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Music / Peter Gabriel (1980)

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Whistling tunes, we hide in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes, we piss on the goons in the jungle
It's a knockout!

Peter Gabriel, also known by its Fan Nickname Melt, is the third album by the English Progressive Rock musician of the same name. It was released through Charisma Records in the United Kingdom, and Mercury Records in the United States, on 30 May 1980. It would later be re-issued in the US by Geffen Records in 1983.

This third Self-Titled Album marks a radical departure in sound, style, and tone from not only Gabriel's previous output, but the direction of western popular music as a whole, combining elements of progressive rock, art rock, Post-Punk, New Wave Music, and World Music in a radically unique manner. In hindsight, the combination was an inevitable one: the practice of mixing western and nonwestern musical styles had been in place since at least the exotica boom of the late 50's, and The Beatles particularly brought it to prominence in white rock with the use of sitar in songs like "Norwegian Wood" and "Tomorrow Never Knows". However, most invocations of this approach were generally regarded by critics and audiences as novelties at best and misguided experiments at worst. Gabriel, meanwhile, was the first act to prove to western listeners that this combination of sounds was more than just a novelty and that it could make artistically compelling music on par with that of already-established western giants, consequently thrusting what would later be known as "worldbeat" into the mainstream.


In the leadup to the album's release, Gabriel had developed an interest in music from sub-Saharan Africa and in new forms of technology that were becoming available to musicians, primarily drum machines and digital samplers like the Fairlight CMI. At the same time, Gabriel found himself still struggling to adequately separate himself from his past as the former frontman of Genesis, with his first two records being closer to continuations of his material with the band than a genuine means of breaking apart as a solo act. Consequently, Gabriel took a far darker, more experimental approach to his third album, crafting an aggressive, cavernous sound with heavy emphasis on percussion. To better consolidate this drastic shift, Gabriel enlisted the help of producer Steve Lillywhite, by then already a known name in the post-punk scene for his work with Siouxsie and the Banshees and the first incarnation of Ultravox. Melding Siouxsie's Gothic atmosphere with Ultravox's leftfield style and Gabriel's knack for general strangeness, Lillywhite worked closely with Gabriel and a large bevy of session musicians, including fellow Genesis alum Phil Collins and young art pop innovator Kate Bush, to bring together an album that was both abrasively dense and forebodingly hollow.


While Gabriel's UK label Charisma didn't raise much of a fuss, the resultant album was the subject of heavy skepticism from Gabriel's US label, Atlantic Records, who were turned off by its heavily experimental sound and misinterpreted its lyrical themes of mental decay as the product of a Creator Breakdown, specifically singling out "Lead a Normal Life", ultimately dropping Gabriel at the recommendation of A&R executive John Kalodner. Incensed, Gabriel quickly signed onto Mercury Records to distribute the album in America, and let the album do the rest: it shot up to the top of the UK Albums Charts, peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200, his highest chart placement at that date, and was certified gold by the BPI just three days after its release (later being certified gold in France and the U.S. as well), overall acting as Gabriel's Breakthrough Hit as a solo artist in the UK. Additionally, lead single "Games Without Frontiers" peaked at No. 4 on the UK Singles chart and became the 54th best-selling single of the year in Britain. The song reached a respectable No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was popular on American rock radio. Billboard wouldn't develop a chart to measure airplay on AOR stations until the following year. Egg on his face, Kalodner, now working for the fledgling Geffen Records, quickly rushed to make amends with Gabriel by signing him on in the US and Canada for 1982's Security and reissuing the album once Mercury's ownership rights lapsed in 1983; Gabriel would remain on Geffen in North America all the way until 2008.

