19 September 2009

I've been on a major Peter Gabriel kick of late

There are few performers to whom I can listen to their entire body of work over and over. One is, of course, The Beatles. Everyone loves The Beatles, sometimes to the point where everyone hates them, if that makes sense. Another is Genesis, which leads me to my latest musical obsession: Peter Gabriel. I've been obsessed for a while, don't get me wrong. When I was a kid, like a lot of people, I really dug "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," probably because the videos were just so iconic and back then music and videos went hand in hand.

But in college, I picked up Shaking The Tree, which is one of Gabriel's greatest hits compilations. One of the first songs that struck me on the CD was "San Jacinto." It absolutely haunted me; it's a song that resonates as both quite simple yet alarmingly complex. "Red Rain," "Mercy Street," and the chilling "Family Snapshot" also captured my interest. At that time, his albums were being remastered and re-released on CD, so I grabbed them when I could. A whole new musical world was opened to me. I even used his song about Steven Biko in a class presentation about South Africa and apartheid.

I also credit my love of Gabriel, and of early Genesis, to my friend Matt. He was incredibly generous and gave me copies of every Genesis CD from the Gabriel years. He also took me to see a Genesis tribute band called The Musical Box, when they performed in entirety The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It was intense and thrilling, although I recall the drive home being long and exhausting. But it was another door opening to me.

I finally got around to uploading all my Gabriel CDs to iTunes, revisiting them after a few years. His first album still has shades of his work with Genesis tinging the edges, but it shows a wide variety of styles. His second album is not as accessible, which may be partially due to the album's producer, Robert Fripp of King Crimson. It's a lot of weird. But on his third album, he completely comes into his own. It's cohesion in audible form. His fourth, known as Security in the U.S., works very well as a follow-up to the previous album. So, his most commercially recognizable record, may sound like a sell-out to some fans, but it has some highlights aside from the singles. Us is a harder album to enjoy from start to finish, probably just for serious fans only (like his second album). Up is remarkably good and marks a return to his earlier sound.

Right now I'm listening to his live album from 1982. I would have loved to have seen him perform back then. He is one of those rare artists who sounds as good on stage as he does in the studio. A lot of people pass him off as just another artist from the 1980s, but his music is timeless to me. It sounds just as fresh as it probably did to people listening for the first time in the late 1970s and early 1980s. If people ever ask me for music recommendations, I tell them they have to own his third album. It's the perfect launch into a remarkable musical artist.

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