"A MAN OF MANY TALENTS" - a review of Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) - with a few live picks by Jesper Moonen.
To give a proper image of the year 1977, in which Peter Gabriel's first album, was released, we have to go back to 1969 first:
17 years before I was even born, four young guys from Charterhouse decided to team up and form a school band. The band didn't go unnoticed, and record producer Jonathan King decided they were interesting enough to give them a contract. King gave the band a name, which would in the following 20 years rise to much fame.
The four members of the band were the two friends Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford on (12-string) guitar and bass, and the two other friends Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel on keyboards and vocals.
After one failed debut album, the band went on to record Trespass, which showed the first signs of the direction the band would go in: intelligent music, with complex rhythms, melodies and arrangements and thought-provoking lyrics.
For the next album, the talented Steve Hackett replaced Anthony Phillips on guitar, and the band finally found a worthy drummer in the form of Phil Collins. Nursery Cryme was released, and was a solid effort, which managed to open a few people's eyes.
The following album, Foxtrot, was the first one to show the now classic early Genesis sound. Symphonic, dramatic at one point, humorous and light at others. Always decent and cleverly arranged though! The album featured one of their biggest works, Supper's Ready: a 23-minute suite themed around the Revelation.
Selling England by the Pound is perhaps the signature piece of the early era of Genesis. It features many of the now classic songs, and also had a lot of songs, which would survive for years in the live sets. Meanwhile, during live shows at this stage, the band's vocalist, Peter Gabriel had changed from a shy schoolboy to a charismatic leader of the band. Live, he would often leave the stage during instrumental sections to come back with the most surprising costumes and attributes, ranging from or fluorescent eye-make up, batwings or flower-masks, to a perfect recreation of an English knight, complete with feathered helmet and shield.
After Selling England the band started to work on their new album, which they decided was going to be based around a concept story, which was going to be written by Peter Gabriel. At this point, Peter had contacts with the film industry, and thought people were interested to make a film to go with the music. Sadly this turned out to be untrue and left was a disappointed Peter. Along with this disappointment, Peter started to feel 'caught' in the band, and had other interests music-wise. The band, at the same time, felt they were starting to become a backing-band and Peter's theatrics were taking away too much from the music.
Eventually, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway got released as a double-LP in 1974.
What followed was a tour, which featured a complete performance of The Lamb,
with Peter performing the role of the main character, Rael, a young Latin boy
from the New York streets. During the show, Peter would dress up in his most
adventurous creature, the Slipperman, a creature covered with lumps, bumps,
and inflatables in the private range...! As a consequence of this ambitious
costume, Peter was hardly able to sing properly into his mic during the song.
Having been never filmed, this particular tour still stands as legendary among fans, and is by some considered as the pinnacle of Peter Gabriel's work with Genesis.
During the tour, Peter decided to leave Genesis when the tour was finished. Before the final show in France, Peter played The Last Post on his oboe in the dressing room. After the tour, Peter and Genesis parted and both went their own way. Genesis grew to new successes under Phil Collins, who became the new singer of the band.
Peter Gabriel took a sabbatical year in 1976.
In 1977, he surprised the world with his first solo album, simply titled Peter Gabriel. Produced by Bob Ezrin, the album showed that Peter was perfectly able to write songs without the rest of the band members of Genesis.
Gone were the long-form songs with long instrumentals and various solos. The new Peter Gabriel was one that was writing accessible songs, which would soon be picked up by a lot of new interested people.
Letís take a look at the different songs on the album, and see what they sound like:
THE SONG-BY-SONG REVIEW
MORIBUND THE BURGERMEISTER
The first ever solo song by Peter heard by the world, was Moribund the Burgermeister. Moribund showed that Peter had lost nothing of his quirky manner of lyric-writing and it is in a way one of Peter's songs that most remind the listener of Genesis. The lyrics are about a disease in a medieval town, described by Peter in his own typical way.
What makes the song so special is the use of percussion. Like the lyrics, they have a very weird feel and set up the mood for the song.
Equally special are Peter's vocals. The mid-section must be the most memorable thing about the song, with Peter putting up an unworldly voice and growling "I Will Find Out!".
The ending of the song includes some great growling improvisation as well.
Live Pick: Moribund was during the early tours what San Jacinto was
during the later tours: the ultimate fan favourite. Peter would lie down on
the stage, with a light shining up his face, and making evil grins, while growling
"I Will Find Out!"
The 1980 stands as my favourite, with great synths and a fantastic chorus effect on Peter's voice during the growling parts. For one of the best growling outros, with Peter improvising to the max, also check out Cleveland, March 15, 1977 broadcast.
Solsbury Hill was released as a single and is for most people a signature song, and probably for a lot people the song that introduced them to Peter Gabriel.
There are few songs that manage to create such a feeling of joy, as this one does. The arrangement, with acoustic guitar and flute, and building up to the loud end, where Peter literally screams out the joy, is wonderful.
