In his 1980 album, Gabriel gives us as disquieting a listening experience as, arguably, we will ever hear in our lifetime.

“I think that the third album was quite important for me in terms of really having a defining sound and the band coming through. It was the first record where I was clearly doing something different from what other people were doing.” – [1]

“The album was full of, what at the time were ‘strange’ sounds. I remember when I met Ahmet Ertegun [founder of Atlantic Records] and he’d first heard that record, which Atlantic later dropped, he’d asked if I’d been hospitalised myself and obviously thought that I’d gone from being some sort of pop artist to some strange backwater.” – [1]

“Intruder” (4:54). The uniquely (for 1980) sound engineered ‘gated’ and, portentously, heavy drum beat set-up, then the manufactured sound of … what is that? Something metallic twisting? Then the dissonant opening bars … then a moment of slight musical respite, then the sound of screaming (the intruder celebrating? or the victim?), then a chorus of primitive triumphant calling (again, the intruder? or the victim?). The intruder begins to talk now … “I know ..” – Gabriel does his acting accenting, accompanied by film score creepiness. Gabriel gives us dissonant ‘dem bones’ xylophones. The now confident intruder moves on to “I like ..” – “intruder come and he leave his mark”. Gabriel’s subtle discomforting of the listener continues with his abuse of English, “and he leave his mark”. The intruder’s casual, triumphant, whistling at the close.

“No self control” (3:55). Strangely urgent xylophones open the melody. Bush’s ghostly vocals accompany this urgency. Collins’ intentionally loud, urgent, staccato yet organic heartbeat drum work. This is the aural sound scape of hopeless addiction.

“Start” (1:31). Bridge.

“I don’t remember” (4:41). Gabriel’s vocalisation noises open. The infinite ending is the thing here. It’s a car-crash.

“Family snapshot” (4:28). Filler.

“And through the wire” (5:00). Filler, but at 2:05, Gabriel assaults us in stereo. Weller’s hard attack on his guitar work were wanted as a contribution by Gabriel. The ending, a mix of scream and electronica that is completely dissonant to what we’ve heard so far.

“Games without frontiers” (4:06). Filler.

“Not one of us” (5:22). A song about racism. Gabriel’s lyrics begin at 0:54 with “It’s only water, in a stranger’s tear …”, however, the really disquieting experience happens in the first seven seconds on this song. Listen. At 4:06 the song changes tempo; an attack. The infinite ending, again.

“Lead a normal life” (4:14). This time, Gabriel’s opening xylophone’s seem happier. But, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear something disturbing going on in the background. This thing, whatever it is, disquiets us at 0:47. Gabriel does his acting accenting again … “… ‘spect you watch those trees, blowing in the breeze”. Then, around 3:18, a dissonant sounds sequence fades in, to fade out.

“Biko” (7:32). I don’t know if the opening was taken from Steve Biko’s actual funeral chanting. There’s a constant drum beat that begins and an electronica scream at 0:38. The constant drum beat holds the melody, an anthem. There’s a spoken rhythmic “Huh, huh” – which has a powerful and inevitable sound to it – and this is 1980, remember. Gabriel closes with chaotic sounds of chanting, ended with two beats of a snare.

Gabriel’s third album is, arguably, a masterpiece of sound scaping.

 

 

References:

[1] http://petergabriel.com/release/peter-gabriel-3/