Peter Gabriel 3: Melt (Remastered)

Peter Gabriel 3: Melt (Remastered)

“I felt I wanted to write music for the 1980s, and that the place to begin was the rhythm track,” Peter Gabriel once said. “Rhythm being the spine of music, if you change the spine, the shape of the body changes as a matter of course.” Armed with a primitive drum machine, Gabriel took a sharp compositional detour for his third album, Peter Gabriel 3: Melt, letting his songwriting process lead with rhythm instead of chord changes. The sparse, percussion-driven album, released in 1980, became the place where his artistic ambitions finally coalesced, resulting in a peculiar and ominous piece of shadow-lurking art-rock that nonetheless spawned a pop hit. Traditional sounds were eschewed across the album. Gabriel banned the use of cymbals and hi-hats for drummers Jerry Marotta and Phil Collins, which explains such austere, atmospheric tracks as “Intruder” and “No Self Control.” But the in-studio innovations didn’t end there: Gabriel and Collins—working with producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham—also experimented with the explosive, cavernous sound that would be known as “gated reverb,” which would soon come to define the decade. Melt was also one of the first to use the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, a sampling keyboard whose trademark sound would take flight across the decade on records by Art of Noise, Herbie Hancock, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Tears for Fears. Rhythmically inspired by the soundtrack to the 1965 South African film Dingaka, Gabriel composed protest anthem and perennial set-closer “Biko,” a soaring tribute to activist Steve Biko that would help bring global attention to South African apartheid, and would directly inspire Steven Van Zandt’s Sun City project. But Gabriel’s forward-thinking musicianship on Melt scared record execs. The album dealt in strange, supposedly uncommercial sounds, and featured dark lyrics sung from the perspective of assassins (“Family Snapshot”), perverts (“Intruder”), and the generally alienated (“I Don’t Remember”). Sensing a commercial disaster, Gabriel’s label in the US dropped him. It was a disastrous decision: After Mercury picked up Melt, the album became Gabriel’s biggest-selling to that point, and spawned a legitimate hit single in “Games Without Frontiers.” Featuring background vocals from Kate Bush, the anti-war tune became a top 10 smash in the UK and Canada, and a minor chart hit in the States—officially kicking off the former prog-rocker’s journey toward becoming a heavy player in the MTV era.

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