Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Thursday, 8 August 2013
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to change our cable subscription because the music channels that had once been so good were, basically, not that good anymore. Remember the genius that was the UK MTV2? It was gone. So we ended up with two channels that now only show music videos when we are out at work.
It wasn’t always like this. When I first got Satellite TV circa 1993, we used to be able to pick up several unscrambled foreign channels, I seem to recall it was channels like RTL who showed old Beat Clubs and Rockpalast gigs, which from a bootleggers view, was like manna from heaven. As time went on, the quality of these channels started to dip, basically because they were nothing more than freebies that you didn’t “officially” get with your subscription package, but they still survived until the start of the noughties.
What I remember was how some of these channels had really good music shows - the now defunct “Viva Zwei” had an indie show called “Fast Forward“ I do recall, and I discovered The Hives in early 2001, after stumbling across some high energy live performances on one such show. And on another edition I discovered Goldfrapp. They showed some live clips, and I was rather taken by the stern looking, Marlene Dietrich apeing lead singer, Alison Goldfrapp. I immediately fell in love with her. The sound and look of the band was such that, like The Hives, they seemed as though they should be a European band, but they weren’t. They were a London/Bristol duo hybrid, and it was simply that the likes of “Viva Zwei” were championing them when very few people in the UK were. Alison looked like an absolute sex bomb, with the most incredible voice, whilst the music itself was what can only be described as ‘cinematic’...bold and brash one minute, genteel and soothing the next. When I saw them soon after at the Union Chapel, basically a North London church, the sheer surreal-ness of the group seemed to suit the setting perfectly.
Alison had worked mostly as a backup singer during the second half of the nineties, but came into contact with classically trained multi instrumentalist Will Gregory in the late 90‘s. He asked her to collaborate with him on a song for a movie soundtrack he was putting together, and although this particular song didn’t get completed, the pair decided to form a band, named after her surname.
In May 2000, their debut single, “Lovely Head” appeared. It typified the sound of the forthcoming LP, a lush, orchestral, partially electronic piece of pop that sounded unlike anything else around at the time, Goldfrapp’s deep, expressive vocals and the “whistling solo” giving it an air of mystery. It was housed in what I can only describe as a Swiss mountain farm scene (imagery later incorporated into the live version of the band), with a deer on a hilltop, and a sheep (I think). It was to be the only Goldfrapp record not to use their now standard logo, which was instead introduced on follow up single, “Utopia”. On this 45, the electronica element was more to the fore, whilst Goldfrapp indulged in some quite astonishing operatic wailing at the song’s climax.
“Felt Mountain”, the debut LP, surfaced in late 2000, and followed the general cinematic/electronic vibe of the two singles. It sold steadily, with sales being boosted by a later nomination for the Mercury Music Prize, and an autumn 2001 double disc reissue, with a second CD of selected B-sides and remixes tagged on, plus a CD-Rom section containing a short film previously shown on Channel 4 in the middle of the night, “A Trip To Felt Mountain”. Critics adored the album, praising it as “elegant and graceful”, and “stylishly decadent music that should appeal to all fans of film noir”. As the band headed out on tour, Gregory began to decline from appearing on stage, and the multitude of musicians on stage were, in effect, backing a solo Alison Goldfrapp.
After “Human”, issued in early 2001, helped raise the band’s profile, an attempt at getting “Utopia” into the charts was successfully conducted, as a remixed version of the song charted in June 2001. When the next and final single from the LP was issued, “Pilots”, it appeared as a double A with “Lovely Head”, meaning that - in one form of another - all five singles from the record dented the top 100.
There was much multi formatting of the singles for the LP, pretty much everything appearing on three formats, with something exclusive on each. My “triple disc” editions of “Black Cherry” and the reissued “Strict Machine” are housed in cardboard slipcases, the singles were sold individually, but if you were on the Goldfrapp mailing list, you would get one of these boxes sent to you to put your CD and DVD editions inside.
2005 saw the release of “Supernature”, which again saw some change in terms of image design for the singles, although musically, it did retain the electronic stylings of it’s predecessor. The difference this time, was that Goldfrapp were getting more and more popular in the UK, with the LP going to number 2, and eventually selling roughly twice as much as “Black Cherry” had. The lead single, the slightly T.Rex-esque “Ooh La La” became the band’s first top 10 hit. Initial copies of the CD version of the album came with a free DVD, and the band headed out on tour again, (which by now had ex-Lightning Seeds keyboardist Angie Pollack on board). A series of limited edition live albums from all of the band’s UK shows from the fall of 2005 were then released online, each housed in - from the front - identical “Live 2005” sleeves, but with slightly different track listings between some of the shows. Suffice to say, these are not cheap things to come by anymore as they were pressed just once in small numbers. They were then followed by the US only remix set, “We Are Glitter”, designed to showcase remixes that had not appeared on single releases in the States thus far.
