Friday, July 29, 2011

Peter Gabriel III

Peter Gabriel (1980) ****

In my original review I claimed that all the drums were electronic, which on second thought isn't true - those are clearly real drums being played by Phil Collins on "Intruder".  However, computerized drums are clearly being used on at least half the other tracks, and I don't want to rewrite the entire review to factually correct a crucial sentence, so....

Is Kate Bush singing, "She's so pop-u-lar," or "She's so funky now"?  Actually, it's "Jeux sans frontieres," which translates as no borders or something in that silly land of mimes and mustached men carrying baguettes over their shoulders; whatever, my French is probably as good as Bush's and I don't even parlez vous any of the lingua franca.  Pete's third solo album is generally regarded as his best and who am I, predictable as my middlebrow tastes in music are, to disagree?  Gabriel was one of the rare (only?) prog-rock dinosaurs of the '70s to completely integrate and update his sound into the Big '80s, as this album incorporates some clear New Wave influences (particularly the paranoid, nerdy David Byrne-ish lyrical outlook, and maybe a bit of XTC's complicated games - Steve Lillywhite did produce both acts).  And there's that processed drum sound - no real drummer, just electronic drums all the way through, which for once works to the benefit of the music.  The tinny, clipped drum sound embues the music with a cold, distant edge that complements the chilly effect Gabriel was going for:  even his vocals sound oddly impassioned yet robotic, and though he doesn't use any filters that doesn't make his voice sound any less inhumanly processed.  The vocal hooks are one of the strongest elements on this album, actually - even on first listen the choruses of "Not One of Us," "Games Without Frontiers," "No Self Control," and "I Don't Remember," are instantaneously memorable enough for quick singability.  Slow piano-based ballads "Family Life," and "Lead a Normal Life," are meandering and seemingly aimless in structure, as if Gabriel were poking around for a clear melody line and not finding it; however, "Family Life," is memorable and intriguing in spite of itself, perhaps because of the lyrics, while "Lead a Normal Life," - hell, I can't remember anything about that tune at all.  But you'd barely remember it anyway as it has the displeasure to precede the closing track, "Biko," which perhaps overdoes the vocal chorus hook too repetitively, but remains the second best track on the album, presaging Afro-beat fusion experiments of the '80s in an impassioned protest against police brutality in apartheid-era South Africa.  Likewise, the album gets off on an inspired beginning, with the spooky, atmospheric "Intruder," in which Gabriel impersonates a burglar, or perhaps a creepy stalker - it's a metaphor for fear and invasion of privacy, and sets the unsettling tone for a dark, paranoid, moody album.

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