It took him a couple of years—a pattern that would come to define his career—but Peter Gabriel’s first solo album after leaving Genesis was a bold statement, building on the performance art of his Genesis work while embracing different sounds than those to which he’d been previously shackled. Simply titled Peter Gabriel (but often referred to as Car or Rainy Windshield due to the cover art), it was produced by Bob Ezrin, who’d made his bones with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. It’s a fairly straightforward collection of songs that straddle both whimsy and standard rock, falling into place all over the map.
“Moribund The Burgermeister”, with its keyboards and funny voices, should have satisfied those Genesis fans who longed to see their hero dressed as a flower or wearing a dress with a fox’s head. Once that’s out of the way, the classic “Solsbury Hill” allegorically tells of his decision to go solo. Anchored by acoustic guitars over 7/4 time, even since its inclusion in countless movie trailers the song never fails to exhilarate. With a rousing count-in, “Modern Love” is a straight-ahead rocker—complete with cowbell—saturated in guitars and keyboards to hide the salacious puns in the lyrics. (Its official video, depicting Peter in a fencing outfit, cavorting through what appears to be an abandoned airport, must be seen to be believed.) From there it’s a complete left turn to a barbershop quartet for “Excuse Me”, which turns into a soft-shoe number complete with tuba. The first side ends with the strangely beautiful “Humdrum”, a song that seems to be a showcase for more wordplay but is absolutely majestic from start to finish.
The classic rock sound creeps in on the second half for “Slowburn”, with stately piano and bubbling synth, followed by a screaming lead guitar. The dynamics here are especially effective, and its curious fade is a good setup for “Waiting For The Big One”, something of a big band pastiche. While Frank Sinatra wouldn’t cover it, the stops and starts for the voices to carry out the big ending make it quite a production. Then the London Symphony Orchestra makes their inevitable appearance on “Down The Dolce Vita”, another big number with a jokey wind-up clock section and an allusion to “Auld Lang Syne” buried beneath the mix. The sense of urgency turns to resignation for “Here Comes The Flood”, presented here in an orchestrated arrangement. It’s a misleading song, with apocalyptic overtones, but the suggestion is that we’re doomed to limbo rather than annihilation.
This would be his most mainstream offering for some time, but that’s not to suggest it’s “commercial” in the slightest. Like any masterwork, its jewels are revealed on repeat listens. Whether or not he missed his old band, he was off to a good start.
Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (1977)—4½