Peter Gabriel (1980)
On his following record, Security, Peter Gabriel would finally and definitively breach the frontier of world music in western rock. But the roots to its breakthrough lie in its predecessor, Peter Gabriel (the last of three untitled albums he released). III has slightly better songs, so I’ll consider it the truly visionary record. The chilling, yet funky allegory “Games Without Frontiers” sets the pace for this implacable, dark psychological journey.
Like Pete Townshend and Brian Eno’s work before it, Gabriel used new technology and influences to augment the organic with the synthetic. In doing so, it straddled the unsettling, ambiguous uncanny valley between tacky and futuristic. Warped synth bass, treated guitar and processed vocals battle on each track to see which can be weirder and more ornate while still carrying a tune. The record is very preoccupied with texture, structure and theme, but it’s not too pretentious to have a lot of memorable hooks. The former Genesis frontman makes liberal use of then-new drum machines to explore tribal and ethnic rhythms, which were also relatively novel to rock music. It’s a highly conceptual, dense album, but is fairly breezy for such troubling fare. For less strictly influential but more crowd-pleasing versions of these tunes and other hits, check out Gabriel’s surprisingly lively concert renditions.
Key track: “Games Without Frontiers”
See also: Security– Peter Gabriel (1982), Peter Gabriel Plays Live – Peter Gabriel (1983)