Review Summary: Peter Gabriel's groundbreaking masterpiece
can't speak highly enough of this album. This is his masterpiece. Here Gabriel really defines himself as a solo artist. The whole album is great start to finish.
It's perhaps difficult to appreciate 27 years later how groundbreaking and just plain weird this album sounded in 1980. The comparison with Bowie's Berlin albums is somewhat valid, but this album goes places that are very different. It was a mind-blower for me back then. The gated drum sound of "Intruder" became cliché later, but nobody had ever done that before. The drums are also played without cymbals, which contributes to the tense, claustrophobic feel of much of it. The guitars and background vocals (`Not One Of Us", for instance) are given treatments which were novel and also heighten the mood. I don't mean to say that the album all sounds the same - it certainly doesn't -but there is a flow to it. The cover describres the previaling mood. Even "Games Without Frontiers", with its silly lyrics and whistling, has unmistakeable dark undertones. Which isn't to say this album is downer by any means. It's a great album, just don't expect "Big Time" or anything like that!
Lyrics have always been one of Gabriel's distinctive strong points, and here he is in top form. "Intruder" and "No Self Control" are downright spooky. "Lead a Normal Life" is a minimalist musical haiku which leaves you scratching your head about it's meaning. "Family Snapshot" is wild stuff! It starts out innocently enough, almost reminiscent of a Bruce Springsteen story song, but then takes are very sinister turn. It gets in the head of a political assassin who targets his victim just to make his mark on the world:
"All you people in TV land
I will wake up your empty shells
Peak-time viewing blown in a flash
As I burn into your memory cells
'Cos I'm alive"
"Biko" has of course become anthemic by now. It's the first song (in western pop music, anyway) that addresses apartheid, to my knowledge, and the first rock song to incorporate South African harmonies.
If all you know about Peter Gabriel are his two commercial albums "So" and "Us", please listen to his other material with an open mind. His first 4 solo albums and "Up" are all great, but this is his best.