Another radical change came in 2008, with the “Seventh Tree” LP. It had a far more laid back, folky (“Folktronica“ on Wikipedia, in case you thought I was lying), acoustic style approach, and Goldfrapp again adopted a new “look” for the album and single artwork, pastoral photos of her dressed in clown gear wandering around the countryside. Although it’s very much claimed that critics fell over themselves to praise this one, I seem to recall it’s about-turn of style caught some reviewers on the hop, and I am convinced some critics were less than enthusiastic about it. But there’s no denying the beautiful bouncy pop of “Happiness”, or the utterly gorgeously euphoric “Caravan Girl”. Goldfrapp was now appearing onstage barefoot in flowery dresses, the days of posing with naked female wolves now long gone.
The original album was issued as a deluxe CD+DVD edition, in a nice fancy box, with the bonus DVD coming housed in it’s own sleeve, along with a poster, postcards, and a lyric book. The album was reissued in late 2008, in a new slipcase sleeve, as a revamped double disc affair, with the bonus DVD this time around including parts of a live gig and the videos from the LP.
2010’s “Head First” has turned out to be the least loved of all the Goldfrapp LP’s, which even though it went top 10, confused critics with it’s desire to ape the loathed 80’s synthpop sound. It’s the poorest selling of all the five studio records, but it’s not a total disaster. In keeping with the synthpop vibe, it was later reissued on Cassette for a Record Store Day event - so expect to pay an arm and a leg for one on eBay as only 500 copies were made.
Having previously multi formatted themselves to death, the long slow drawn out murdering of the physical single saw each of the 45’s taken from the record released on one format only, with “Alive” appearing as a square shaped picture disc, the first UK Goldfrapp single to only be issued on vinyl since the obscure “Satin Chic” 7” picture disc from 2006. In 2012, a rather selective “The Singles” set was released, including two new songs, and only including, from “Felt Mountain”, the two singles that had flopped first time around, “Utopia” and “Lovely Head”! Why the label couldn’t have just issued a set that simply included ALL the singles from all the albums, I really don’t know.
Next month sees the release of “Tales Of Us”. A super deluxe version is appearing in November, as is now so often the norm for new albums. It is a “dreamy acoustic” album apparently, with the first 500 copies of the box set also signed by the duo. I understand the DVD included in the box is a DVD-Audio only disc, so you are basically paying out four times as much for the “bonus material” on the CD. Still, it’s nice to have them back, it’s just a shame that the chances of them having the same impact on the charts that they did circa “Supernature” are probably over. And yes, I am still in love with Alison.
I have listed, where they exist, the special editions of the band’s albums, and just the standard edition of any where no notable release or re-release was conducted, so far. As for the 45’s, well, virtually all are shown, but singles containing “less than nothing exclusive” are omitted for clarity’s sake. There’s still a lot to find, if you are just starting out, mind you!
Felt Mountain (2000, 2xCD reissue from 2001, Mute LCDSTUMM 188)
Black Cherry (2003, CD, Mute CDSTUMM 196)
Supernature (2005, CD+DVD, Mute LCDSTUMM 250, some housed in slipcase using alternate cover)
Live 2005: 3rd October Brighton Dome (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
Live 2005: 5th October Norwich UEA (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
Live 2005: 6th October London Brixton Academy (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
Live 2005: 8th October Manchester Academy (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
Live 2005: 9th October Nottingham Rock City (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
Live 2005: 11th October Leeds The Refectory (2005, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, no catalogue number)
We Are Glitter (2006, US CD, Mute 9335-2)
Seventh Tree (2008, CD+DVD in boxset, Mute LCDSTUMM 280)
Seventh Tree (2008, reissue, CD+DVD in new slipcase p/s, Mute TCDSTUMM 280)
Head First (2010, CD, Mute CDSTUMM 320)
Live 2010: 9th November Bristol O2 Academy (2010, 2xCD, Mute/Live Here Now, CDLHN 79)
The Singles (2012, CD, Mute 5099 930 116726)
Lovely Head (Album Version)/(Stare Mesto Mix)/(Miss World Mix) (CD, Mute CDMUTE 247, also on 12” in different colour p/s)
Utopia (Original Mix)/(New Ears Mix)/(Sunroof Mix) (CD, Mute CDMUTE 253, also on 12”)
Human (Single Version)/(Calexico Instrumental)/(Massey’s Neanderthal Mix) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 259)
Human (Single Version)/(Calexico Vocal)/(Massey’s Cro-Magnon Mix) (CD, Mute CDMUTE 259)