In addition to its commercial success, Melt was rapturously received by critics as well, who praised its adept blend of widely disparate sounds and styles and considered it the definitive sign of Gabriel having finally come into his own as an artist, proving he could make innovative and compelling music both distinct from and outside of Genesis. To this day, it ranks among Security and So as one of Gabriel's best albums by fans and critics alike, with some going as far as calling it his absolute greatest, and universal consensus both in its own time and in the decades since is that it immediately established Gabriel as one of popular music's most ambitious and innovative solo artists since David Bowie. Alongside Talking Heads' Remain in Light later in 1980, this album would instigate a major series of shifts in popular music, making it far more open to influences from non-western music and sparking the worldbeat boom that would reach its peak with So and Paul Simon's Graceland in 1986. Furthermore, while it has its audible predecessors, the opening track "Intruder" is also generally cited as the song that first birthed the gated reverb drum sound that would become omnipresent in popular music for the next 11 years; tellingly, the drummer on that song was Phil Collins, who would bring gated reverb directly into the mainstream with his own "In The Air Tonight" in 1981. As of 2020, the album sits at No. 649 on Acclaimed Music's list of the most critically praised albums of all time.

Most significantly, the album's closing track and third single "Biko" would be credited with sparking western interest in the anti-apartheid movement, raising awareness of the killing of South African black activist Steve Biko by white police officers while in custody, and consequently bringing to the mainstream forefront the true face of apartheid brutality. The song would be cited as a direct source of inspiration by countless anti-apartheid activists in the west, and Gabriel himself would become a prominent figure in the movement.

Melt was supported by four singles: "Games Without Frontiers", "No Self Control", "Biko", and "I Don't Remember."


Side One
  1. "Intruder" (4:54)
  2. "No Self Control" (3:55)
  3. "The Start" (1:21)
  4. "I Don't Remember" (4:42)
  5. "Family Snapshot" (4:28)
  6. "And Through the Wire" (5:00)

Side Two

  1. "Games Without Frontiers" (4:06)
  2. "Not One of Us" (5:22)
  3. "Lead a Normal Life" (4:14)
  4. "Biko" (7:32)

I trope into the light:

