I saw the man at JFK, he took your ticket yesterday...
Peter Gabriel. Globally conscious rock activist. Solo superstar. Former Genesis freak. The man who released four albums with the same title. Take your pick. He’s all of those things, and probably a few dozen more. In 1977, Gabriel cast off on his own solo waters and never looked back at all the mayhem he created within art-rock darlings Genesis.
His first LP, Peter Gabriel (soon to be followed by Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Gabriel (a.k.a. Security)) is a varying collection of songs and styles that had not yet shaken off the Genesis costumes completely. This shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, really. A lot of times artists who split from famous groups often have sound-alike first albums. So it slightly went with Peter Gabriel.
Produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Lou Reed’s Berlin), Peter Gabriel scored right off the bat with the single “Solsbury Hill”. Alas, this was a song about leaving his former mates and walking down his own paths. Gabriel’s world music fascination was even apparent this early on. “Solsbury Hill”‘s fade out is not your run-of-the-mill continental fare. But then again, neither is the entire album.
From the opening weirdness of “Moribund the Burgermeister”, a nifty slab of psychedelia for all the kids who hadn’t been there the first time around, to the gigantic closing “Here Comes the Flood”, Peter Gabriel dabbles in style after style. The silly innuendo of “Modern Love” is betrayed by its own bombastic guitar lines. Who was Gabriel playing to? His older fans, or the kids who loved KISS? Probably both. 1977 was a year of change in rock music, from the arrival of The Clash to the disco overload of Saturday Night Fever and back to everything in between. Peter Gabriel fit as comfortably as the Captain and Tennille and Bruce Springsteen sitting side by side.
But you can’t fault Peter for his eclecticism. It’s part of what makes the album tick, after all. The barbershop quartet fun of “Excuse Me”, complete with banjo and trombone is just as effective as the drugged out, operatic blues of “Waiting for the Big One”. You could barely make those lyrics out. “The wine’s all drunk / And so am I…” Sadly amusing in an in-joke sort of way. And certainly the beautiful “Humdrum” with it’s slightly Spanish-giving-way-to-extremely-English musical moments were every bit as tantalizing as the shimmering “Slowburn”.
I could be wrong, though. The whole album might be the most pretentious piece of 1977. One look at the title of “Down the Dolce Vita” probably scared a few of the record buyers away. But then again, if you weren’t very adventurous, you probably weren’t picking this album up anyway, instead reaching for the new ABBA release or perhaps something by Bette Midler.
Whatever the case may be, Peter Gabriel started a ball rolling that has continued to gather momentum. When he’s not making albums with the same titles, Peter’s making those kooky stop-action videos that win tons of awards. And when he’s not doing that, he’s making computer software experiences of his work (Secret Life). Gabriel is now a jack of all trades, and he doesn’t seem to be aging too soon.
Fans turned on by such items as “Big Time”, “Steam”, “Sledgehammer”, and all those finely tuned songs may find Peter’s first LP a bit of a strange encounter. I have to say that I find it better than all those other things. The Genesis fans were pleased, I’m sure. And if they weren’t, perhaps they are now, looking back on what Phil Collins ultimately did to the group. Oh well, you can’t play prog-rock all of your life, I suppose. Or perhaps you can. Although Gabriel has long since thrown away the costumes and outrageousness, his music still manages to steep itself in eccentricities, no matter how radio friendly. Peter Gabriel is the first phase of that vision.