Looking out the window
I see the red dust clear
High up on the red rock
Stands the shadow with the spear
The land here is strong
Strong beneath my feet
it feeds on the blood
it feeds on the heat
Oh Yes! Greetings from a very soggy, stormy Liverpool day – some of my chums are going to watch Peter Gabriel tonight which got me playing Peter Gabriel. Okay so I know that’s not much help, since all his best albums are called Peter Gabriel, but I’ve been playing Peter Gabriel – not that Peter Gabriel, or that Peter Gabriel or even, Peter Gabriel. Good to get that all cleared up*.
Funnily enough I don’t listen to Peter Gabriel a huge amount, not nearly as much as I should do. I tend to find his first four albums sonically very dense, you really have to work at them in order to pick the best out of them. That’s no criticism at all, or maybe just criticism of my own limited attention span and need for obvious kicks. However all the Peter Gabriel albums repay any investment you make, umm, fourfold and particularly this one. I had an indecent amount of fun listening to this album last night with the lights off.
You know what you’re getting here right from the off, Gabriel had long since eschewed anything resembling trad rock and pop composition and there’s a very good, but very much of its’ time documentary on the making of the LP which shows him gleefully smashing windscreens, banging pipes and recording as many African rhythms as he possible can and then Fairlighting and playing about with them to within an inch of their life.
A case in point is the opener ‘Rhythm of the Heat’, based on that old rock and roll cliché of Carl Jung’s experiences confronting his own subconscious in Africa – basically ‘Jung Hearts Run Free’. This is Gabriel at his most potent, portentous and pretentious**; it’s freaking amazing. The sinister, sinuous rhythms pulsing below that voice, which he alternates between angelic yowl and spoken. It’s difficult to write about because the impact of this track is an emotional, rather than an intellectual one. I’d never read up on what the song was about until yesterday and knowing doesn’t either add, or detract from that at all. The section that precedes the rhythmic freak-out where Gabriel intones ‘Smash the radio / No outside voices here’, gives me goosebumps*^.
But let’s not blow all my word allowance and enthusiasm on the opening track, as usual. The steamy, sparse ‘San Jacinto’ is next up, the delicate marimba-based backing building masterfully throughout to a plateau and then dying away to an uneasy coda with a rasp of affirmation,
We will walk – on the land
We will breathe – of the air
We will drink – from the stream
We will live – hold the line
The song is about the overwhelming of native American culture by mainstream modern American culture and in lesser hands could become the aural equivalent of the hackneyed poster featuring the stoic brave and his single tear, but due to the unorthodox instrumentation and passion Gabriel brings to the song, we avoid any such pitfalls.
My other real favourite here is ‘Shock The Monkey’, although I find the video genuinely disturbing but that’s probably more to do with having a bit of an ape problem^, rather than a fear of face-painted man writhing around an office trying to reconcile the animal and the intellectual in his nature; possibly. If you look at the lyrics a lot of the album seems to be about dichotomy, old/new, animal/intellectual, conscious/unconscious and life/death. These themes knock through into the music too. On ‘Shock The Monkey’, I love the way this track, probably the most accessible on the album, reaches such a funky sound, entirely from left-field. There’s a good argument to be made by more erudite folks than I about Peter Gabriel being a great soul singer and this track is definitely evidence to support the motion.
There are a couple of tracks on Peter Gabriel that don’t float my boat, I’ve never seen much in ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, or ‘Kiss Of Life’, but overall it is an excellent and intriguing listen if you have the appropriate time and attention to give it. The musicianship is, you will know already, pretty damn perfect; a crack crew involving Jerry Marotta, Tony Levin, David Rhodes and Larry Fast, as well as Peter Hamill adding backing vocals on three tracks. Watching the documentary on the making of the album it was very interesting to see just how much Peter Gabriel was involved in every single miniscule aspect of the sound, it really was a solo album albeit projected through others’ skills at times.
The parallels between this album and Kate Bush’ The Dreaming, which she wrote starting from a similar point^^ is striking. Two, towering, very English musical talents, straining to leave the shores of Albion through the means of rhythm and succeeding.
Plus, monkey that I am, I’m a bit of a sucker for smart-ass lyrics,
Fox the fox
Rat the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can’t take any more
Darling, don’t you monkey with the monkey
P.S – I didn’t even give you chapter and verse on ‘The Family & The Fishing Net’ and it’s macabre comparison of the marriage ceremony and voodoo rites – that’s almost a whole other post.