Ditching Genesis and going completely Berlin-era Bowie-inspired proto-new wave, Peter Gabriel's initial run of albums is a dizzying array of busy sounds. This first album is the most guitar-centric of the lot and, as such, sounds the most conventional. But still, it's like the sprawling Genesis epics compacted into three and four minute pop songs, so it just has a unique quality to it. The second half finds Pete really branching out and running in many directions at once, from smokey late night bar blues to orchestrated, fist pumping epics. 'Solsbury Hill' was the big one here and it still receives classic rock radio airplay. A folky, acoustic based account of his exit from Genesis, it's a winner. Key tracks: 'Solsbury Hill', the rocker 'Modern Love' and the weirdly cinematic opener 'Moribund the Burgermeister.'
Peter Gabriel — self-titled (Scratch) (1979)
Slightly more focused this time out, and the results are wonderfully poppy and surprisingly catchy. There's shades of Pink Floyd in equal parts with the new wave here, which makes for a darned interesting musical stew. The rockers rock and the ballads resonate; can't ask for much more. It's just the presentation that's perhaps most striking. Streamlined and refined, it masks otherwise odd moments with a catchy sheen masterfully. Key tracks: 'White Shadow', the rockin' opener 'On the Air' and the surprisingly soulful closer 'Home Sweet Home.'
Peter Gabriel — self-titled (Melt) (1980)
This is where Pete truly embraced the new wave ethos full bore and that shows right off the bat, with the eerie art punk of 'Intruder' acting as the album's manifesto. Plinky, dissonant guitar chords, highly gated snare drums and a brooding sense of isolation in the lyrics. It's a strange way to introduce an album that can get extremely strange at times. But there is a sense here of stumbling onto something new and exciting. Keyboards are the order of the day, with guitars used sparingly, but effectively. It seems like there is at least one moment in every song where a chorus or a middle eight will enter and just obliterate whatever else came before it. The songcraft here is just masterful and of the highest order. Key tracks: the odd funk rock of 'Games Without Frontiers', the melodramatic (in a good way) 'Lead a Normal Life' and the early worldbeat of 'Biko.'
Peter Gabriel — self-titled (Security) (1982)
By this point, the evolution was complete: Gabriel was full on new wave. The pure synth pop of 'Shock the Monkey' makes sense in his trajectory up until this point, but remove all that and it stands on its own as revolutionary single. The worldbeat aspect is played up considerably here, to some success, but not entirely. Where Melt felt like it was setting the standards, Security is simply adhering to them. The song lengths are a bit more dragged out, with less interesting ideas unfortunately. I know it seems like I'm trashing it, but the album hangs together considerably well. So, hooray for sequencing. Key tracks: the genre-defining 'Shock the Monkey' and the beautifully tense 'San Jacinto.'