Remembering: Peter Gabriel (“Scratch”) (1978)
After leaving Genesis, Peter Gabriel released four solo albums (1977, 1978, 1980, and 1982), all originally simply entitled Peter Gabriel. The first three earned nicknames based on their covers, and the fourth was dubbed Security when it was released in the U. S. (I remember thinking at the time that this album-titling strategy, surely frustrating to marketers, was one of the coolest things imaginable.)
Ever since its release in 1978, the second Peter Gabriel (“Scratch”) has been one of my very favorite albums. It would make my top 25 list not only of “prog” albums, but of any albums of any genre. I’ve often been strongly tempted to think that this was due to those idiosyncratic associations we all have with some of the albums from youth. But I’ve both listened to and thought about it again lately, and I’ve decided that I will still boldly proclaim that it is, as an album, the best of the four.
This feels like a strange judgment to make. While about as critically successful as its companions at the time, generally speaking, it now sometimes seems to be the least enduringly “visible” of the four. I have certainly run into a lot of folks who know Gabriel’s work generally but who do not remember “Scratch” well. (Perhaps this is different across the pond?) And my judgement does not negate the high points of the other three, arguably higher in some ways than any particular moment on “Scratch.” But “Scratch” is not about high points as much as it is about a compelling sort of quasi-operatic profundity, sustained with remarkable consistency all the way through both sides of the original vinyl.
Now, putting it that way, in terms of the “operatic,” may make it sound “over-the-top,” but that is precisely what “Scratch” is not. The profundity has always sounded, and still does sound, wholly genuine to me. It has a remarkable textural subtlety that, as far as I can tell, has a lot to do with the way in which Robert Fripp’s production places just the right amount of restraint on Gabriel’s 70′s envelope-pushing ethos. (If you know the album, but haven’t done it recently, listen to it again alongside the other two albums in the Fripp “trilogy,” Fripp’s Exposure and Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs.)
With Fripp’s production and the marvelous synergy of the musicians (yes, I have to use that word, and not just because of Larry Fast), Gabriel’s voice on this album (sometimes treated, sometimes multiplied, sometimes fragile, sometimes exquisitely abrasive) is at its most Genesis-glory-days “Gabrielesque.” I tend to see it as the last truly great whole-album surge of the “early” Gabriel. Again, this is not to cast particular aspersions upon the “later” Gabriel. (I think the last single-song surge may have been “Shock the Monkey,” but that judgment may be clouded by its delightful music video.) So (1986) is amazing in completely different ways.
I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to discuss the individual songs. Do you remember them? If so, I’m guessing you remember some more than others, but I’ll surrender to the impulse and not go there. I’ll stick with my focus on the album as album. Listen again to the whole thing. Listen to it as a sustained, single work.
To my ears, it holds up as well as anything Gabriel has ever done.