The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Anniversary

Peter Gabriel 3: "Melt" 30 Years On By Chris Roberts
Chris Roberts , October 11th, 2010 03:26

This was the exact moment Peter Gabriel showed us what he was capable of, says Chris Roberts

Add your comment »

Research for this piece – a few clicks – tells me this is "generally regarded as Gabriel’s finest record”. I had no idea. My impression was that it sold well on the back of the hits 'Games Without Frontiers' and 'Biko', but that its chilly jaggedness was too much for the consensus and that it was only fully appreciated by freaks like us. I’d assumed So was his best-loved album, because by then Hollywood were using his material in movies and the dreadful, plodding 'Sledgehammer' had that ubiquitous, admittedly pioneering, video. Over the course of the 80s Gabriel got very successful and revered and politically correct, and lost what made him unique. He got so big and benign and respected that he couldn’t risk confessing any more, wouldn’t document the pirouettes of his hungry psyche.

What made him unique is all over 1980’s Peter Gabriel 3 to the point of making it sticky, clammy. The third successive solo album to be called, officially, Peter Gabriel, it attracted the nickname Melt, because of its Hipgnosis sleeve. It’s some crazy shit.

Arty prog-pop. Funk in negative. Depressed, romantic, twitchy, paranoid. You look in its eyes and you fear for its safety, and maybe your own. Here be monsters, in icy, literate, tales of stalkers, assassins, persecuted immigrants, ordinary people who fear they’ll do some damage one fine day, outsiders all. It reveals fresh treasures and kinks even thirty years on. At this time, remember, Gabriel was still trying to lay the ghost of Genesis. He was more identified with the band’s earlier, baroque work than he was with his own. He was the man who’d pondered, “A flower??” in the 26-minute 'Supper’s Ready' while wearing a fox head and a red ballgown. He’d punned and fretted his way through four sides of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. He was theatre rock. But then he’d killed Ziggy. The first two solo albums – despite moments like “Solsbury Hill” and “Modern Love” – had begun to define him in a separate space, but not yet clarified what was going on in that space. Besides, far from feuding and falling out with the remaining members of Genesis, he was on good terms with them. Phil Collins appears on drums here, as he does on so many exquisite albums of the era, putting down markers despite the world of music journalism’s lazy, petty, perpetual loathing of him.

PG3 is where Gabriel ascends, where he hits the perfect point on the curve between artistic ambition and accessibility, between dark and light, between floridness and reticence. Songs, themes, sonics and presence come together to create a cohesive yet many-limbed piece which pitches up somewhere between Lodger and Scary Monsters. Challenged by the NME at the time about Bowie comparisons, he replied defensively, “I get the feeling he’s more calculating. There’s not too much coincidence emanating. With me there is still quite a large functioning of randomness, accident and mistakes.” Going on to praise Bowie’s willingness to keep moving, he added, “You must let go of what you’ve got, cause if you try and clutch on to something which you think is yours, it withers and dies.” It would be facile to pin this album as an anti-Genesis statement though: much of it is every bit as self-important. It’s just leaner, sharper, quicker to make its points. It’s speed (with all the nervous glances over the shoulder), not dope, not comfortable or relaxing.

While this will not turn into a detailed discussion of drum sounds, it has to be mentioned that the outstanding, ominous opener 'Intruder' is where the “gated drums” technique which so dominated and ultimately defiled the subsequent decade was invented.

Gabriel and (the then very fashionable) co-producer Steve Lillywhite banned cymbals, asked Collins and Jerry Marotta to adopt a less-is-more approach, and found the results to be sinister, dramatic and arresting. (Freeing up the higher frequencies thus allowed room for exploration that few artists had realised was possible. They used the spaces for creaks, screeches, whistles, sirens and found sounds that are just as important to the record’s feel as the conventional keyboards, guitars, etc. This subsequently became common practice for a while, then it wasn’t, and now – in a period where music has a chronic lack of drama - it would be good if it was again.)

'Intruder' is an extraordinary piece of creepy-sexy art-rock. The protagonist is an up-to-no-good stalker, breaking and entering, part-Hitchcock, part-care-in-the-community. The detail of this sad-scary character’s lusts and motivations is intense.

“I’m certain you know I am there... I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear.”

To ensure that this weirdo cannot be confused with the avuncular do-gooder we now perceive Peter Gabriel as, "Intruder come and go and leave his mark.” Ugh. A bold, unsettling, sleazy and poetic gambit. Menace. No glib catharsis.

