Saturday, October 21, 2006

Solsbury Hill

Peter Gabriel was not quite the inventive and innovative musical polymath that he is now when he first embarked on his solo jaunt back in the mid-1970s. Having just left the hallowed ranks of prog-rock giants Genesis two years earlier in 1975, Gabriel's eponymous debut from 1977 still mostly bore strong traces of the intricate chord progressions, lyrical abstruseness and dense production values that were hallmarks of his work with Genesis.

Epically inclined tracks like "Moribund the Burgermesiter", "Modern Love" and "Down the Dolce Vita" sound like they could have been outtakes from the "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" sessions, although one could discern that Gabriel was trying his best to carve out an artistic niche of his own.

Thankfully, there is one song on "Peter Gabriel" that displayed the new-look Gabriel in the most effective manner, away from the constricting confines of his previous band. "Solsbury Hill" had it all: upfront lyrics that tell of Gabriel's yearning to break free from his Genesis persona, a deceptively simple acoustic-guitar riff that acts as the anchor of the song, quietly confident percussion fills that drew from the pitch-shifting characteristics of West African talking drums (a precursor of sorts to the worldbeat explorations of later years), and above it all, an earnest vocal that shows off Gabriel's gravelly pipes marvellously.

Thirty years after its initial release, "Solsbury Hill" still awes and inspires with its statement of purpose about gaining the spirit to start over in a tumultuous life. One of the most provocative and towering achievements in Gabriel's long career.


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