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Peter Gabriel
Atco 147
Released: March 1977
Chart Peak: #38
Weeks Charted: 17

Peter GabrielWhen Peter Gabriel resigned as frontman of Genesis two years ago, he said it was to search for the unexpected. On the evidence of his first solo album, he's found it. Instead of crystallizing an easily apprehensible musical identity, Gabriel has put together a grab bag collection of songs that bear little resemblance to one another. (The individual songs, too, are often schizophrenic patchworks of styles.) We can, however, draw some ready conclusions: he writes great melodies; he can still be weird when he wants; he likes dramatic orchestration and studio wizardry.

I prefer side one, because it's punchier and the melodies seem better integrated. "Moribund the Burgermeister" is the most dizzying, combining the muffled foreboding of David Essex's "Rock On" with playful synthesizer doodles, trollish vocals and orchestral outbursts. Cut to "Solisbury Hill," a superior, lilting soft-pop tune that conveys the album's most autobiographical message: "I was feeling part of the scenery/I walked right out of the machinery." Cut to the thundering "Modern Love," an exhilarating rocker that rates with the Stones' best. Cut to "Excuse Me," a barbershop oompah cousin to Randy Newman's work, with a chorus reminiscent of the Band. Cut to "Humdrum," opening as a hypnotic ballad as hushed as a falling raindrop, then snapping into a Caribbean tempo. Fella's deft with the lyrics, too: "Out of a woman comes a man/Spends the rest of his life getting back in again."

Side two, on the other hand, is a little too rich for my ears. "Slowburn" is heavy orchestral pastiche that shifts so fast and furiously it leaves me with heartburn. "Waiting for the Big One" is a languorous blues that is overlong at 7:26. "Down the Dolce Vita" leads off as a stirring, grand movie epic and rocks as adventurously as the Bengal Lancers, but ultimately it's a relief when the stately "Here Comes the Flood" sweeps it away.

The English have an expression for excess -- "over the top" -- which I think applies here on occasion. Gabriel's more symphonic tracks, some with five or more movements, are so complex they can become staggering. Sometimes, when a particularly lovely bit vanishes too quickly, one wishes his compositions would stop fidgeting. It's probably just restlessness bursting from an unusually ambitious artist, though, for this is an impressively rich debut album. And I still don't know what to expect from him next.

- Stephen Demorest, Rolling Stone, 5-5-77.

Bonus Reviews!

Peter Gabriel used to be lead singer for Genesis, which, like Yes and Queen, specialized in loud, heavily ornamented rock, full of sonic filigree and tinsel, colored bulbs and twinkling lights. Only in Genesis' case somebody forgot to include a Christmas tree to hang it all on. Santa never came for Genesis as he did for Yes (which didn't have a tree either but was sly enough to hang it all on an organ player named Rick Wakeman). Genesis had no sold-out arenas, no stockings bulging with fat royalty checks, just glitter.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Peter Gabriel (1978)

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Peter Gabriel Lyrics

Peter Gabriel Videos

Peter Gabriel Mugshots

So Gabriel departed Genesis (leaving their prospects even bleaker) to make his way as a Solo Artist. His debut album was extravagantly produced by Bob Ezrin, who can do no wrong in my book since he manages to put the voices of his self-sired moppets somewhere on every album he does -- proof positive that the nuclear family is not dead. In Ezrin's extended family are a group of prodigious Toronto-based musicians, including guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner and drummer Joey Chirowski. But, because of the strict rules of the Ezrin family, they don't always get to display their talents very much, which is a shame.

Gabriel's album is produced so elaborately that everybody involved but Ezrin plays second fiddle. Gabriel does a semi-credible impersonation of Randy Newman as he sings about the big Southern California earthquake, but that's about the extent of his vocal ability, and his original compositions are... well, somehow I can't see "Moribund the Burgermeister" becoming a standard -- or even a future K-Tel nostalgia item. On stage with Genesis, Gabriel used to dress up as a toadstool, and such experiences tend to leave their mark. Come to think of it, this album isn't all that different from Genesis, at that -- more tinsel without a tree.

- Lester Bangs, Stereo Review, 8/77.

Even when he was Genesis, Gabriel seemed smarter than your average art-rocker. Though the music was mannered, there was substance beneath its intricacy; however received the lyrical ideas, they were easier to test empirically than evocations of spaceships on Atlantis. This solo album seems a lot smarter than that. But every time I delve beneath its challenging textures to decipher a line or two I come up a little short. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

His strong debut, produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper), features the hit "Solisbury Hill," which addressed Gabriel's breakup with Genesis. The sound reflects some of Genesis's art-rock sensibilities ("Moribund the Burgermeister"), while charting some more accessible styles (in Gabriel's eccentric fashion) like the fairly straightahead rock of "Modern Love." Other highlights include the portentious "Here Comes the Flood" and "Humdrum." * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Two years after leaving Genesis in 1975, Peter Gabriel launched his solo career with the eclectic set of nine songs that comprise Peter Gabriel I. Free from the tension and constraints which had restricted his creative development, he unleashed an avalanche of bottled-up ideas and flamboyant arrangements.

"Moribund the Burgermeister" lays it on thick right from the outset. Deep jungle drums and warbly synths are just the first ingredients in the song's smorgasboard of prog-rock theatricality. Gabriel sings in a variety of vocal styles, inlcuding a rumbling growl as the evil Burgermeister. The song is strange but compelling.

Next up is "Solisbury Hill," Gabriel's first hit, and one of the best and most enduring songs of his long career. Anchored by a bouncy acoustic guitar melody, the song gives a tangible feeling of hope and enduring possibility. Its lyrics touch upon Gabriel's liberating departure from Genesis when he sings, "I was feeling part of the scenery/I walked right out of the machinery."

Not surprisingly, all this diversity results in a few less interesting genre exercises, like the Randy Newman-esque barbershop entity "Excuse Me" or the lengthy blues number "Waiting For The Big One." But the album closes strong with "Here Comes The Flood," a bombastic anthem that Gabriel would rework into an introspective piano ballad. Either way, it's a powerhouse.

This album was just the beginning of Peter Gabriel's legendary success as a solo artist -- but all the signs were alredy in place for great things to come.

- Rob Morton, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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