'No Self-Control' – a single, bizarrely – is a confessional of a man teetering on the verge of a nervous collapse. “I don’t know how to stop... I’m so nervous in the night... there are always hidden silences.” It’s a compelling construct of synths and riffs, of hooks and descent, echoes and loops, beautifully structured and subtly aggressive. After the brief instrumental respite 'Start', in rages 'I Don’t Remember', another examination of mental frailty. “I’m all mixed up, I got nothing to say...” Perhaps more conventionally rock-pop, it’s yet riddled with quirks and counterpoints. Gabriel’s scorched, frayed voice(s), as throughout, are raw yet tender, deft yet decisive. Our next misfit is the would-be hit man of 'Family Snapshot', a Lee Harvey Oswald manqué who plans to assassinate a celebrity (a president?) because it’ll make him famous, amid the "camera crews” and “peak-time viewing”. As social documentary/ satire it seems old-hat now, but this was thirty years ago, two decades before Big Brother. Like most of the album, it goes for big statements with delicious knack for understatement.

'And Through The Wire' is relatively straight-ahead rock, but after the repeated teaser of “I want you”, that’s one doozey of a chorus, and he sings the title line like he’s gargling emeralds. You’ll know 'Games Without Frontiers' (with a barely audible Kate Bush on backing vocals). As an anti-war lyric it’s facile; as a pop song it’s a peach. 'Not One Of Us' is a prescient piss-take of the NIMBY anti-immigration lobby. “A foreign body... and a foreign mind... never welcome in the land of the blind.” Then comes the track which grabs you last but, after many listens, grabs you hardest. 'Lead A Normal Life' is barely there, a whisper, a rivulet. It can be interpreted as an asylum inmate’s murmurings as he glimpses the trees. It haunts, in your peripheral vision.

You keep returning to it, like a flicker of a memory, willing it to catch flame. Grand finale 'Biko' signals where Gabriel was next to travel, becoming pop music’s patron saint of all things worthy and earnest.

That said, his story of the murder of the apartheid activist, even with its big singalong coda, is lyrically extremely restrained and pointed, eschewing see-how-clever-I-am imagery: “The man is dead, the man is dead”. And again, one must recall that the first people to champion good causes should not be blamed for those who later jump the bandwagon to further their own careers. This is not Geri Halliwell posing with Nelson Mandela. This is a guy singing about something few people in the Western world had then heard of.

Musically alive and daring (we haven’t even mentioned the contributions of Robert Fripp, saxophonist Dick Morissey, John Giblin’s gallumping, gorgeous period bass or, er, Paul Weller’s guitar cameo), lyrically and vocally astute, this is an auteur’s album, with sound and thought and feeling in perfect step. It confirmed him as not just “the ex-Genesis frontman”. It ensured he wasn’t swept away by punk’s blinkered absolutism. It should have been the beginning of even better things, but wasn’t quite.

(In 2010, nevertheless, he’s made the year’s second best album, Scratch My Back being a morass of unadorned misery and despair.) In 1980, for one album only – a murky, mirror-gazing masterpiece - Peter Gabriel was the finest exponent of art-rock in the world. Savour it, with the seductive, sentient shudder it prompts.

Share

Magic Alex
Oct 11, 2010 7:37am

Nice to see Chris writing as always and also nice to see praise for this 'forgotten' masterpiece. The only current band to have openly name checked III period Gabriel of recent years is Field Music, but, good as they are, they've yet to make music this creepy and sexy. A weird combo for sure, but one that works in spades here.

Reply to this Admin

john
Oct 11, 2010 10:03am

Very influential. Flowers Of Romance being a good example of its reach.
I've always hated 'Start'- way too slick and completely out of place here.

Reply to this Admin

PDFitzGerald-Morris
Oct 11, 2010 11:57am

"You’ll know 'Games Without Frontiers' (with a barely audible Kate Bush on backing vocals)"

On what basis is the "Jeux sans frontieres" refrain sung by Kate "barely audible"? Do you need to check out your sound system?

Reply to this Admin

jah
Oct 11, 2010 3:21pm

good to see this album get a write-up 30 years on. i do think PG4 'security' is probably my favourite, but 'melt' is definately a classic. i think the influence of this period gabriel is now starting to show again, look at fever ray's brilliant album from last year.
also, the collins hate seems to be turning on it's head now. in the last year i've seen more praise for his work (up until the mid 80's) than i have in a good while.

Reply to this Admin

Jim Donato
Oct 12, 2010 12:29am

In reply to john:

Aaaah. But it's precisely the juxtaposition of the MOR "Start" right up against "I Don't Remember" that for me makes it the first double whammy knockout of the album. The chaos of Gabriel's expression vocal intro coming even as the creamy sax had yet to fade in the listener's mind.

