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After much scrabbling around on his first two solo albums, Peter Gabriel finally found a sound he seemed comfortable with here. The middle-of-the-road pop has been toned down, and it seemed as if he started from a blank slate and came up with a more personal and original way of constructing songs. The basis of the new sound often seems to be percussion. Foreshadowing his later world-music leanings, Gabriel's use of organically-growing drum and tuned percussion patterns is subtle and tasteful. The bubbling xylophone on "No Self Control" underlies a strong, catchy song, and still sounds fresh. The same instrument opens "Lead a Normal Life", a very effective quiet, atmospheric semi-instrumental.
There's still a lot of pop tracks, but this time they're more austere and electronically treated. "Games Without Frontiers" the most well-known song here, has an jaunty, mechanical rhythm, coloured nicely by the vocals of Kate Bush. The album's production shows its era with some early 80's "new-wave" hallmarks - anyone who knows Tears for Fears "The Hurting" will find some of the grinding electronic noises familiar. "The Intruder" uses these for an effective itchy, nervous feel.
The other famous song is the political anthem "Biko", whose insistent drone and grinding beat still has a lot of power, despite its subject thankfully now being history. I've just realised it's a strangely random but inspired idea to use the sound of bagpipes in a South African protest song...
See also solsburyhill.org for a full essay.
October 13, 2003