Utopia (Genetically Enriched)/UK Girls (Physical)/Human (Live, Brussels Ancienne Belgique) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 264)
Utopia (Jori Hulkkonen Remix)/(Tom Middleton Cosmos Vocal)/(Tim Wright Remix) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 264, unique p/s with insert)
Utopia (Tom Middleton Cosmos Acid Vocal)/(Jori Hulkkonen Remix)/(Tim Wright Remix) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 264)
Pilots (On A Star)/Lovely Head/Horse Tears (Live, Brussels Ancienne Belgique) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 267)
Pilots (On A Star)/Lovely Head (Stare Mesto Mix)/Utopia (Tom Middleton Cosmos Acid Dub)/Pilots (On A Star) (Video) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 267, different p/s)
Train (LP Version)/(Village Hall Mix)/Big Black Cloud, Little White Lie/Train (Video) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 291)
El Train (T.Raumschmiere Remix)/(Ewan Pearson 6/8 Vocal)/(Ewan Pearson 4/4 Instrumental) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 291, different p/s)
Strict Machine (Single Mix)/White Soft Rope/Hairy Trees (Live London ULU 6.3.2003) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 295)
Strict Machine (Ewan Pearson Instrumental Remix)/(Rowan’s Remix)/Train (Ewan Pearson Dub) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 295, different p/s)
Strict Machine (Ewan’s Stripped Machine Remix)/Deep Honey (Live London ULU 6.3.2003)/Lovely Head (Live London Shepherds Bush Empire 4.12.2001 - Video) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 295, unique p/s)
Strict Machine (Calderone & Suryanto Mix)/(Ewan’s Stripped Machine Remix)/(Peter Rauhofer UK Mix)/(Peter Rauhofer NYC Mix)/(Single Mix)/(Benny Benassi Sfaction Extended Mix)/(Ewan Pearson Extended Vocal) (2x12”, Mute 12MUTE 295)
Twist (Single Mix)/Yes Sir/Deer Stop (Live London Somerset House 13.7.2003) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 311)
Twist (Jacques Lu Cont’s Conversion Perversion Mix)/Forever (Mountaineers Remix)/Twist (Dimitri Tikovoi Remix) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 311, red p/s)
Twist (Alternative Video)/Train (Live London Somerset House 13.7.2003)/Strict Machine (Live London Somerset House 13.7.2003) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 311, unique p/s)
Black Cherry (Single Mix)/Gone To Earth (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 320)
Black Cherry (M83 Remix)/Twist (Kurtis Mantronik’s Twist And Vac Mix)/Black Cherry (Live London Somerset House 13.7.2003 - Video)/Twist (Video) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 320, different p/s)
Black Cherry (Lawrence Remix)/Strict Machine (Video)/Utopia (Live London Shepherds Bush Empire 4.12.2001 - Video)/(Tom Middleton Cosmos Acid Dub Edit) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 320, unique p/s)
Strict Machine (Single Mix)/(Benny Benassi Sfaction Edit) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 335)
Strict Machine (Paris Loaded)/(We Are Glitter)/(Benny Benassi Sfaction Extended Mix)/(Benny Benassi Dub) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 335, different p/s)
Strict Machine (Calderone & Suryanto Mix Edit)/Sartorious (Live, St Malo Route Du Rock Festival 2001 - Video)/Deer Stop (Live London Shepherds Bush Empire 4.12.2001 - Video) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 335, unique p/s)
Strict Machine (Benny Benassi Dub)/(Victor Calderone Remix) (Remix 12”, Mute L12MUTE 335, uses CD2 p/s)
Ooh La La (Single Version)/All Night Operator (Part 1) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 342)
Ooh La La (Benny Benassi Remix Extended)/(Phones Re-Edit)/(Tiefschwarz Dub) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 342, different p/s)
Ooh La La (Original Extended Mix)/(Phones Re-Edit) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 342)
Ooh La La (Benny Benassi Remix Extended)/(Benny Benassi Dub)/(Tiefschwarz Dub) (Remix 12”, Mute L12MUTE 342, unique p/s)
Ooh La La (Video)/(Video #2)/(When Andy Bell Met Manhattan Clique Mix) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 342, unique p/s)
Number 1 (Single Version)/Beautiful (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 351)
Number 1 (Alan Braxe And Fred Falke Main Mix)/Ooh La La (Live @ V Festival 21.8.2005)/Number 1 (Video) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 351, different p/s)
Number 1 (Alan Braxe And Fred Falke Club Remix)/(Alan Braxe And Fred Falke Instrumental Remix) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 351, “zoomed in” p/s)
Number 1 (“Postcards From The Summer” Video)/Satin Chic (Special Performance Film)/Lovely 2 C U (T. Raumschmiere Remix) (DVD, DVDMUTE 351, unique p/s)
Ride A White Horse (Single Version)/Slide In (DFA Remix Edit) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 356)
