Nobody would have guessed how well Peter Gabriel would have prospered without Genesis, just as nobody would have suspected that they would flourish without him. But that’s precisely what happened when Gabriel quit Genesis to embark on a solo career. He was growing bored of the band format by the time he recorded The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Free from the shackles of a five-man setup, he was able to pursue any genre that best fit him.
Although he hasn’t been prolific (he’s only released fourteen albums since 1977), there’s no denying the adventure and excellence that’s been put into these records. My personal favorite? I’d have to go with the debut (imaginatively titled Peter Gabriel), which is why I’ve selected two songs from the album.
Fresh from his days fronting the pastoral Genesis, Gabriel’s most enduring ballad congratulated his band’s achievements before veering into barbed criticism. Genesis, he felt, were memories of a factory floor, cementing him to a world of continuous, uninterrupted work. Life had shifted in a different direction, and armed with a selection of high-caliber session players, Gabriel created his remarkable codicil.
“Here Comes The Flood”
Gabriel has never been content with this number, which might explain why he’s re-arranged it on several occasions. There’s no denying that the lyrics – evoking the collapse of family in the midst of a biblical storm – rank among Gabriel’s strongest. It’s a track guitarist Steve Hunter recalled with great pride in 2020: “Yes, I play the acoustic guitar. I didn’t play the solo on that one; Dick Wagner did. And, of course, Robert Fripp played on that album too.”
By the time he released his third album, Gabriel allowed a more political slant to enter his work. Like many in Britain, he was furious about South Africa’s treatment of black people, which led to this soaring number, lifted by percussion and malleable instruments. Phil Collins – who replaced Gabriel as Genesis frontman in 1976 – appears on the track, adding to the wall of instrumentation that leads to that most impassioned howl.
“Shock The Monkey”
Frequently misinterpreted as an animal rights anthem, “Shock The Monkey” is a shock-rock comedy number that allows the prog frontman to demonstrate some of his hairier vocal stylings. King Crimson mainstay Tony Levin plays the bouncy bass pattern on a Chapman Stick, while Jerry Marotta rattles away at the drum kit with an impressive amount of flair and funk.
“Don’t Give Up”
It was the ultimate question: did they or didn’t they? Eventually, music video director Lol Creme let it slip that Gabriel and Kate Bush had indeed been in a “clinch.” Well, whatever the background gossip, they certainly look very cozy together in the video, wrapped in each other, a billowing sunset behind them. 10cc drummer Kevin Godley certainly enjoyed working on the video. “We directed the video for Peter Gabriel’s ‘Biko’ back in the days when I worked with Lol,” he remembered. “It’s a great song and a pretty effective video….We also directed the video for ‘Don’t Give Up,’ with Peter and Kate Bush, and technically, it looks a bit shabby now, but I think it still has the emotional kick!”
“Blood of Eden”
A great example of the late Sinead O’Connor’s talent was singing harmony on this track from 1992. Paula Cole replicated the vocals during the stage shows, but it’s safe to say that no one could perform it as well as the Dublin starlet did. Gabriel composed the song as his way of envisioning a place where the masculine and feminine could intertwine as one.
“No Way Out”
Death was becoming a more common fixture in his work by 2002, and “No Way Out” demonstrates a vocalist, fearful for the world he will one day leave behind. Indeed, compared to the bouncier So, the Up album is a denser, more reflective affair. Gabriel considered changing the name of the album but relented when he met up with R.E.M, who had issued an album under the same name in 1998. Clearly, both parties understood the intentions of the title, and Gabriel released it as he had always intended.
“Burn You Up, Burn You Down”
We’re eight songs into the list, and we’ve only just stumbled onto a track that wasn’t entirely written by Gabriel. [World Party’s] Karl Wallinger, formerly of The Waterboys, contributed to the song, and the two of them spent a great deal of time recording at Real World Studios. Although many of the sessions had been completed by 1995, Gabriel did not consider “Burn You Up, Burn You Down” worthy of release until 2003. Wallinger went to the same secondary school as Gabriel, and the two of them enjoyed a friendship that went beyond professional. “I worked with (Gabriel) on the Big Blue Ball album that came out,” he told Pennyblackmusic. “All these different artists who worked in the studios every summer for a couple of years. I remember going up to him, we were making tea, and I went up to him. ‘A carved oak table / Tells a tale, of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold.’ He sort of went, ‘That’s enough of that!’ Just taking the mickey, you know”.
“Four Kinds of Horses”
As it’s the most recent of the tunes to make this list, it’s difficult to predict the longevity of the track, although there’s no denying that it’s suffused with a dreamlike production value. It’s found on I/O, Gabriel’s upcoming album, scheduled for a late 2023 release. It’s his first album of self-composed material in more than twenty years. (Gabriel released two albums full of covers during the 2010’s, and as cover albums go, they’re pretty good. But new material is always nice.)
Photo: Peter Gabriel, 2011 (Skoll World Forum via Wikimedia Commons)