Hans plays with Lotte....
Released on 23rd May 1980
After the proggy indulgence of his first solo album and the slightly funky, cold but powerful follow up, this, Peter Gabriel’s third solo album, was the one that saw him really achieve widespread acclaim and credibility as an artist. Many who bought this album did so never having bought his stuff before. For many critics, it is his finest album - a fascinating mixture of pop and paranoia. As with all his albums, they need several listens to be fully appreciated. I remember my student girlfriend at the time had this album and she only ever played side two. Fair enough, but the old side one hid a few less instant secrets.
2. No Self Control
4. I Don’t Remember
5. Family Snapshot
6. And Through The Wire
7. Games Without Frontiers
8. Not One Of Us
9. Lead A Normal Life
Intruder is a very bleak, Joy Division-esque post punky opener, full of those sombre, industrial drumbeats and mysterious, sonorous vocals. Its synthesiser breaks also very much sum up the often staccato, paranoid vibes of late seventies/early eighties music. The xylophone solo sounds almost Japanese, something that again fitted the zeitgeist. At times Gabriel sounds like Steve Harley in his vocal - “the intruder coming…” bit near the end. There are clear hints of Bowie too.
No Self Control used a world music-inspired marimba/thumb piano type backing. There was a very West African/Brazilian Bahia feel to the instrumentation that was enhanced by some fuzzy post punk guitar and crashing contemporary drums. Gabriel’s beguiling, intriguing lyrics helped to create a highly unusual, intoxicating and interesting track. Kate Bush appears on wailing backing vocals by the way. Simple Minds did a lot of stuff like this in the same period. It is very much of the 1980 avant-garde. There are also bits of this that bring to mind Sting.
Start is a brief slice of ambient bass. Keyboards and saxophone instrumental. It leads into the once more Simple Minds-ish, upbeat thump of I Don’t Remember, a track with a fine, muscular drum beat, chunky guitar riffs and a catchy chorus refrain. Check out that great rubbery bass line too. It is one of Gabriel’s best songs of the time. There is more than a hint of Talking Heads’ David Byrne in Gabriel’s vocal. Robert Fripp supplies some typically excellent guitar, too. Family Snapshot has some more echoes of Sting in its initial vocals. It begins plaintively but bursts out half way through into a huge, riff and saxophone-driven beaty rocker.
And Through the Wire is a slow burning, vaguely David Bowie on Lodger type of rocker. It features Paul Weller on guitar. The young Weller was recording in the same studio with The Jam at the time and was asked to contribute. Surprisingly (at the time) he agreed. Quite what he made of this quirky song is not known, but it is nothing like The Jam. It has a lot of changes of ambience, but at times it rocks pretty hard with some rousing chorus parts. It is a song that grows on you.
The completely infectious Games Without Frontiers was probably the reason for lots of people buying this album. It was a huge hit single and always seemed to be a the radio at the time. It seemed to partner the new romantic thing at the time. For me, it is just so reminiscent of the whole scene in 1980. The Japan-style rhythm, the odd, perplexing but singalong lyrics, the meaningful chorus, the programmed percussion. Put it alongside Ultravox’s Vienna and Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and you have a pretty good 1980-81 sonic snapshot. The new romantic sound is continued on the pounding Not One Of Us, which was very typical early eighties rock. There is something of The Who about it too, as was often the case with Gabriel. It is a good track. Great drum work near the end from Jerry Marotta. Apparently Gabriel had asked for a drum sound without cymbals throughout the album, thus you get the pounding, resonant sound you hear on this track, Intruder, And Through The Wire and I Don’t Remember.
Lead A Normal Life is a plaintive, Bowie-esque number with more far-Eastern style backing and fuzzy guitar merged with some “Heroes”-style synthesiser. It reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Moss Garden.
The album ends with its magnificent tour de force - Gabriel’s first overtly political song, his moving, evocative tribute to murdered (in police custody) South African freedom fighter Steve Biko. However inventive and interesting the rest of the album had been, this simply blew it away. Up in my girlfriend’s room, I played this one track endlessly back in 1980. “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire…once the flame begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher..”. A true anti-Apartheid anthem. “The eyes of the world are watching now….”. Thankfully they really were.
The unique Biko sits on its own, away from the rest of the album, which was a fine, quirkily ground-breaking one overall. Don’t do as I did in 1980 and only listen to Biko, give the whole lot a listen.
Below is a clip of Gabriel performing Biko at the Amnesty International benefit concert in 1988.