Ride A White Horse (Serge Santiago Re-edit)/(FK-EK Vocal Version)/(FK Disco Whores Dub)/(Ewan Pearson Disco Odyssey Parts 1&2) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 356, different p/s)
Ride A White Horse (Serge Santiago Re-edit)/(FK-EK Vocal Version) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 356)
Ride A White Horse (Ewan Pearson Disco Odyssey Parts 1&2)/(FK Disco Whores Dub) (Remix 12”, Mute L12MUTE 356, unique “text“ p/s)
Ride A White Horse (Live @ London Brixton Academy 6.10.2005 - Video)/(Video #2)/Number 1 (Mum Remix) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 356, unique p/s)
Fly Me Away (Single Version)/(Bombay Mix) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 361)
Fly Me Away (C2 RMX 4)/(Ladytron Remix)/You Never Know (Mum Remix) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 361, “shattered“ image p/s)
Fly Me Away (C2 RMX 1)/(C2 RMX 2)/Slide In (DFA Remix) (12”, Mute 12MUTE 361)
Fly Me Away (Inflight Movies - Video)/Ride A White Horse (Video)/Time Out From The World (Fields Remix) (DVD, Mute DVDMUTE 361, unique p/s)
Satin Chic (Through The Mystic Mix, Dimension 11: Flaming Lips)/Boys Will Be Boys (Numbered 7” Picture Disc with insert, Mute MUTE 368)
A+E/Clowns (Video) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 389)
A+E (Album Mix)/(Gui Boratto Remix)/(Gui Boratto Dub)/(Hercules And Love Affair Remix) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 389, different p/s)
A+E (Album Mix)/(Maps Instrumental Remix) (7” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Mute MUTE 389)
Happiness (Single Version)/Road To Somewhere (Acoustic Version) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 392)
Happiness (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation)/Monster Love (Goldfrapp Vs Spiritualized)/Eat Yourself (Yeasayer Remix) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 392, different p/s)
Happiness (Single Version)/(Metronomy Remix Feat. The Teenagers) (7” Picture Disc in clear sleeve, Mute MUTE 392)
Caravan Girl/Happiness (Video) (CD1, Mute CDMUTE 401)
Caravan Girl (Live Choral Version)/Monster Love (Live Acoustic Version)/Little Bird (Live @ London Union Chapel 2008 - Video) (CD2, Mute LCDMUTE 401, different p/s)
Caravan Girl (Edit)/Little Bird (Animal Collective Remix) (7” Picture Disc, Mute MUTE 401)
Rocket (LP Version)/(Tiesto Remix)/(Richard X One X Zero Remix)/(Penguin Prison Remix)/(Grum Remix) (CD, Mute CDMUTE 430)
Alive (Radio Edit)/(Joakim Remix - Edit) (Square Shaped Picture Disc, Mute MUTE 432)
Believer (Album Version)/(Joris Voorn Remix)/(Vince Clarke Remix)/(Subway Remix)/(Davide Rossi Reinterpretation) (CD, Mute CDMUTE 436)
Thursday, 1 August 2013
I thought I’d cheat a bit here. But for a brief period in the early 90’s, you could get these three albums in a 3-in-1 CD Box Set on the Virgin imprint. So perhaps the boxset should just be Classic Album number 7. Anyway, be it album 7, or albums 7, 8 and 9, these three records, from the start of Peter Gabriel’s solo career between 1977 and 1980, are the work of absolute genius. And yet, very rarely, do they ever get name checked by anybody. Well, let’s start name checking them right now.
I have loved Peter Gabriel for as long as I can remember. If we ignore the fact that I was apparently taken to a Cat Stevens gig when I was two (I have no recollection of it all), and that I seem to remember seeing Chris De Burgh before he went rubbish but with no idea what year it might have been (ie. it was before “The Lady In Red”), then Gabriel was the first person I saw in concert - September 8th 1983 I think, upstairs at the Hammersmith Odeon on the “1988 Playtime” tour. We bought a sew on patch from the merchandising stall, and a tour programme that was so surreal, it possibly wasn’t even a tour programme at all. He wore makeup, my sister smuggled her SLR camera into the gig, and I wrote down the setlist as he played. I seem to recall that he played the “never recorded in the studio” track that was “I Go Swimming”, previously only to be found on the recently issued “Plays Live“, although Setlist FM claims he only did it the following night. Perhaps I imagined it, or maybe wanted him to play it...after all, it was 30 years ago and I was only 10 years old. I think he fell backwards into the audience during “Lay Your Hands On Me” and walked ‘on the crowd’ by stepping from the top of the seats in one row to another during (probably) “I Have The Touch“.
I still love him. He may have gone a bit AOR in 1986 when he released “So”, an album which despite getting the big box set treatment last year, has even been referred to by the man himself as being “not as sonically interesting as the early records” (or something like that), but even now, he still feels out on the fringes, a man who was destined never to record an “Against All Odds”. Thankfully. Although he did appear on the soundtrack to the film of the same name, and stayed friends with Phil Collins for years after.
