Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: PETER GABRIEL
Album: PETER GABRIEL (CAR)
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Before Peter Gabriel became a multi-platinum global superstar with 1986’s So, which I discussed in this Thirty Year Thursday post last year, he had already led several musical lives. As a founding member of Genesis, his theatrical stage persona, unique & poetic lyrics and unforgettable voice made him a progressive rock legend but far from a household name. When he left that group in 1975 following the tour for their 1974 magnum opus The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, there was no guarantee that success awaited. His first two solo albums, released on Atlantic subsidiary Atco, were Top 10 hits in his U.K. homeland but didn’t make much impact in the U.S. Then a switch to Geffen Records and a more focused sound, with some of the catchiest songs of his career, had him making strides in America, including radio hits “Games Without Frontiers” and “Shock The Monkey.” All of this led to his unsurprising 1986 mainstream breakthrough, but for some reason those first two albums have been overlooked by all but his most passionate fans. It probably didn’t help that his first four solo releases were all titled Peter Gabriel (except in the U.S., where his fourth was called Security), creating some confusion for the record-buying public. Instead they were given numerical sequencing or unofficial titles based on the front cover artwork, so his debut (which is the subject of this post) is commonly known as Peter Gabriel 1 or Car.
Eschewing the long-form musical suites, extended instrumental passages and narrative structure that had often defined his time with Genesis, this collection of nine songs is somewhat more focused than any of his previous work while also covering a wider array of styles than ever before. That diversity often makes for a jarring listen, but his singing & songwriting are in fine form and he surrounded himself with a great team, including producer Bob Ezrin (best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Kiss), King Crimson guitarist/mastermind Robert Fripp, bassist Tony Levin (who has since been a constant presence in Gabriel’s band), synth maestro Larry Fast, drummer Allan Schwartzberg and keyboardist Jozef Chirowski. Gabriel’s wistful ode to letting go & moving on (and an allusion to his departure from Genesis), “Solsbury Hill,” has become a defining track in his career and was his first Top 40 single in the U.K. With a memorable acoustic guitar pattern throughout, courtesy of special guest (and Ezrin/Reed/Cooper collaborator) Steve Hunter, and a 7/4 time signature for most of its running time, this song is most notable for a repeated 4-note synth melody and the phrase “my heart going boom boom boom.” I love the moody & captivating voice-and-keyboard intro to “Humdrum,” and even after other instruments join in the focus remains on his vocals, which get huskier in the second half (with hints of David Bowie). Album opener “Moribund The Burgermeister” shifts from creepy & claustrophobic with muffled mallets on the tom toms to a big dramatic chorus, and I especially like the quiet little breakdown with cute synth noises at “I will find out…I will find out.”
“Modern Love” is as straightforward as Gabriel gets; a bright rocker with choppy guitar & power chords, a catchy chorus (“Ahh the pain, modern love can be a strain”) and a quiet bridge. Steve Hunter returns on electric guitar with some searing leads on “Slowburn,” a propulsive rocker broken up by softer sections with violin. There are no verses & choruses, just a few different sections mixed together into a very interesting & powerful arrangement. The longest song, at more than 7 minutes, is “Waiting For The Big One,” a bluesy/jazzy waltz featuring pretty piano and splashy instrumental sections with tasty lead guitar (again by Hunter) that’s drastically different than anything else he’s recorded. Although easily categorized as a straight blues tune, his voice is not what you would typically hear with this type of music. The London Symphony Orchestra appears on the two songs which close out the album. “Down The Dolce Vita” morphs from a symphonic arrangement to a funky power-chord-infused proto-disco rhythm, with “Trying to find a way to make it alive” closing each verse. It’s a bit overblown but still quite enjoyable, and the juxtaposition between rock instruments & orchestra is impressive. “Here Comes The Flood” is a dynamic ballad with a pretty pastoral intro offering just a hint of an Asian melody. I hear some Bowie influence, especially in the glam-rock-meets-power-ballad choruses. It features an impressive guitar solo by Dick Wagner, who (like Steve Hunter) was a favorite of Bob Ezrin, Lou Reed & Alice Cooper. Peter Gabriel (Car) is probably not the best entry point into his discography but its schizophrenic nature shouldn’t scare off fans who are digging deeper than his radio hits. There’s a lot to love here for people willing to give it a few listens to sink in.
Forty Year Friday will return in a few weeks with a 1977 album that wasn’t actually released in 1977.