Peter Gabriel (Melt)

(1980), 9/10
Melt still sounds edgy and vital. While the cast of musicians is largely similar to before, enlisting hot young U2 producer Steve Lillywhite and arranging cameos from young stars Paul Weller and Kate Bush push Gabriel into the forefront of popular music. His sound palate has shifted markedly from the previous record; there are harder guitars in ‘No Self Control’ and ‘And Through The Wire’, and a more minimalist aesthetic on other tracks like ‘Lead A Normal Life’ and ‘Start’. Even more pronounced is the emphasis on rhythm; instead of the world music influence that would dominate his later work, it’s just innovative drumming and drum machine programming. This album pioneered the gated reverb sound and the use of a cymbal-less drum kit; a device that would soon be overused, but which sounds fresh and terrific on these arty tracks. For music that’s so totally immersed in synthesisers and drum machines, Melt holds up surprisingly well today, and while his lyrics were mostly aimless on the first two albums, here he hooks into much more interesting themes.

The gated reverb on Phil Collins’ drum kit announces the first track, ‘Intruder’, setting the album’s tone of paranoia and isolation with its creepy, rhythmic attack and dark lyrics (“I like you lying awake/Your bated breath charging the air”). ‘No Self-Control’ and ‘I Don’t Remember’ raise the intensity even further, with heavy guitars and Gabriel’s vocals almost unhinged. The two key tracks depart from the theme of personal paranoia – ‘Family Snapshot’ takes the character of an assassin desperate for attention, and even though it’s piano-based like much of the previous album, it’s emotionally charged and makes use of space and atmosphere much more effectively. ‘Biko’ shows the first influence of world music on a Peter Gabriel record, and its minimal lyrics document Stephen Biko’s cause more effectively than a verbose writer would. Bush appears on the single ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and it’s another winner with its off-kilter feel, abstract lyrics and whistling. All the second tier tracks are effective – the brief instrumental ‘Start’ is a key part of the album’s flow, ‘And Through The Wire’ rocks, while the minimalism of ‘Lead A Normal Life’ is mournful and affecting. Melt is a landmark release, finally giving Gabriel’s career some direction and establishing a new masterpiece in his canon, one that’s as strong as his best work in Genesis but completely different in character.

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