Gabriel had served an apprenticeship as lead singer of Genesis, before quitting in mid 75 amidst “band issues” and personal problems. His departure occurred after a tour promoting their greatest ever LP, and that includes all the ones they made without him, 1974’s “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”. In the years that followed, Gabriel remained quiet. Whilst his former band mates issued a new album in 1976, and had another one nearly complete by the end of the same year, Gabriel was nowhere to be seen.
And then in 1977, he re-emerged. He had a hit single, something Genesis never really managed whilst he was in the band, and a self titled debut album that defied description. Even today, it still sounds mind boggling, years ahead of it’s time and an astonishing left field listen. Whilst Genesis were starting to shift units by slowly creeping nearer and nearer towards the mainstream, Gabriel had released a ground breaking art-rock LP that outshone his former colleagues.
It really is a magnificent body of work. The only reason I refer to it as an art-rock LP, is that it is difficult to know how else to describe it. It operates on a similar plane to the likes of Bowie or Talking Heads, a “rock” album that often doesn’t actually rock. But instead, it works on moods, inventiveness, and sheer bloody minded diversity.
Of the nine songs on the record, barely two of them sound the same. The opener, “Moribund The Burgermeister”, sounds like the band were recorded whilst playing underwater, before the song bursts into a euphoric, crystal clear, anthemic chorus, before going underwater again, just as what someone who sounds like the Cookie Monster intones the words “I will find out...” - it’s completely off the wall, and this is only the first song.
“Solsbury Hill” is up next, and it shows you how good this record is when I tell you it’s one of the weaker moments on the album, a bit of a hey-nonny-no folky strum, anyway, you know what it sounds like. Better is “Modern Love”, which sounds like The Cars being produced by Phil Spector, which is followed by the supper club lounge lunacy of “Excuse Me”.
Side 1 closes with the beautiful “Humdrum”, which finishes with a gloriously melodic wall of sound, recalling the keyboard driven aura of Gabriel-era Genesis at their best. “Slowburn” opens the second half, a high energy piece of Power Pop of the tallest order. It’s then followed by the half jazz, half new wave madness that is “Waiting For The Big One”, all twinkling pianos with Gabriel crooning away one minute, then big booming choir filled choruses the next. If you want a clue as to just how much this song varies between being quiet and genteel one minute, then loud and roaring the next, check out the original vinyl. You can always tell how “diverse” a song can be because the grooves will form a smoother looking section on the playing surface whenever the music is laid back (ie. you could almost see your reflection in the vinyl), and on this song, there’s a smooth section, then a non-smooth (loud) section, then a smooth one - and you get seven plus minutes of this to-ing and fro-ing.
It’s then followed by the massively bombastic “Down The Dolce Vita”, which sounds like the theme tune from a big epic movie, imagine the producers of “Titanic” reissuing the film without the Celine Dion song, and using this instead for when the ship hits the iceberg - it’s totally feasible. And the finale is the beautiful piano driven “Here Comes The Flood” - Gabriel may have later regretted having the raucous, over-produced choruses sounds as noisy as they do, but it adds a stunning dramatic effect, and a sterling, quite magnificent, end to the record.
It’s an astonishing piece of work, unlike anything Gabriel ever did again, indeed, unlike anything ANYBODY ever did again. I have listened to the album endless times over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me at just how flawless, beautiful, diverse and ground breaking it is. And yet, most people seemingly have never even heard it.
The Hipgnosis artwork, again, is superb, in a sort of grainy, post punk way. The rear cover features a brilliant shot of Gabriel trudging through the snow, looking like a lost member of Joy Division. Inside, the lyrics were printed on a fold out lyric sheet, which came with what I can only describe as “CSI" graphics-style design work, lots of abstract images, the back of which featured Gabriel photographed within a series of concentric circles, and labels such as “stress areas 1-6”, and “magnification of focal point”. At the risk of sounding like a madman, I completely LOVE the oddness of it, the sheer “what on earth does it all mean” vibe it gives off. Inside the lyric sheet, there are a series of symbols displayed for each song - and indeed, across the rest of the artwork as well - which makes you think there is some sort of code to crack. Meanwhile, the sparse lyrics for the minimalist electro-funk groove of “Exposure” are printed in the centre of the relevant column (“Exposure, Exposure, Exposure”) aside from the two actual lines of proper lyrics which are printed, as you would expect, with a left hand side alignment. Don’t ask me why, but the decision to do this on this song alone, has fascinated me for the last 35 years. The whole thing just looks so...weird.
