Kronomyth 1.0: HERE COMES THE DUD. I had crossed between the poles with Peter Gabriel—climbed white mountains, battled giant hogweeds, stood at the threshold of a new Jerusalem and chased a raelbit through 32 doors of unreality—and I thought not now our journey done. A Peter Gabriel solo album promised nothing less than a grand adventure on an even greater scale than Steve Hackett’s marvelous Voyage. Or not. Peter Gabriel I (as the album has come to be called) isn’t the lost Genesis album I had hoped for, just lost. The first two tracks on it are actually very good: “Moribund The Burgemeister” is another colorful character in Gabriel’s Rogues Gallery, “Solsbury Hill” is a declaration of independence from Genesis done in his own special way. The rest of the record, unfortunately, is a schizophrenic mess made up of barbershop (“Excuse Me”), modern rock (“Modern Love”) and lounge theatrics (“Waiting For The Big One”). Only the closing “Here Comes The Flood,” which looks forward to the quiet intensity of “Biko” and “San Jacinto,” can be salvaged after the opening pair. So there you have it: three good songs, three years in the making, three stars at best on a scale of one to five. As we know, Gabriel’s solo music got progressively better with time, making it easier to chalk up this mediocre effort to a maiden voyage’s misadventure, but at the time it was a major disappointment. The real continuing adventures of Genesis can be found on A Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, Steve Hackett’s Voyage of the Acolyte and Anthony Phillips’ The Geese & The Ghost.
Peter Gabriel cultivated a reputation as something of a crank with his second album, choosing a cover that traded in self-obscurity for self-mutilation and again refusing to give the album a proper title (which must have given folks at the label fits). But the crankiness is most evident in the music, from “A Wonderful Day In A One-Way World” to “Animal Magic.” Unlike his debut, which tried its hand at all sorts of things, this album focuses on modern rock, delivered by producer Robert Fripp with all the rough edges intact (a style he would replicate on his own Exposure). There are some quieter moments, achingly sad in the case of “Mother of Violence” and “Home Sweet Home,” but Gabriel’s perturbation is still tangible even in these settings. Since it’s something of an itchy sweater as albums go, this record rarely comes out of the closet, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Songs like “Flotsam and Jetsam” and “Indigo” generate genuine pathos, while the slicker tracks (“Perspective,” “D.I.Y.”) make a better case for Gabriel as a “new” rock artist than “Modern Love” ever could. Yeah, his voice isn’t the commodity here that it once was (and would become again) and the arrangements are stuck in an awkward halfway point between plain old rock & roll and the darker, dire arrangements of the future, but the songs are clearly cut from the stuff of genius. Gabriel hadn’t quite locked into the “vision” thing yet, but Peter Gabriel version 2 was at least promising. There are some very good ideas here, packaged into confining conventional parcels out of habit, which would explode from their containers and take a more fantastic shape on his next album. Or next installment, depending on how you see these things.
Kronomyth 2.0: THE GREAT COMMISSION. In my middle doughy age, prior to the proper dotage that awaits me, I mused that Laurie Anderson plus a backing band of alternative rock stars equalled pure left-handed Heaven, an observation occasioned no doubt by Mister Heartbreak’s stylish handshake, “Sharkey’s Day.” After that handshake, however, Anderson returns to the haunts of her earlier work, mixing minimalist accompaniment with all the warmth of a low-wattage lightbulb and words like shadows, weightless and ominous. “Langue d’Amour” and “Blue Lagoon” favor the primitive, powerful style of her earlier work. “Gravity’s Angel” sounds like it was deconstructed and reconstructed with the wrong parts, which is what a lot of Bill Laswell’s music feels like to me. “Kokoku” is a collaboration with kayagum artist Sang Won Park, who had recently emigrated to New York City and insinuated himself with the avant-garde elite. The album’s second collaboration, “Excellent Birds,” is the most boring thing on here. It’s a case of Peter Gabriel appropriating Anderson’s art for his own designs, with her consent I’m sure, but birds of a feather they’re not. The album closes with Anderson doing Burroughs doing himself on “Sharkey’s Night.”
O Superman, where art thou?
“O Superman” is a miracle of music. The trouble with miracles is that they cease to be miracles the second time around. You’ve seen it happen once, so you know it can happen again. Eventually, the miraculous act becomes a matter of fact. There are some miraculous moments on Mister Heartbreak, but they seem like minor epiphanies in the shadow of Big Science. Maybe the biggest epiphanies are that Laurie Anderson can rock and roll and sing. But the album doesn’t achieve anything musically that Talking Heads didn’t already achieve on Remain In Light. Their excellencies Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel? Lol Creme and Kevin Godley bested them by a few years on Ismism’s “Ready For Ralph.” Mister Heartbreak is a very smart album made by a very smart lady who had attracted a coterie of high-profile admirers and the cachet to make the art she wanted on a big budget. It’s not a breakthrough moment, it’s not a standing in place, it’s a plain commission with a song about birds.