By now the pattern was set: another album titled Peter Gabriel, on a different label, but with the same lettering and a cover photo that would contribute to the vernacular. (In this case, the kids came to calling it Melting Face or just plain Melt. Some of the more enterprising ones called it Mercury/Geffen, in honor of the two labels who’d released it in America.) Only now it was the ‘80s, and he was ready to move forward as his own man. Having shed the pedestrian rock of his first two albums, the third album embraces his experiments within the song form.
Working with soon-to-be hotshot producer Steve Lillywhite, he even made some of his old collaborators sound new. This is evident from the start of “Intruder”, where Phil Collins discovered the unique “gated” drum sound that would drive every single one of his creations for the next ten years, along with the appearance of the Yamaha electric grand piano that would become synonymous with the Gabriel sound. The song’s dark, claustrophobic lyric matter sets the stage for most of the album, through “No Self Control” and particularly on “I Don’t Remember”. Preceded by a brief, sax-driven instrumental (or prelude) called “Start”, it even works on the dancefloor (even if some of the synth parts remind us of “Run Like Hell”). A stretch of silence calms everything down for “Family Snapshot”, a vivid, harrowing portrait of a political assassin that actually inspires sympathy. “And Through The Wire” manages to lighten the mood somewhat—maybe it’s the cowbell?—with a vague lyric that may or may not be related to the mood of “On The Air”.
With a simple “one, two, one, two, four”, the infectious “Games Without Frontiers” whirrs into motion, thanks to the sustained guitars and drum machine. The silly yet biting lyrics are balanced by the whistling chorus and the sound of Kate Bush intoning the title in French (and not “she’s so funky yeah” as we thought for several years). The theme of isolation returns on the otherwise upbeat “Not One Of Us”. “Lead A Normal Life” is mostly a duet for marimba and piano, split up by wordless vocals and an actual verse that confirms that the song takes place in a mental institution. The grand finale is “Biko”, which can be credited for bringing the issue of apartheid to the minds of otherwise apolitical consumers, as well as Bono. A simple funeral march, the suggestion of bagpipes and African touches make it universal and stirring.
Peter Gabriel more or less found a sound that worked on his third solo album, or at least one that he felt comfortable recreating in some of the more innovative live shows of the next several years. And it was a good thing too, since his old bandmates were starting to become more known on the pop charts, together and by themselves. (It also bears mentioning that he released a special version of the album sung entirely in German. Those who’ve heard it have said that some of the lyrics sound even more menacing in that language.)
Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (1980)—3½