  • all lowercase letters: Like Gabriel's other three Self-Titled Albums, the logotype for Melt is written this way.
  • Artistic License – History: Arthur Bremer shot Wallace during a rally at the Laurel Shopping Center in Maryland, not at a motorcade as "Family Snapshot" describes; there were also no other governors present aside from Wallace himself. Gabriel incorporated the motorcade imagery from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which was more familiar to a worldwide audience.
  • Attention Whore: True to the real Arthur Bremer's motivation, the narrator of "Family Snapshot" openly states that his assassination attempt is a ploy for immediate attention.
  • Audience Participation Song: The wordless chanting in "Biko", accentuated by the music video for the 1987 live version, in which Gabriel dedicates each round of chanting to the victims of apartheid.
  • Bookends:
    • "Biko" opens with a sample of Steve Biko's funeral procession, specifically the crowd of mourners singing "Ngomhla sibuyayo", and features another sample of the same crowd singing "Senzeni Na?" just before the gunfire-esque drumbeats that close the song. On the single release, the closing sample is replaced with a recording of "Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika" (which by coincidence would later become the South African national anthem following the abolition of apartheid), with excerpts of the song both opening and closing "Biko" on the German-language version of Melt.
    • The booming sound of the drums that close out "Biko" also recall the gated drums that open "Intruder" at the start of the album.
  • Bowdlerise: The music video for "Games Without Frontiers" had to be considerably edited when it aired on The BBC, removing scenes of Gabriel whistling among a group of children role-playing as classical European diplomats and Gabriel whistling while crawling against a backdrop of wind-up toy babies due to the higher-ups at the network deeming them obscenenote . The censored version instead replaces these scenes with elaborate sequences of people moving in various patterns and additional sports stock footage; to this day the BBC cut remains the only one officially available through Gabriel's YouTube channel.
  • Careful with That Axe: "I Don't Remember" opens with Gabriel screaming his head off.
  • Concept Album: The album was described by Gabriel in an interview as "the history of a decaying mind." While the description was meant to be joking, themes of insanity and amnesia feature heavily throughout the album.
  • Darker and Edgier: Far, far darker than anything Gabriel put out before, with an aggressively haunting musical landscape and lyrics about mental and social decay (to the point where his record company mistakenly thought he was undergoing a Creator Breakdown). This even extends to the cover art, which features a good amount of Facial Horror that directly contrasts the comparatively tame artwork for Car and Scratch. As for specific songs, "And Through the Wire" is probably the closest Gabriel ever came to recording a metal song, while "Intruder" is one of the darkest, most oppressive songs in his catalogue.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The album cover, an intentionally ruined Polaroid re-photographed on black and white film.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover is a collaboration between Gabriel and Hipgnosis, in which they used styluses to move the dyes around in various Polaroids while they developed as a way of altering the image. The ones that Gabriel liked the best were then re-photographed with black and white film and used as the album art.
  • Epic Rocking: The 7:32 "Biko". The single release actually features the song uncut (resulting in 7" copies needing to be played at 33 1/3 RPM like an LP rather than the typical 45 RPM), allowing its mournful dirge to remain un-tampered across formats and heightening the power of its length.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: While not present to the same extent as its omnipresence on Security, Melt sees Gabriel start to experiment with the trope thanks to his excitement about the potential held by the Fairlight CMI following a visit from inventor Peter Vogel. Among others, "Intruder" features the sound of a glass cutter as part of the instrumental track (tying into the lyrics about burglary), and recordings of breaking bottles and bricks appear here and there as percussive trimming. In 1996, Stephen Paine, who was also present at Vogel's visit, recounted Gabriel's enthusiasm about the CMI and its implications for this trope as follows:
    "The idea of recording a sound into solid-state memory and having real-time pitch control over it appeared incredibly exciting. Until that time everything that captured sound had been tape-based. The Fairlight CMI was like a much more reliable and versatile digital Mellotron. Gabriel was completely thrilled, and instantly put the machine to use during the week that Peter Vogel stayed at his house."
  • Face on the Cover: As with Gabriel's previous two albums, Melt adorns itself with an edited picture of Gabriel, via a manipulated Polaroid re-photographed on monochrome film.
  • Facial Horror: The cover art depicts half of Gabriel's face melted into an indistinct waterfall of ooze, the other half already starting to melt. This was accomplished by manipulating a photo of Gabriel from a Polaroid SX-70 instant film camera.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: The album's World Music influences were the result of Gabriel developing a heavy interest in African cultures.