The album is what you could describe as a grower. It lacks the immediate punch that you get from the first LP, but the more and more you listen to it, the more it starts to get into your brain. The opening “On The Air” starts quietly with a twinkly synth intro, before exploding into a punky, new wave racket, with Gabriel’s vocals sounding ever so slightly urgent, aggressive, and rather menacing. By contrast, the following “DIY” (which kicks in straight away after “On The Air”’s twinkly synth outro ends) growls along in a strange, looping groove, lots of baritone style vocals and oddball time signatures. Issued as the only single from the LP, it flopped.
“Mother Of Violence” slows things down, a piano driven ballad, whilst “A Wonderful Day In A One Way World” is a post punk take on Reggae, a la The Stranglers’ “Peaches” (Gabriel supported them at Battersea Park the same year, BTW). And this album has it’s very own “Humdrum” in the form of the stunning “White Shadow”, lots of sky scrapingly anthemic keyboard flourishes, and spiky Robert Fripp guitar. It’s an astonishing end to side 1.
It’s the second half of the LP that, on first listen, seems to be the sort of thing that goes in one ear, and out the other. But repeated listens reveal a set of songs of real beauty, the genteel approach means that the songs, once you get used to them, become like old friends, gorgeous arrangements and a laid back approach that is actually quite stunning. “Indigo” is incredible, a slow burning piece of epic loveliness, Gabriel sounding lost and weary - “all right, I’m giving up the fight...I’m going away” - whilst the song sounds unlike anything on the first half of the record, recorder solos parping away in the background, steel guitars adding a country-fied twang that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the one time leader of a Prog band.
It’s not all slow vibes on side 2 - it’s followed by the upbeat, rinky dink piano pop of “Animal Magic”, whilst there is something genuinely disturbing about Gabriel’s vocal delivery on “Exposure”, each line being delivered in a different vocal register, with the lines that don’t simply feature Gabriel singing the title of the song, being delivered in a slightly manic vocal - because they are so few and far between, when they kick in, it catches you off guard...“Space is what I need, it’s what I feed on!” he hollers, and it’s just a little bit terrifying.
“Flotsam And Jetsam” sounds a bit like David Bowie covering “Hong Kong Garden” to start with, then starts to channel the same aura that you get from “Indigo”, all slide guitars and a tearful vibe, which midway through stops dead, and restarts with Gabriel crying the hopeful “if only I could touch you” line. Towards the end, the line “oh love, my love, nothing here is what it seems” is screamed with an air of anguish and desperation. It’s a truly remarkable piece of music.
“Perspective” recalls the bouncy pop of “Animal Magic”, whilst “Home Sweet Home” is another slow burning country influenced stunner, a story of a man meeting his wife who then commits suicide when things get too much to bear. The man gets a life insurance payout, but is so distraught, he tries to gamble it all away at a casino - only to win the jackpot. It’s another one that builds and builds, with some E Street Band style sax coming in midway through proceedings to create a big booming final section. On first listen, it seems like filler, a poor album closer when compared to “Here Comes The Flood”, but listen to it repeatedly, and at some point, it suddenly all makes total sense - it’s a gloriously beautiful piece of music, which brings the album to a slow, sad, and tearful conclusion.
Whenever I listen to this record, it sounds even better than the last time I listened to it. The second half of the LP really is quite brilliant at times, and although the more “pop” parts of the record can seem to be just a bit too throwaway, there is still a strangeness running through the sound of the album, Gabriel’s vocals at times sounding a tad odd, whilst there’s simply no denying the genius of the high energy sound of “On The Air” or the melodic pull of “White Shadow”. It’s something of a cult record I guess, but one that I have learned to become obsessed with over the years.
For many years, I never really noticed that the album had a lack of cymbals, but it does - the pioneering “gated” drum sound, which gives the album an almost teutonic sense of rhythm, was used throughout the record, creating an almost dance music like sound, all very electronic sounding and perfectly structured. This is particularly noticeable on the opening “Intruder”, where Gabriel’s spooky stalker vocals sound even more sinister over the sparse pounding of Phil Collins’ drums.
After the “no hit singles” situation with the second record, “3” is positively filled with them, although some were only hits in certain counties. “No Self Control” maintains the rhythmic strut of “Intruder”, this time with added Kate Bush psycho backing vocals, whilst “The Start”, which sounds like Roxy Music covering the “Moonlighting” theme with it’s lengthy sax solo, goes straight into the groovy, but mildly terrifying “I Don’t Remember”, the nearest the record comes to being pure pop thus far, only for it to climax with a strange synth overload, the song grinding to a growling halt, which sounds like the world coming to an end.
