A doorway to a thousand churches: The best of Peter Gabriel

People aren’t born with good taste; it’s a phenomenon you edge into if you’re lucky. Plenty of kids grew up with KISS and Save Ferris records. Peter Gabriel was my first Serious Crush, and with all due respect to Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter, I still love the old frog. In the summer of my sophomore year in high school, which coincided with one of those century-long breaks between albums that older Gabriel fans had learned to expect, I checked what was then called Security out of the public library. Tribal drums. Oblique references to Jung. A song called “San Jacinto” boasting i in its last forty-five seconds the creepiest Fairlight sample — some kind of manipulated basso whistle — in recorded music (fans know the one I mean). A song about shocking the monkey that might’ve been about shocking the monkey whose video creeped the fuck out of me as much as the Fairlight sample in “San Jacinto.”

As correctly as carpers have dismissed the eighties as a time of rapine and greed, it was also a period when musicians enjoyed the largess of label recording budgets; if you were a Peter Gabriel, this meant a last shot attempt to exploit growing stardom to make an album that honored his influences. So was a perfect gateway. Fairlights, sure. Also: hi-hats, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Youssou N’Dour, the poetry of Anne Sexton. In “Sledgehammer” Gabriel wrote and sang the only convincing Otis Redding homage by an English public school graduate. With “In Your Eyes” he created John Cusack and Ione Skye for the purpose of watching them succumb to a  kind of desire from which doorways open to a thousand churches, light, and heat. In some ways “In Your Eyes” is one of the subtlest of Bowie tributes. The church of man-love is such a holy place to be.

Three years passed before he released a lumbering, sincere record About Relationships. Anticipation led to a high chart placement for US — it’s hart to remember that Peter Gabriel was a genuine star in 1992 — before the mass audience he’d gained in 1986 realized “Steam” wasn’t another “Sledgehammer,” although, boy, did it try. As my interest in most of his records waned, I still listened to Passion. This ostensible soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ celebrates relationships too: Gabriel’s to music from many lands. Unlike his forebears he respects distance; he’s an art school rocker who used to dress as a flower, after all. Turns out this distance gives him the proper respect for the sounds of Zaire, Sudan, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Passion contains the most committed music of Gabriel’s career. Even when the arrangements get bombastic, he’s generous enough to allow the players to do it on their own terms. Often the synthesis of Gabriel’s keyboard and percussion effects and these native players is breathtaking. Check it out.

1. Shock the Monkey
2. Mercy Street
3. Solsbury Hill
4. Here Comes the Flood
5. A Different Drum
6. No Self-Control
7. Not One of Us
8. Red Rain
9. I Don’t Remember
10. Zaar
11. Sledgehammer
12. Games Without Frontiers
13. Don’t Give Up
14. Washing of the Water
15. Of These, Hope
16. Blood of Eden
17. In Your Eyes
18. San Jacinto
19. And Through the Wire
20. This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
21. D.I.Y.
22. Digging in the Dirt
23. Moribund the Burgermeister
24. Wall of Breath
25. I Have the Touch
26. Kiss of Life
27. Secret World
28. On the Air
29. Walk Through the Fire
30. Wallflower

1 thought on “A doorway to a thousand churches: The best of Peter Gabriel

  1. Pingback: Ranking Peter Gabriel | Humanizing The Vacuum

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