  • Foreshadowing: Phil Collins' drum solo during the bridge of "No Self Control" is like a test run for the one he'd use for "In the Air Tonight" a year later; the sound was developed during the sessions for this album, and Collins liked it enough to bring over to his own solo debut.
  • Freudian Excuse: "Family Snapshot" ends with a flashback to Arthur Bremer's troubled childhood, specifically the acrimonious separation of his parents, signaling it as a direct factor in Bremer's later decision to shoot George Wallace for clout.
  • Gratuitous French: Kate Bush's part in "Games Without Frontiers" consists solely of her singing the title in French ad infinitum, though it is frequently misheard; even native French speakers have reported difficulty understanding her pronunciation.
  • Gratuitous German: Gabriel re-recorded the entire album in very broken German as Ein Deutsches Album, later doing the same with Security. While the incredibly bad grammar is a source of amusement for German audiences, among listeners who don't speak a lick of the language, the inability to understand anything being said is considered to add to the songs' appeal rather than subtract from them.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The guitar riffs that open and run throughout "No Self Control" jump between the left and right audio channels.
  • Grief Song: "Biko", a dirge lamenting the death of the eponymous anti-apartheid activist.
  • I Have Many Names: Like Gabriel's first, second, and fourth albums, this one is officially a Self-Titled Album. In the United States, it was released as Peter Gabriel III, on Geffen Records' CD release it was simply known as Peter Gabriel, the 2002 remasters retitle it to just 3, and as of 2015, the Fan Nickname Melt is considered Ascended Fanon by Gabriel.
  • Important Haircut: In the first few years after leaving Genesis, already known for partially shaving his head while in the band, he often wore his hair close-cropped, sometimes shaving his head completely. Melt shows this the most clearly, with shorter hair on the cover after the first two showed him with '70s Hair, signifying his belief that he'd found himself artistically.
  • Instrumentals: "The Start".
  • In the Style of...: "Family Snapshot" is structured, both musically and lyrically, as if it jumped out of a Broadway musical, which makes it incredibly jarring when juxtaposing it with its subject matter about assassinating a governor for clout.
  • Large Ham: While he toned himself down after leaving Genesis, Gabriel still tends to let loose at multiple points on the album.
  • Last Chorus Slow-Down: Done to chilling effect in "Family Snapshot" as a lead-in to Arthur Bremer's Freudian Excuse.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "I Don't Remember" ends with a low synthesizer drone, while "Biko"— and by extent, the album— ends with two echoing drumbeats that invoke the sound of gunfire; a common interpretation of the latter is that it represents the white South African government's violent oppression against the anti-apartheid movement, especially with how it abruptly cuts off a sample of Steve Biko's funeral procession singing "Senzeni Na?"
  • Left Hanging: "Family Snapshot" cuts off the main narrative right after Arthur Bremmer pulls the trigger, instead shifting to a flashback to his traumatic childhood for the outro while leaving the aftermath of his assassination attempt up to the listener's imagination (considering that the attack was still in recent memory at the time, actually explaining what happens after the bullet fires might've been considered unnecessary).
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Lead a Normal Life", whose full lyrics are as follows:
    It's nice here with a view of the trees
    Eating with a spoon?
    They don't give you knives?
    'Spect you watch those trees
    Blowing in the breeze
    We want to see you lead a normal life
  • List Song: "Games Without Frontiers" primarily consists of Gabriel listing phrases that could describe both children's games and warfare, with the juxtaposition intended to highlight the childish absurdity of war.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: The closing track, "Biko", outpaces every other song on the album at 7 and a half minutes.
  • Loudness War: Averted with the 2002 remaster; like Gabriel's other self-titled albums and So, the remaster of Melt clocks in at an average dynamic range of 11.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Family Snapshot", a mostly triumphant-sounding song about the shooting of Alabama governor George Wallace; given that the song's narrated from the perspective of his attempted assassin, it's likely an Invoked Trope.
  • Metal Scream: "I Don't Remember" opens with a fairly impressive one that rapidly approaches Careful with That Axe territory.
  • New Sound Album: Melt marks a shift to a dense blend of Progressive Rock, Post-Punk, New Wave Music, and African-inspired World Music that would inform the direction of Gabriel's following work and the rest of popular music as a whole in the ensuing decades.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Done in-universe with "Biko", where during the second verse the narrator describes how he was so thoroughly traumatized by the titular activist's murder that he "can only dream in red."
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Family Snapshot"
  • Numbered Sequels: In the vein of Scratch before it, Melt was initially released in the US as Peter Gabriel III.
  • One-Man Song: "Biko"