A sax pipes up again in “Family Snapshot”, a mostly raucous and upbeat track, which helps give the song a big pop feel, even though the subject matter is quite dark - the story of Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1972, in a bizarre attempt to become famous overnight. I’m surprised Simon Cowell hasn’t considered doing a show along these lines. The song ends with a stunning, slow, quiet finale, representing the point after which the assassination attempt fails - with Gabriel, backed only by piano and occasional bass, softly singing the lines “all gone quiet, I’ve been here before, a lonely boy hiding behind the front door, my friends have all gone home, there’s my toy gun on the floor”. Side 1 closes with “And Through The Wire”, a guitar driven number, which again, has a lot more “oomph” than the sometimes minimalist feel of the first two records. But the gated drum sound, the synths, and the scowling guitar lines help to give the song a slightly warped, left field vibe.
Although the opener on side 2, “Games Without Frontiers” became one of Gabriel’s biggest hits, it’s still a freaky piece of music, the “tick tick tock” drum sound, more high pitched vocals from Bush, the sneering guitar lines, the famous “whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle” lyric which was cut from the 45 version...again, it’s pop but not as we know it. The opening of “Not One Of Us” is driven along by indescribable ‘hee-haw’ keyboard noises, with strange yelping from Gabriel in the song’s high energy ending. “Lead A Normal Life” is little more than drums, electric piano, a xylophone, some minimalist lyrics, and what sounds like somebody attempting to recreate bird noises on a keyboard - an odd choice for a US single.
The album closer “Biko” is the real key to what came next. Driven along, for seven minutes, by a simple, but monumentally effective African style pumping drum pattern, with just three verses of lyrics which tell the tale of the death of anti apartheid campaigner Stephen Biko, it remains one of the most affecting pieces of music Gabriel ever recorded. Some of the lyrics are simplistic, but explicitly effective - “when I try to sleep at night, I can only dream in red” - whilst the song builds to a climactic finale, with Gabriel repeating a “whoa whoa whoa” chant during the second half of the song. When it gets played in concert, this is the cue for a mass arm punching response from the audience, a communal anti-racist call to arms that is never less than remarkable to watch. As the anthemic sounding ending slowly starts to fade, in comes a tearful recording of “Senzeni Na”, taken from Biko’s actual funeral in 1977. This moving tribute continues for some time after the main song has finally faded out, before a drum roll brings the song - and the record - to a close. Absolutely incredible.
“Biko” was issued as a single, one of the more left field choices of 45 ever to be issued by anyone. It was issued on 12”, the first Gabriel single to appear in the UK on this format, with a slightly different cover design to the 7”, which had to play at 33rpm in order to squeeze the lengthy single onto the a-side of the disc. The single version was an alternate mix to the album version, and Gabriel used the rear of the sleeve to explain why he had decided to issue the single - mainly to help promote the ongoing issues in South Africa, and raise awareness of what Biko had gone through. A German version of “Here Comes The Flood”, newly recorded in “sparser” piano form, was one of two B-sides.
Gabriel also explained that he had remixed the song for use on a German language version of the LP, and wanted to release the remix but with English lyrics. That German language album was “Ein Deutsches Album”, basically a re-recorded version of “3” in German. It used the same basic artwork, but the yellow typeface on the front was changed to green, and there was a - German - lyric insert which also featured an explanation from Gabriel about the existence of the LP. Although Wikipedia claims the album features the original music with simple vocal overdubs, this is not strictly true - there are also subtle differences to the likes of “Intruder”, “Not One Of Us” and “Games Without Frontiers”. (These were not the only songs to be tampered with at the time, as the “Start”/”I Don’t Remember” sequence was subject to a revamp, with a new intro to the latter, originally for use as a US 45, but then issued on the UK as the b-side of “Games Without Frontiers”). Although obviously designed for the German market, imported copies of the vinyl turned up in the UK, whilst CD copies were pressed in 1987 specifically for the UK, although you will be lucky to find either a vinyl or CD copy cheaply nowadays.
Gabriel didn’t particularly lose his way after this, but the success of the third album and it’s associated singles put him into the public eye, and the music tended to veer towards a mainstream audience thereafter. In other words, “Sledgehammer” may be his most famous song, but it is simply not as good as anything you will find on these first three records. His fourth album followed the basic vibe of the third, and the African/World Music elements of “Biko” informed much of the work that followed, with Gabriel also becoming the head honcho for the Womad World Music festivals that followed.
Those first three records really are something else though. The sheer inventiveness that runs through them is beyond doubt, the diversity at times simply incredible, the sound of the records incredibly inventive, consistently strange but never unlistenable or pompous, always thrilling, exciting, and at times, staggeringly beautiful. They are records that deserve to be filed alongside other post punk masterpieces such as “Remain In Light” and “Scary Monsters”, but rarely get praised as such. And whilst it is “So” that is going to be played in full later this year on tour, it is these three records that Gabriel should really consider revisiting instead, as they are glorious, clever, and near flawless pieces of art.
