not always sure when one ends and the next begins. Have you noticed that, in these two paragraphs, I've only made about one comment that pertains to the music? See, that's how you do a real review -- don't mention the music unless you absolutely have to. And if you have to, dress it up in some stupid fictional setting, like if Emily Dickinson had written a poem about the latest Magnetic Fields album, or if Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer had been brought together by the US government just to make fun of a BTO or Journey album instead of developing the atomic bomb.

What? The music? Oh yeah, it's great -- rhythmic, ambient, haunting, familiar, joyous, mournful. I especially like the last 1/3 of the tracks, which includes a hauntingly beautiful choral piece and an upbeat piano tune.


Us - 1992

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Love to be Loved, Digging in the Dirt, Steam, Come Talk to Me
Worst songs: Fourteen Black Paintings, Washing of the Water, Only Us

 

Having completed his gorgeous ambient worldbeat movie soundtrack, Peter says to himself, "hey! those percussion thumps sound neat!" and goes on to make a more western-sounding album using those percussion thumps. For some reason, he decided that murky production went well with the percussion thumps, so most of these songs just have a bassline squiggling around, some muted keyboards playing long sustained chords, and maybe (if you're lucky) some guitar notes buried in the mix. So this muddy, murky, samey production pervading the entire album (except for the "Sledgehammer" ripoff hit single "Steam") causes the rating to be dropped a bit, and makes those less-interesting songs easy to just let slip by.

What are those less-interesting songs, you might be screaming at your computer monitor right now? Well, "Fourteen Black Paintings" isn't much more than a little chant for starters; "Washing of the Water" (despite the neat song title) and "Only Us" are more finished compositions, but just floooooat oooooon byyyyyy. I'd rather hear that great "Digging in the Dirt" song, or "Love to be Loved". Or even the (so I'm informed) fellatio ode "Kiss That Frog", which has Peter doing some humorously croaking vocals.

Expect Peter's next album, Up, to be released sometime between next month and when they get a woman in the White House. I gar-on-tee!


Up - 2002

Rating: ***
Best songs: I Grieve, Growing Up, Sky Blue
Worst songs: The Barry Williams Show, My Head Sounds Like That

 

Well, a mere decade later, and we've got another Peter Gabriel album. Extrapolating the figures from the last two gaps, I'd say we can expect Um in about 17 years.

Peter is still doing the same thing as in Us, namely pouring into the mix a bunch of thumpy percussion samples, liberal splashes of keyboards, some guitars scratching away in the background, and Tony Levin providing plenty of bald-guy-with-moustache bass bwomping. It starts with the most annoying way to open an album ever: plinky-plinky percussion thing, then a LOUD DISSONANT GUITAR CHORD comes in. It's very annoying. I would disparage the rest of the song if it didn't have some nice bits thrown in somewhere in there. Thankfully things pick up after, with some fairly-classic-sounding Gabriel tracks, "Sky Blue" and "Growing Up". Blah blah blah track 4, then there's "I Grieve", an awesome tune and pretty much the only great song from that City of Angels soundtrack.

Which brings me to "The Barry Williams Show". It's topical... for about 1995! I mean, Weird Al released "Talk Soup", a Peter Gabriel stylistic parody nearly a decade ago. Folks, we're in the middle of a conspiracy here. If Peter starts writing songs about waffles, I will have to put a colander on my head and line my windows with aluminum foil. After that is "My Head Sounds Like That". Your head sounds like a dull piano ballad, Peter? I think that's one of the early warning signs for tinnitus! You'd better go see an audiologist! Er...or whatever you call a hearing doctor. You see, all these songs (except the last one, which hardly counts as a song anyway) are between 6 and 8 minutes long, which makes for a really trying listen. So when I say that I can't say anything about "More Than This" or "Signal to Noise" (other than the latter suffers from the same thing as Sting's "Desert Rose", namely having some other guy's adenoids splattered across it -- though the Gabriel guy isn't as bad as the Sting guy), it's because the songs are just too monotonous to retain my attention. It's not overly bad, but I really can't see why I should give it a high grade.

So, was this album worth waiting a decade for? I dunno, but at least I didn't have to pay for it.


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