  • One-Word Title: "Intruder", "Biko"; played with in regards to "The Start", which is known as just "Start" on some releases. Melt is also a single word, albeit the product of a popular Fan Nickname.
  • Protest Song:
    • "Biko" is probably one of the most successful examples of all time, given that it directly contributed to the end of The Apartheid Era in South Africa by singlehandedly kicking off western interest in the anti-apartheid movement.
    • "Games Without Frontiers" uses a popular game show as a roundabout metaphor for the absurdity and futility of war.
    • "Not One of Us" is a more vague one, attacking general tribalism and exclusionary rhetoric rather than anything as specific as apartheid.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • "Family Snapshot" was directly inspired by An Assassin's Diary, a memoir by Arthur Bremer that detailed his motives for shooting infamous pro-segregation Alabama governor George Wallace, an attack that both permanently rendered the politician paraplegic and led to him renouncing his white supremacist views.
    • "Biko" was famously inspired by the death of Steve Biko, a black anti-apartheid activist who was beaten to death by white police officers while in their custody.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: Melt can be thought of as a Sanity Slippage Album with its heavy lyrical dedication to themes of mental decline. "No Self Control", "I Don't Remember", and "Lead a Normal Life" particularly stand out in this regard, and the latter was actually mistaken by Atlantic Records executives as a Creator Breakdown song (which contributed to the label's decision to drop him).
  • Scatting: Gabriel indulges in this throughout "I Don't Remember".
  • Self-Titled Album: The third in the Peter Gabriel series, with fans referring to it as Melt based on its cover art.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "I Don't Remember" opens with Peter Gabriel pulling a Metal Scream that is very clearly a nod to the Signature Roar of Tarzan. The scatting Gabriel performs is also a noticeable nod to David Byrne's singing style; Gabriel was a known Fandom VIP of Talking Heads, which Byrne was the frontman of at the time. Fittingly, Byrne would cover "I Don't Remember" for And I'll Scratch Yours, a 2013 tribute album organized by Gabriel as a companion piece to his 2010 Cover Album Scratch My Back.
    • "Games Without Frontiers" was named after the Europe-wide game show also named Jeux sans Frontières; the British spin-off is It's a Knockout, which Gabriel also sings several times in the song.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Kate Bush's airy vocals on "No Self Control" and "Games Without Frontiers" contrast Gabriel's deeper, huskier voice.
  • Special Guest: Oh boy, where to begin?
    • Phil Collins, Gabriel's former bandmate in Genesis, performs drums on "Intruder", "No Self Control", "Family Snapshot", and "Biko".
    • Kate Bush provides backing vocals on "No Self Control" and "Games Without Frontiers".
    • Paul Weller of The Jam plays guitar on "And Through the Wire".
    • King Crimson leader Robert Fripp plays guitar on "No Self Control", "I Don't Remember", and "Not One of Us".
    • Future King Crimson bassist Tony Levin provides Chapman stick parts on "I Don't Remember". Fripp and Levin have an association with Gabriel that stretches back to his debut album.
    • David Gregory of XTC plays guitar on "I Don't Remember" and "Family Snapshot".
  • Splash of Color: Most releases of the album include Gabriel's name written in the corner in yellow lettering, contrasting the otherwise Deliberately Monochrome cover art.
  • Studio Chatter: Opens "Not One of Us".
  • Textless Album Cover: Later reissues have omitted the logo, in keeping with reissues of the rest of Gabriel's back catalog.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "No Self Control", "Not One of Us".
  • Tragic Villain: "Family Snapshot", narrated from the perspective of would-be George Wallace assassin Arthur Bremer, ends with a flashback to his unhappy childhood.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Despite being the first song to use gated reverb as we know it, "Intruder" is far different in how it makes use of that sound. It's not meant to accentuate the beats and make the song more danceable, but rather do the exact opposite: it's incredibly foreboding, with its cavernously gunshot-esque booms adding to the dread that permeates the song both musically and lyrically.
  • Uncommon Time: The verses of "And Through the Wire" are in 7/4.
  • Unconventional Formatting: The reason that the percussion parts on this album are so striking. Gabriel forbade his drummers from using cymbals when recording the album, a standard he'd follow in most of his later work (barring a cymbal intro on "Red Rain").
  • Villain Protagonist: "Intruder" and "Family Snapshot" are respectively narrated by an experienced burglar and assassin Arthur Bremer.
  • War Is Hell: The central subject of "Games Without Frontiers", where Gabriel describes war like a series of children's games to point out how utterly absurd and pointless something as violent and grueling as war is.
  • World Music: Alongside Talking Heads' Remain in Light five months later, Melt is credited with making popular music more open to non-western musical influences.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: "Biko":
    You can blow out a candle
    But you can't blow out a fire
    Once the flames begin to catch
    The wind will blow it higher

Alternative Title(s): Melt


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