Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Peter Gabriel

  • Peter Gabriel [Atco, 1977] B+
  • Peter Gabriel [Atlantic, 1978] B-
  • Peter Gabriel [Mercury, 1980] B-
  • Security [Geffen, 1982] C+
  • So [Geffen, 1986] B-
  • US [Geffen, 1992] B-
  • Scratch My Back [RealWorld, 2010] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Peter Gabriel [Atco, 1977]
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+

Peter Gabriel [Atlantic, 1978]
One of those records that is diminished by the printed lyrics that are its reason for being. Musically, Gabriel combines with producer Robert Fripp for alert art-rock that gets down around atonality rather than jumping into the astral-noodle soup, with Roy Bittan's romantic flourishes as welcome as "D.I.Y.," a hard-rock landmark in a hard-rock year. But even though it makes you sit up when it comes on the radio, it's basically program music, designed to support words as elitist (and programmatic) as the social commentary Gabriel used to essay in his Genesis days. Remember the immortal words of Chuck Berry: beware of middlebrows bearing electric guitars. B-

Peter Gabriel [Mercury, 1980]
After hitting a sophomore jinx with Peter Gabriel, on Atlantic, the first man of Genesis fulfills the promise of Peter Gabriel, on Atco--with pessimistic postprog art-rock minidrama rather than DIY DOR. "Games Without Frontiers," a different kind of internationalism, and "Biko," a different kind of Africanism, lead and finish side two rather than side one. Either he doesn't know his own strengths or he underestimates his audience--or both. B-

Security [Geffen, 1982]
If Gabriel can't resist orchestrating his rock and roll, better he should lay on third-world rhythms than simulate first-world themes. But self-conscious primitivism hasn't cured his grandiosity--lyrical protestations notwithstanding, the only time those rhythms are around him and inside him, in control and in his soul, is on "Shock the Monkey," which has a good old first-world hook. Only Gabriel probably doesn't want to be cured--bet he admires African music not because it flows like a stream but because it taps the divine, and while he may know in his head that animists can't have one without the other, he's not about to become a believer. C+

So [Geffen, 1986]
Gabriel's so smart he knows rhythm is what makes music go, which relieves him of humdrum melodic responsibilities but doesn't get him up on the one--smart guys do go for texture in a pinch. Like his smart predecessor James Taylor, who used to climax concerts with the clever macho parody "Steamroller," this supporter of good causes reaches the masses with "Sledgehammer," which is no parody. Where is "Biko" now that we need it more than ever? B-

US [Geffen, 1992]
His voice permanently hoarse--sounds like he's been campaigning for president since he dropped So in 1986, which in a sense he has--Gabriel deploys a multihued battalion of respected professionals into wave upon wave of overkill. Though the sonic layering isn't devoid of interest or even originality, the problem goes way beyond a grandeur that seems inauspiciously egotistical on "his first real record of love songs"--these arrangements would obtrude into any musical event more low-key than an Olympic anthem or a massed May Day choir singing "The Internationale." "Steam"'s googolgroove overwhelms its petty sexism, but "Kiss That Frog" wrecks a funny little idea about Pete's penis by asking it to hold up the weight of the world. And "Kiss That Frog" is the other fast one, plus one makes two. What you mean US, white man? B-

Scratch My Back [RealWorld, 2010]
"The Book of Love"; "The Boy in the Bubble" Choice Cuts