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09 mai 2007

Growing Up: A Tour of Peter Gabriel. Part 3 of ?

Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth albums came out in ‘80 and ‘82 respectively. His next studio album, So, would come in 1986 and mark the crest of his commercial success. If you don’t know the album by the title, some tunes that might ring a bell are Sledgehammer, Big Time, Red Rain, and In Your Eyes.

Not until I began to think about today’s post did I ever realize I’ve always grouped the first four albums together, as if there were an unseen rift separating them from So. Part of it may be as simple as the name scheme: So was the first Peter Gabriel album not named simply Peter Gabriel (though Peter Gabriel 4 was titled Security here in the states). It might be that the gap in time between Peter Gabriel 4 and So is double that of his previous albums. And though I’m at a loss on how to describe it, there’s a difference in sound between So and Peter Gabriel 3 and 4, just as there was between those albums and 1 and 2.

I’ve always wondered: what was he doing for those four years? What experiences, influences, and collaborators were involved in shaping his next album? I may never know, but sometime in those four years, Gabriel found the time to score a film.

Well, about a weekend, actually.

According to my sources at IMDB, Gabriel recorded 35 minutes of soundtrack in one weekend. I don’t know if that means if the whole process was completed in a weekend, or just the recording of new materials, but either way this impressive stat is likely due to the fact that much of the material on Birdy is reworked from Gabriel’s 3 and 4. That, and after watching that BBC documentary about his recording process, I’m sure he had all sorts of leftover synth sounds to play with.

On one hand, recycled material seems to be a bit of a cop out, but when the source material is this good, even a cop out can sound compelling. All the tracks are instrumental, and many of them are minimalist in nature. Quiet and Alone and Slow Water sound like distant relatives of Aphex Twin’s ambient tracks. Floating Dogs sounds downright eerie to me, and I love the rhythm it works into at the end.

Birdy’s Flight has the quickest pulse of the bunch, and borrows from and builds on the breakdown at the end of the song Not One of Us. Powerhouse at the Foot of the Mountain is a moody ambient track that reuses my favorite moment in Peter Gabriel: the ending of San Jacinto. If there’s one track there that stands on its own, it’s Slow Marimbas. Its sound is classic Gabriel, and the brooding mood it creates is and amazing.

If you need a tune with a bpm greater than your pulse, these might not be for you. Personally, these tracks all make it into my writing playlist, and they are great candidates to serve as an interlude to class up any mix CD. Enjoy the ambiance while it lasts, because next we’re going to hit the Big Time.

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