As this is the first time I have done a “Classic Albums” feature on somebody whom has not featured on the site before, I have decided to list a discography of important releases (and re-releases) covering this period of Gabriel‘s career. It should all be fairly self explanatory. A look at “Peter Gabriel 4”, and beyond, will follow in due course.
A quick note regards the below releases - Gabriel’s first two LP’s appeared on Vinyl and Cassette using the same basic artwork, but the third album used a totally different sleeve for the latter - a fairly conventional picture of Gabriel staring slightly sullenly at the camera. The cataloguing system used for Charisma’s cassette releases had also changed by this point.
The three records were reissued on CD in 1987, with the “numerically” designed catalogue numbers mentioned earlier, whilst all three were reissued - briefly - in 1992 as picture CD’s and housed inside the aforementioned special boxset. Gabriel’s own label, Real World, reissued the records in the early noughties, circa the release of the “Up” album, and although they again used numeric catalogue numbers identifying which record was which, they came with special stickers on the front detailing which number album it was. The 2010 reissue campaign, basically US copies being exported for sale in the UK, follow a similar tack, but with the stickers showing both the album number and it’s “fan” title. As with the 2002 releases, the inside artwork mostly ignores what was used on the original vinyl pressings (the lyric insert from “Scratch” is nowhere to be found, instead there are lots of images of Gabriel with a shaved head photographed after the album‘s release, as he adopted this drastic image change for the subsequent concert tour). It is quite possible, if hunting down second hand copies of these albums, that the stickers are missing, as all of these reissues were originally shrinkwrapped, and the stickers were placed on the outside of the shrinkwrap, rather than the CD (digipack) casing itself - note, that the “fan” titles appear nowhere else other than on these stickers. Also note that the original “Peter Gabriel” logo text that appeared at the top of the original vinyl front covers (and their 1987 CD repressings), is completely absent from these editions, with the logo now also appearing on the sticker instead.
VARIANT ALBUMS FROM PERIOD
Peter Gabriel (LP, Charisma CDS 4006)
Peter Gabriel (Cassette, with “Slowburn” moved from side 2 to end of side 1, Charisma CDSMC 4006)
Peter Gabriel (CD, 1987 reissue, Virgin PGCD 1)
Peter Gabriel 1 (CD, 2002 reissue, Real World PGCDR 1, “1“ sticker on front cover)
Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) (CD, 2010 reissue, Real World PGCDR 1, originally shrinkwrapped with “Car” title sticker on front of shrinkwrap, US import copies printed in Mexico)
Peter Gabriel (LP, Charisma CDS 4013)
Peter Gabriel (First Album) + Peter Gabriel (Second Album) (2-on-1 Cassette, post-1978 release, Charisma CASMC 102)
Peter Gabriel (CD, 1987 reissue, Virgin PGCD 2)
Peter Gabriel 2 (CD, 2002 reissue, Real World PGCDR 2, “2” sticker on front cover)
Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch) (CD, 2010 reissue, Real World PGCDR 2, originally shrinkwrapped with “Scratch” title sticker on front of shrinkwrap, US import copies printed in Mexico)
Peter Gabriel (LP, Charisma CDS 4019)
Peter Gabriel (Cassette, different p/s, Charisma 7150 015)
Ein Deutsches Album (LP, technically German Import, Charisma 6302 035)
Peter Gabriel (CD, 1987 reissue, Virgin PGCD 2)
Ein Deutsches Album (CD, 1987 UK reissue, Virgin XCDSCD 4019)
Peter Gabriel 3 (CD, 2002 reissue, Real World PGCDR 3, “3” sticker on front cover)
Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt) (CD, 2010 reissue, Real World PGCDR 3, originally shrinkwrapped with “Melt” title sticker on front of shrinkwrap, US import copies printed in Mexico)
Solsbury Hill/Moribund The Burgermeister (7”, Charisma CB 301)
Modern Love/Slowburn (7” in die cut sleeve, Charisma CB 302, initial copies had “nude” picture labels)
Solsbury Hill (Live) (7” flexi disc, Sound For Industry SFI 381, gig freebie)
DIY/Perspective (Extended) (7”, Charisma CB 311, later withdrawn)
DIY (Remix)/Mother Of Violence/Teddy Bear (7” in die cut sleeve, Charisma CB 319)
Games Without Frontiers (Single Edit)/The Start/I Don’t Remember (Alternate Mix) (7”, Charisma CB 354)
No Self Control/Lead A Normal Life (7”, Charisma CB 360)
Biko (Single Version)/Shosholoza/Jetzt Kommt Die Flut (7”, Charisma CB 370)
Biko (Single Version)/Shosholoza/Jetzt Kommt Die Flut (12” in different p/s, Charisma CB 370-12)
Solsbury Hill/Games Without Frontiers (Old Gold 7”, first copies in diff p/s to original, Old Gold OG 9265, later reissued in die cut sleeve)