When, on August 15 1975, Peter Gabriel officially announced that he had left Genesis, it was the first major abdication of prog royalty, and his next move was awaited with huge anticipation. His first four solo albums were all, simply and confusingly, titled Peter Gabriel, and are well worthy of this lavish vinyl reissue campaign.
The debut, nicknamed Car, was released in early 1977 and, produced by Bob Ezrin (fresh from working with Alice Cooper and Kiss), it’s a muscular affair. Moribund The Burgermeister, with its quirky structure and treated vocals, sounds like it could have been recorded by Genesis, as does the hit single Solsbury Hill, but having to compete with the no-nonsense rock guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner brought out the rawness in Gabriel’s voice, particularly on the apocalyptic epic, Here Comes The Flood, with its big drums and lashings of reverb.
Accusations of over-production led to accusations of under-production on its successor, Scratch (1978), but producer Robert Fripp – who also plays guitar on it – achieved a less bombastic but punchier sound, one more attuned to Gabriel’s aesthetic. Within the structural twists and turns of On The Air, Gabriel is Mozo, the garbage-tip dwelling pirate radio broadcaster, his vocal mannerisms belying his early soul influences. He critiques consumer society on the delicious A Wonderful Day In A One Way World and offers a grim, moribund piano ballad in Indigo.
With their brio, the first three are the most compelling.
On the third album Melt (1980), Gabriel banned the use of cymbals, which gave a surprising new slant on rock rhythm, with Phil Collins conjuring an ominous tolling beat on Intruder and some spectacular all-kit playing on No Self Control. There’s a more political slant here, with the hit single Games Without Frontiers setting geopolitical struggle as a game show and, on a more directly serious note, the magisterial, scalp-raising Biko. Another highlight is the paranoid, amnesiac funk of I Don’t Remember, a dark antecedent of Sledgehammer, which appeared on 1986’s So.
Peter Gabriel 4, or Security (1982) finds him further disassembling rock with polyrhythmic percussion both played and sampled with the new-fangled Fairlight sampler, but also here are those dreaded, gated-reverb 80s drums. The single Shock The Monkey aside, the album is generally sombre and more considered. And while the thunderous percussion processional of Lay Your Hands On Me is particularly impressive, Gabriel’s earlier albums – with their brio and stronger, more compact tunes – remain more compelling.
The idea of making special editions of these last two albums sung in German, as featured on these reissues, does seem quaint now, and although these curiosities have some slightly different mixes and edits, they remain purely for completists.