One of the most catchy and brilliant hits ever written by anyone, no doubt about that.
Interesting note: this must be one of very few hits around written in 7/8!
Live Pick: being one of Peter's biggest hits, and a fan favourite,
this one has been performed at almost every show he has done since. The first
gigs during the So Tour didn't have the song in the setlist, but this was changed
after 18 gigs when the song found it's way back into the gig again, never being
dropped after that again.
As for the best versions, there's a wealth of choice. Since it has been performed every tour, there's lots of different versions of the song, with different arrangements. For a true-to-the-original version, the 1977 is a really great one, still having the joyful acoustic feel of the song. Manchester, April 27, 1977 (which in fact will be MUPPET09) is recommended. Although not a personal favourite, if you're interested in a harder-edged version with more guitar, than definitely check out the 1980 tour. The versions of 1982/83 are great as well, having great musician-ship. Some of the 1993 versions of the song are wonderful as well, with a warm feel, but this excludes the versions where the violin is too high up in the mix and destroys the song. The recent version of Solsbury Hill, performed on the Growing Up tour goes back to the original with a more acoustic sound. Musically it is a great version. Sadly, Peterís less able to sing the "eh, eh, eh, Iíll soon be home!" lyrics at the end than he used to be.
After the optimistic Solsbury Hill, something sad would absolutely destroy this uplifting mood, and luckily the upbeat mood carries on in Modern Love.
Modern Love leans heavily on a solid guitar riff, and during the verses the riff is counterpointed by a riff played by the organ.
The lyrics of the song are very symbolic, and thereís some very interesting word-choices to describe the theme of love and sex. Also note some of the unusual rhymes, which are far from cliché.
Something what I never really picked up, but only heard recently, after having heard the song at least a hundred times, was the vocals during the bridge. Itís amazing the way Peter delivers the lyrics in such a vulnerable way in such a rocking song. It kind of makes a contrast between the loud music and the fragile lyrics.
Live Pick: the song was performed during the first three tours. Since Modern Love is one of Peterís few songs, which features the guitar very prominently, it is no surprise that this song comes off well on the Melt Tour, where the guitar sound was a bit harder than what weíre used to with Peter Gabriel live. Any good quality recording from the 1980 will do basically.
On first hearing Excuse Me sounds like Mr. Gabrielís pulling a joke on us, with a barbershop-quartet intro!
Although not one of Peterís most memorable songs, by now we get a clear hint that Peterís not shying away from any style at all. After the experimental and otherworldly Moribund, the warm and optimistic Solsbury Hill, and the vulnerable rock of Modern Love, we now get a song, which leans most of all on humour. And itís not even a bad attempt at all.
Live Pick: the song was only performed on the tour of itís album. For a good quality version try the March, 15, 1977 performance of Cleveland, which is a FM broadcast. Another FM broadcast which features Excuse Me is the April 9, 1977 performance at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles.
The fifth song of the album tries out yet another style. In contrast with the four first songs, Humdrum however is very introvert, with itís lyrics describing the daily grind.
It starts off quietly with just electric piano (with great rotary effect) and a most intimate voice. The final section of the song is one of those moments, which make the hairs stand up on all of your skin. The synth pads, the piano and guitar create a beautiful rich and warm blanket in which Peter sings some of his greatest lyrics ever written.
Live Pick: of course, thereís always the possibility to surpass greatness, and it was definitely the case with Humdrum. Some of the fantastic live versions make this song shine even more. A personal favourite is the rendition at the Rock Werchter Festival of July 3, 1983, which was broadcast over radio. The complete track is sung with a lot of intensity, and Peter throws in a repeat of the "Liebe Schön!" line, sung at the top of his voice, which makes this performance unforgettable.
Slowburn is a very a-Gabriel-typical song. Nevertheless, it is a wonderfully arranged song, with a strong melody, which demands quite some of Peterís vocal abilities, that keeps the song together.
We find some symphonic influences here, both in style and arrangement. The song runs from verses, to choruses, to a quiet interlude, and thereís a bridge in there as well. At the end of the song thereís room for the music to shine through, in particular the guitar is given a lot of space here to play a short and inspired solo.
The lyrics are somewhat obscure, and I sense thereís some biblical references here, but Iím not sure at all.
Although a lot does seem to have happened, in a very short time, the songís over again very soon, fading out with just piano. Maybe a sign that itís actually a very strong and varied song, and deserves more praise than it actually gets.
Live Pick: at any rate, avoid the 1978 tour version. Peterís piano-
and sax-player on that tour, Timmy Cappello, must have been the worst member
Peter ever had in his band. Slowburn is a great example of this. The song is
absolutely destroyed by Timmy hammering on the piano without any feel at it.
The 1977 is excellent though. On the first leg of the tour, Peter did a medley of Slowburn and The Kinksí All Day and All of the Night. On the second leg Slowburn segued into a short interlude, which would lead into Moribund the Burgermeister. During the first leg he would also introduce the song with the funny Ďmating prisonsí story.
