AKA “Melt”, at least in some circles (and quadrilaterals). Between his earlier forays into a solo career after breaking off Genesis (Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel) and his proper entrance into the ’80s pop world (Peter Gabriel), Peter Gabriel is probably a straight up pop album. From a studio/historical perspective, though, it’s a fascinating recording, full of musicians who either already were famous in their own right, or went on to fame afterwards – most relevant to my interests are the presence of Robert Fripp and Tony Levin, who would go on to explore similar songwriting ideas with a new lineup of King Crimson. It’s also the reason I haven’t given The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway serious consideration. For some unknown reason, I went into that album expecting a production at least somewhat what I heard here, and understandably didn’t find it. What was I thinking?
With an album like this, I literally have to focus on aesthetics. Peter Gabriel‘s songwriting is mostly well realized in a pop sense, with enough structural variety and experimentation to keep things going. Those who go in expecting progressive rock ala his career with Genesis will be sorely disappointed. The emphasis really is on the sounds and textures; the album’s lengthy studio lineup results in a panoply of instruments blessing every track, and little in the way of aesthetic repetition. Between that and the clean, intelligible production, you end up with a recording that definitely left me with a good first impression, regardless of its future strength or weakness.
Peter Gabriel seems to be divided into two loose sections, much like one half of his face on the cover art is meltier than the other. The first half focuses on individuals and personal degradation/struggle, while the second half seems to be more about societies and social problems at large. This content split doesn’t really go beyond the lyrics, although you could argue that the second half also sounds more experimental, with a wider palette of instruments. More often than not, though, the lyrical content is at odds with the music around it. The best example is probably “Family Snapshot” – a song about a political assassin with choruses that sound like the theme to a contemporary sitcom. A few tracks are more fitting, though, like the regimented stomp of “Not One Of Us” or the creepy, SFX-driven lead-in that is “Intruder”.
Ultimately, the way this album is structured and written makes it hard for me to objectively judge, but I would tend to come out mostly in favor. Its partial resemblance to contemporary “New Wave” recordings and Discipline by King Crimson, though were a major selling point, and if you’re into that sort of thing, you might have just purchased this album.
Highlights: “No Self Control”, “Family Snapshot”, “Not One Of Us”
A lot of metalheads seem to like VNV Nation, even though since it’s an electronic pop act, it kind of falls far outside that genre. Matter + Form has a lot of rock influence filtering into it for whatever reason, though, whereas earlier VNV material pulls on industrial/EDM to a more obvious degree. The ideological underpinnings of the band (lots of militant futurism, although positive) remain intact, but this is a pretty easy sell to the average listener. While the band started their career in Britain and Ireland, they’ve made their way to Germany, where they perform decently (#38) in the local songcharts. Anyways, they probably sell more albums than the last band I talked about.
Partially because VNV Nation uses a wide variety of synthesizers, Matter + Form doesn’t really have a consistent aesthetic, but most songs are fairly mid-tempo and not particularly dense in their soundscapes. Occasionally, you get relatively driving, aggressive instruments like on “Chrome” and “Entropy”, but just as often you get literal ballads – for example, “Endless Skies” and “Homeward”. Not sure what to make of that, really, beyond that it’s a standard move in much of the western pop traditions. Compared to previous albums, and starting a trend that showed up on Futureperfect, Ronan Harris’s vocals are less processed – trading a more natural character for less ways to make songs fit into a common aesthetic.
Actual compositions here are split between more openly poppy content and tracks more reminiscent of the electronic dance music “scene”. There are obvious nods to a more ambient style of composition (See “Strata”/”Interceptor”) at times, and you don’t need my backlog to show you how I prefer that style… have it anyways, though. It’s hard to say whether the more accessible content on this album is actually strengthened by the nods towards guitar-driven rock music (the aforementioned “Chrome” uses sounds that sometimes remind me of an amped up guitar), or whether I merely am drawn to those for their stylistic decisions. Either way, it does seem to give that part of the work more staying power, even if only subjectively. These songs do, however, showcase Ronan Harris’s lyrics – he’s rather good at tapping into relevant concepts and giving them a bit of a mythical sheen.
I guess that given where I come from, the best comparison I can think of is Prince of the Poverty Line by Skyclad; unfortunately due to lack of listening experience, I can’t really talk futurepop. However, both of these albums are relatively mainstream for their chosen genre, but are strengthened by their understanding of pop songwriting and well written lyrics; furthermore, they use aesthetic changes to distinguish songs from one another. In the end, I suppose I like them for the same reasons, and they might come from the same mental space. Given when I first listened to it (late 2012) and what I followed it up with, Matter + Form definitely turned my attention towards various permutations of vocal-oriented electronic music; even though I don’t listen to it as much anymore it has certainly broadened my horizons. I guess that accessibility does come in handy sometimes!
Highlights: “Chrome”, “Color of Rain”, “Entropy”, “Lightwave”