Peter Gabriel-Melt

1980; The Townhouse, London; Mercury/Geffen

Hey folks, sorry this list thing is taking so long. It's all Adrian's fault, so if you wanted to be mad at him that would be pretty appropriate. Anyhow, to sate you until our next installment, here's a review I did for progarchives.com. It's for one of my very favorite albums, and if you give it a chance I think you'll like it a lot, too. I'll explain why below. Enjoy.

Rarely is an artist able to mix artistry and listenability in such a graceful manner that the two become indistinguishable. Of course, I suppose if anyone was going to do it it was Peter Gabriel, who, not satisfied with being in the greatest progressive rock band to ever exist, decided he would like to be one of the most intelligent, influential and marketable pop acts in the world as well, mixing his prog chops with the newly emergent world music scene to create a masterpiece that can't be easily defined as either prog or pop, but which slides comfortably into either arena.

It's easy to understand(and equally easy to mock) why Atlantic Records would drop Gabriel from their label after hearing pieces of this album: There's a nervous tone to Melt, a seeping paranoia that can't be easily identified, that the record execs were scared would frighten away a mainstream audience. When you have an opener like "Intruder", a song sung from the perspective of a burglar that uses tool sound effects, monstrous falsettos and whispered verses about the joys of home invasion to frighten the listener into submission, you can see why a manager wouldn't think that this album would light the sales charts on fire. And when you hear the next song, "No Self Control", a nervous breakdown driven by a xylophone, you'd be booting the man out on his behind faster than you can say "Billboard 200".

If you had waited a minute, however, you would have heard "I Don't Remember", a song which takes the dark, frantic themes of the first two songs and sculpts them into a dance track that's one part Brian Eno and one part Human League, you would've realized that you had a hit single on your hands. And if you had waited until the next song, "Family Snapshot", you'd have realized you missed the opportunity to release what is easily one of the greatest songs ever written: Focusing on the Kennedy assasination as told from the viewpoint of Lee Harvey Oswald, the listener is forced to sit inside the mind of the killer, letting the tension build and build to such grand proportions that by the time the song's quiet, heartbreaking denouement arrives one might be moved to tears at the plight of one of the most hated men in American history. It is not only Peter Gabriel's finest song, it is not only one of the greatest progressive rock songs of all time, and it is not only one of the greatest songs of the '80s. It has the distinction of not only being completely incomparable, but being one of the greatest songs of all time, in any era, in any context.

The second half of the album is as jammed with as many pop hits as it is experimental pieces, and only one of them, "Not One Of Us", straddles the line uncomfortably and becomes the album's only dud. The rest are spectacular. "And Through The Wire" is a touching, fast moving ballad about the pains of being in a long-distance relationship, and it goes without saying that "Games Without Frontiers" is a classic, a brooding, dramatic single that's still played on the radio to this day thanks to that rare mix of catchiness, deathly serious gravity and radio-friendly runtime. "Lead a Normal Life" is a quiet, reflective piece about being caged in a rehabilitative center of some kind, and is more notable for its subtle ambiance than its compelling content. The album concludes with "Biko", and introduces a case where I have no idea how this song became a radio hit. That isn't an insult-the song is a touching tribute to anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, and it's long, slow and thoughtful, just in the way that such subject matter should be handled. It simply lacks a "hook" to grab in the average listener. Still, anomaly that it is, it's certainly a welcome one.

Don't mistake this album for being a pop record-it isn't one. Don't mistake it for being a progressive rock record, either, however, as it isn't that either. It is one of the rare cases where the usually pretentious and unnecessary term "art rock" can be applied, a work that combines rock and roll with experimental electronica and instrumental influences from all across the globe to create an album that is designed to appeal to everyone from the most snobbish "high-culture" music aficionado to the most lackadaisical radio maven.Melt" is a classic no matter who you talk to, and no matter what kind of music you enjoy.


No comments:

Post a Comment