WAITING FOR THE BIG ONE
After Slowburn, we get another experiment, which should probably taken with some pun. The song is the weak point of the album though. Although it never really gets annoying, it isnít outstanding either.
Stylistically we have a bluesy/jazzy piece here, which reminds most of a closing bar, with the drunk singer singing nonsense into the microphone, accompanied by the pianist.
The biggest problem with the song is that itís too long. Excuse Me worked because of itís short length. Waiting for the Big One drags, and almost makes you think this was meant seriously.
To round off positively, the song opens with a fantastic line: "The wineís all drunk and so am I."
Live Pick: although musically not something fans would cry out for,
Peter cleverly played some tricks with the audience, which actually make this
song one of the highlights of the set of the first two tours. First of all,
a large share of the band would play another musicianís instrument, with Peter
at one point even playing the drums!
Best of all though, was Peter going into the audience, leaving the crowd completely in the unknown. Suddenly a spot light would point up and large applause could be heard by the local crowd who discovered that Peter was almost near them. Then the spot light would go out and would Peter would then appear at another side of the hall, to surprise the nearby people again.
The best recommendation therefore for the collector is to get a video or DVD with the Rockpalast performance of September 15, 1978. It shows both Peter (dis)appearing in the audience, and the musicians playing each otherís instruments.
DOWN THE DOLCE VITA
For the pre-last song of the album a full-blown orchestra joins the band. It is in some ways a bit similar to Slowburn, having a very varied structure and again some biblical references in the lyrics.
The biggest difference between the two though is that Slowburn especially takes advantage of a strong melody, while Down the Dolce Vita is built on riffs, which create the rhythm of the song.
The songís not as good as Slowburn, but thereís some things worth noting about the song, which make it an interesting one. First of all, thereís the instrumental middle-section, which starts off with just a woodblock and a church bell. When the orchestra comes back, thereís some great outbursts by the trumpets during the verse. Also, the bridge before the instrumental section is excellent: it almost sounds like a soundtrack, with the horns playing deep notes, and the voice and music slowly coming to a halt.
Live Pick: this is one of those songs that improved a lot when played live. Of course it wasnít possible to simulate the complete orchestra, but instead a new approach was chosen with an extended ending, where the band, and especially the keyboard-player was given room to improvise and solo. I remember the Rotterdam performance at September 7, 1977 in particular being an excellent rendition of the song.
HERE COMES THE FLOOD
As Down the Dolce Vita fades out (with a fantastic outro, setting the mood for the final song), the intro to one of Gabrielís signature pieces starts. This song almost has a legendary status amongst fans Itís hard to put a finger on what makes the song so special, but for certain the melody of the chorus is one of the strongest ones ever.
Thereís a big contrast between quiet and loud in this song, with guitars, symphony and drums coming in during the loud parts, giving the quiet parts an extra dimension when it comes to emotion and intimacy.
This song is one of the most worthy ways of closing an album in my opinion.
Live Pick: Here Comes the Flood has been a live staple for years,
usually played as the final encore. For the recent Growing Up tour, Peter surprised
everyone by opening his gigs by playing Here Comes the Flood solo on his piano,
just like he opened his gigs on the very first tour in 1977.
Out of all these versions, for me thereís one that stand miles ahead of the others: the encore at October 2, 1993 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Secret World Tour version of the song was extremely good, but the Buenos Aires performance during this tour was special, because Peter forgot the words to the song halfway during playing. Normally a bad thing, but we get treated to an extra verse of Gabrielese instead, after which Peter continues the song. Truly a beautiful version, and in my opinion the definitive one. (MUPPET10 will be the Buenos Aires 1993 show and features this performance of the song)
Also worth noting is the version of Here Comes the Flood on Robert Frippís album Exposure. This is the original demo of the song, with just Peter on piano and voice, overdubbed with a few Frippertronics and flute. This version is considered by many people (including me) to be the best studio-version of the song.
After having listened to the complete album, what most strikes me is that the album is so varied, but glues together amazingly. Thereís always the risk that an album with too many variation and styles falls apart, because of the lack of cohesion. But this is definitely not the case here. Perhaps itís because of the variation that this album holds so much together.
Although the best was still to come, and it is clear, with all the present styles, that Peter Gabriel was still trying to find his Ďown musical selfí, the album is a worthy debut album, with a lot of highlights. Thereís two signature pieces with Solsbury Hill and Here Comes the Flood. Moribund the Burgermeister and Modern Love are two fantastic early songs, which sadly were never played live after 1980 anymore. Slowburn is criminally underrated, but Humdrum is the true stand-out of the album, having all the ingredients to the perfect song: passionate vocals, an original arrangements, superb lyrics and an almost explosive release that lifts the song to another plane.
Looking back at this album, and seeing Gabriel was able to tackle so many styles with success, yet putting his own stamp on the songs, it becomes clear that already then he was indeed "A Man of Many Talents"