Reply to this Admin

Moderoy
Oct 12, 2010 1:56pm

Excellent piece, Mr. Roberts. And I agree with Jim Donato in regard to "Start."

Reply to this Admin

Einar Stenseng
Oct 13, 2010 3:01pm

Good article, though the gated drum sound was pioneered by producer Tony Visconti on Bowie's Low album three years prior to PG3.

Reply to this Admin


Oct 13, 2010 3:53pm

In reply to Einar Stenseng:

Well, all due respect etc, I've spoken to Tony Visconti and he wouldn't agree.

Reply to this Admin

john
Oct 14, 2010 10:34pm

In reply to Jim Donato:

I get the point concerning 'Start', but does that make it GOOD? It's still a sort of stain on this otherwise brilliant record...

Reply to this Admin

moderoy
Oct 14, 2010 10:58pm

In reply to john:

"Start" is just over a minute long. Even if you don't like it, it's not big enough to cause much of a stain.

Reply to this Admin

sevenstones
Oct 23, 2010 1:53am

have you heard the sessions to this - mindblowing - with peters music you could sense the amazing just lurking around the corner - the live tour of this was very lush with lots of scope for "enhancing" the songs and always a great sense of mystic drama !!

Reply to this Admin

sturubbish
Dec 7, 2010 1:48pm

In reply to me:

Is there a dictionary definition for someone who is incorrect and then just calls the person who mentions their incorrectness a "pedant"?

Reply to this Admin


Dec 14, 2010 3:08pm

In reply to sturubbish:

Do you grasp what "barely audible" means?

Reply to this Admin

sturubbish
Dec 16, 2010 1:56pm

In reply to :

I don't have a dictionary to hand, but my understanding of "barely audible" is "only just within the realms of audibility". I can hear Kate's backing vocals on GWF really clearly, and I'm partially deaf. Maybe you meant "barely recognisable", although I'm sure some pedant would argue otherwise.

Reply to this Admin

Jeff
Dec 16, 2010 7:05pm

I like So. Call me unfashionable.

Reply to this Admin


Aug 6, 2011 3:35pm

Make your life time more easy get the mortgage loans and everything you require.

Reply to this Admin

L'Ange Gabriel
Sep 10, 2011 7:06pm

In reply to Einar Stenseng:

Einar Stenseng - you are half-correct... it wasn't the gated DRUM sound that Tony Visconti perfected or used three years later - it was a gated VOCAL sound - he has three mikes set up, each gated differently. As Bowie sang over a certain volume, the first gate would be activated, and at a louder volume, the next gate, etc, and each gate was tied into a different reverb setting.

Reply to this Admin


Sep 16, 2011 10:05pm

I got know that search engines discouraged the automated options of submission. Thus, free of charge articles submission services suppose to be not effective at this moment. However, old school directory submissions service can choose right ways to increase your speed!

Reply to this Admin

Motorcycle Boots
Oct 21, 2011 12:35pm

Good post.You did a good work, and offer more information Effective for us! Thank you. This is my first time II have visited here. I found a lot of interesting information in your blog.

Reply to this Admin

Hnery
May 22, 2012 12:15pm

I loved the article. It is very exciting. Thank you for the information. I will be back. palm gardens gurgaon

Reply to this Admin

jaffa
Jul 16, 2012 6:12am

Great.

Reply to this Admin

认真
Jul 23, 2012 6:39am

In reply to jaffa:

saffawfasf

Reply to this Admin

Felix
Feb 12, 2014 1:33pm

PG´s best album! Great that Phil Collins is mentioned. There`s so much great stuff in his "back-catalogue". John Martyn, Mike Oldfield, Frida, Robert Plant, Philip Bailey, Brand X... Really love this guy!

Reply to this Admin

Felix
Feb 12, 2014 1:33pm

PG´s best album! Great that Phil Collins is mentioned. There`s so much great stuff in his "back-catalogue". John Martyn, Mike Oldfield, Frida, Robert Plant, Philip Bailey, Brand X... Really love this guy!

Reply to this Admin

gzulux
Mar 20, 2014 3:24pm

In reply to :

No matter what (you say) Visconti says about The Big Gated Drum Sound, it was all over Low. I was working at the Record Plant NY with engineer Thom Panunzio at the time, also had a gig tuning drums for the Steve Lillywhite sessions with Marshall Crenshaw, and it was an accepted fact, much discussed as it was my favorite subject, to both of them that Low started the whole 80's big drum sound. Sorry, but their word outranks yours.

Reply to this Admin

Rossco
Oct 20, 2014 1:46am

Not a single mention of Tony Levin's Chapman Stick?

Reply to this Admin