Saturday, 17 June 2017

Forty Years On... Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Car)

My 'education' in music came at a key juncture in British popular music. The mid 1970s saw a seed change in a lot of rock music, with the advent of Punk calling an end to what were seen as the 'dinosaurs' of what we now call classic Progressive Rock (in those days it was just 'good music', or occasionally 'not disco'!) It was around 1976/77 that I discovered the music of Genesis, principally through 'Seconds Out', and this opened up a whole array of material from the early years of the band to me, and I acquainted myself with the band's history. That was when I discovered Peter Gabriel.

When I was at school, there were essentially two types of record for the aspiring music connoisseur: those which 'clicked' easily, and those which 'took a bit of getting into' (as the phrase went). My recollection of Peter Gabriel's debut solo album was that it was in that second category. Initially drawn in by the wonderful first single, 'Solsbury Hill', I then soon discovered the breadth and depth of Gabriel's songwriting.

The album opener 'Moribund the Burgermeister' has an immediate air of menace about it, both musically and vocally, and Larry Fast's particular keyboard style asserts itself from the off. Dance music this is not! 'Solsbury Hill' is very different, up-beat in tempo and quite a jolly tune. It still has some good 'prog' credentials, with some interesting syncopations in the melody, and the acoustic beginning slowly builds to a subtle electric crescendo by the end. A masterpiece! 'Modern Love' is a more straight-forward rocker, with Tony Levi & Robert Fripp providing a steady background to Peter's powerful vocals. This is Gabriel firmly back in 'Back in NYC' territory. And then, just in case we were getting a little too comfy, 'Excuse Me' comes along, essentially Barbershop and Vaudeville with Robert Fripp on banjo and Tony Levin on tuba! A little light relief as we approach the end of side one, which draws to a close with the hauntingly beautiful 'Humdrum', which cuts to a Bossa Nova before concluding in heavy chords and soulful singing, and some soothing classical guitar.

Flipping over to side two (as we did in those days!), we open with 'Slowburn' which is anything but slow to start off! Steve Hunter, who'd played the acoustic on 'Solsbury Hill' takes lead duties here in a song with great power and drive early on, and much emotion towards the end, before the song fades to staccato piano and twiddly synths. For a 'Prog' artist, this album has been strange in that none of the songs so far have been over 4½ minutes long - standard pop fare. If we've been 'Waiting for the Big One', here it comes now (clocking in at 7:15), but this is not Prog, but (for me, at least) seedy night-club blues, performed with style and grace by the band, with some great drum fills, driving piano, a wonderful guitar solo from Steve Hunter and a hint of Tom Waits about the song as a whole, for me. For the last couple of songs on the album, Gabriel enlists the help of the London Symphony Orchestra (!) to give some depth and difference to the music. 'Down The Dolce Vita' opens with a grand orchestral flourish, before rock band mode kicks in, but the orchestra return at intervals to enhance the sound, and very effectively too. The song ends with recorder (?) playing softly, which leads into the final song, 'Here Comes The Flood'. Here the orchestration is more muted, but still there, and Gabriel's voice is arguably at its best in terms of expression and variation: soulful, bluesy, powerful and tender, all in one great song!

Gabriel has, apparently, said that he thinks the album, and certainly 'Here Comes The Flood', are over-produced, and I have to say that when I heard the version of '...Flood' on 'Shaking the Tree' I found it a much more appealing version for me, with just him and a piano. But the album continues to entrance me, excite me and entertain me. It is such an eclectic mix of styles, with some exceptional musicianship and timeless songwriting: a delight for me to this day.