With the recent arrival of a fair chunk of indie imprint Drag City’s catalog on the major streaming services, the artists and labels still keeping their work from Spotify, Tidal, and the like are looking less like defiant outliers striking blows against the empire and more like the old man yelling at the cloud.
One of those musical fogies has long been Peter Gabriel, the U.K. artist perhaps best known here in the States for his eye-popping videos and providing the soundtrack to Lloyd Dobler’s boombox hoisting plea in Say Anything (a move recently given a smartphone upgrade in Deadpool 2). Last Friday, the 68-year-old musician finally released his seven studio albums and two greatest hits compilations, as well as his two German language remakes of his third and fourth solo records, to Spotify.
Gabriel has never explained why he has kept this material from Spotify. It might have something to do with We7, his notoriously failed attempt to beat the streaming and digital download market at their own game. Launched in 2007, the service attempted to give its users unlimited free streaming, with labels and artists getting paid from ad revenue. While a noble effort, it never could compete with iTunes and Spotify (which launched a year later). Gabriel eventually unloaded the service to British supermarket chain Tesco for nearly $17 million in 2012 , with the whole venture going belly up two years ago .
Whatever the reasons, the arrival of Gabriel’s work on Spotify is a great chance to delve into one of the most musically rich and varied catalogs to emerge from the post-prog scene in England. His popular singles like “Games Without Frontiers,” “Solsbury Hill,” “Sledgehammer,” and the ever skin-tingling “In Your Eyes” reside at an unusual meeting place where classic rock, adult alternative and soft rock meet, keeping them in heavy rotation on satellite and terrestrial radio. But in and around those hits are album tracks that stirred Gabriel’s growing love of sounds and rhythms from Asia and Africa into his pop interests, with lyrics that explored his sociopolitical concerns, increasing paranoia at modern life, and his romantic failings. If you’ve never taken the journey beyond his hits, here’s where you should begin.
‘Modern Love’ (Peter Gabriel, 1977)
After years of writing knotted up storylines and lyrics for Genesis, Gabriel became bracingly direct on his first solo album. On this rocker, he metaphorically explores his sexual frustration (“When I pull out my pipe/She screams out of tune”) while his backing band, which included King Crimson leader Robert Fripp on guitar, grinds out a track that could have been nicked from a Bob Seger record.
‘On the Air’ (Peter Gabriel, 1978)
The lead track from the worst-selling of his four self-titled albums, “On the Air” boasts one of Gabriel’s most agitated vocal performances and some heated glitter rock to back it up. The perfect formula for a tune sung from the perspective of a loner who finds his voice through his pirate radio broadcasts.
‘Intruder’ (Peter Gabriel, 1980)
Built from a drum part that his former Genesis mate Phil Collins was playing to check the studio mics, “intruder” sets the mood for Gabriel’s best solo album. A burglar thrills at sneaking into houses and “slipping the clippers through the telephone wires” while the music evokes his body chemistry: a steady gaze and heartbeat, cut through with little jolts of adrenaline.
‘Und Durch Den Dracht’ (ein deutsches album, 1980)
Among the most surprising additions to this first run of Gabriel’s Spotify catalog are the two German language albums he released concurrently with his third and fourth solo discs. They’re both fascinating artistic exercises that add new dimensions to these tracks, particularly through their re-recording of the music for each song. One of the most successful transitions is this version of “And Through the Wire” that strips the song of its synth textures and opts for a more driving, guitar-based attack.
‘San Jacinto’ (Peter Gabriel, 1982)
The most affecting track from Gabriel’s fourth self-titled album (sometimes known as Security) is this percussion-heavy song that tells of a young Native American embarking on a coming of age ritual involving a rattlesnake bite. That he does it in the hills above the tony neighborhoods of Palm Springs (“Each house, a pool/Kids wearing water wings/Drink in cool”) creates a tender allegory of trying to maintain ancient traditions in the modern world.
‘Schock Den Affen’ (Deutsches Album, 1982)
The hard consonants and jagged rhythms of the German language didn’t work all too well with the more fluid music that Gabriel wrote for his fourth solo record. But those same qualities dovetail perfectly with the angular thrust of the seamy “Shock the Monkey.”
‘Mercy Street’ (So, 1986)
In the original running order for Gabriel’s massively successful fifth album, this ode to the poetry of Anne Sexton fell between the lovestruck “In Your Eyes” and the punchy “Big Time.” Its quiet thrum, carried forth by Djalma Correa’s triangle playing, served as the perfect ruminative pause, tempering those two extremes.
‘Shaking the Tree’ (Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats, 1990)
Initially released on The Lion, the 1989 album by Senegalese artist Youssou N’Dour, this song was remixed and beefed up for inclusion on Gabriel’s first greatest hits compilation. The new version loses a little of the original’s quiet grace, but the vocals here burst the lilting melody forth like a bird joyously taking flight.
‘Blood of Eden’ (Us, 1992)
Gabriel’s shares space with a female voice on some of his most effective songs: Laurie Anderson on “This Is The Picture (excellent birds),” Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up.” On this track from a concept album about love and lust, he cedes ground to Sinead O’Connor, raising the emotional stakes on a song that marks the slow crumbling of a relationship.
‘I Grieve’ (Up, 2002)
Gabriel’s last album of original material struggles with the cycle of life, and the balance of the songs try to come to terms with mortality. This gorgeous tune is his most direct expression of that concern, the lush backdrop and hushed rhythms offering a salve to a soul trying to say goodbye to a loved one.