PHIL Collins again, this time with the distinctive sound that would become his trademark in the 1980s and beyond.
But that gated sound, brainchild of engineer Hugh Padgham, started with XTC and was then encouraged and embraced by Peter Gabriel.
Before any cries of Genesis bias on the blog, the gated drum sound was also used for main drummer on Gabriel’s third self-titled release, Jerry Marotta.
It was an album which, on release in 1980, revived Gabriel’s mainstream career and musical reputation. It’s easy to forget how radical the drum sound was back then, and Gabriel also told Collins and Marotta to leave their cymbals at home.
Gabriel recalls on his website: ‘The album was full of, what at the time were ‘strange’ sounds. I remember when I met Ahmet Ertegun [founder of Atlantic Records] and he’d first heard that record, which Atlantic later dropped, he’d asked if I’d been hospitalised myself and obviously thought that I’d gone from being some sort of pop artist to some strange backwater.
‘In the end Polygram took the record up in America and it did quite well, with some success for Games Without Frontiers, but at the time I remember the A&R guys were trying to encourage me to sound like the Doobie Brothers.’
Doobie Brothers it was not.
Gabriel wanted to be different. Always had. Foxes heads and red dresses for a Genesis concert in Dublin had marked him out as that.
For his third solo album, he changed the way he wrote, focussing on rhythms first and foremost.
‘I think that the third album was quite important for me in terms of really having a defining sound… It was the first record where I was clearly doing something different from what other people were doing.’
The opener, Intruder, was certainly different. With its aggressive drum sound, ‘scratchy’ percussion, courtesy of Morris Pert, lack of cymbals and creepy vocals and synths it was far ahead of the curve.
Gabriel had been interested in the sounds Padgham had got on XTC’s third album, Drums And Wires. Think Making Plans For Nigel and then take that drum sound a step or two further.
Padgham, in an interview , said it was down to the ‘listen microphone’ on the Solid State Logistics recording console at London’s Townhouse studios. ‘…the whole idea was to hang one mic in the middle of the studio and hear somebody talking on the other side. And it just so happened that we turned it on one day when Phil was playing his drums. And then I had the idea of feeding that back into the console and putting the noise gate on, so when he stopped playing it sucked the big sound of the room into nothing.’
Pert steps up for the second track, No Self Control, with an orchestra of marimbas before Collins comes in with more aggressive playing. It’s a drum heavy track, sparsely populated by other instruments, running into a repetitive building chorus.
Marotta takes the reins for the remainder of the album, apart from the drum-less third song, Start, and Collins’ snare drum on track five, Family Snapshot. Collins returns for the brilliant Biko, playing the surdo, with Gabriel on drum machine and Marotta behind the kit.
As Collins was all out attack on his two tracks, Marotta imbues his tracks with a touch more feel. As such, it’s a glorious album, dark, bleak, soulful, sad. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Gabriel’s first number one long player.
Games Without Frontiers got to number four in the UK singles charts, while No Self Control and Biko both broke into the top 40.
Ending the album, and Gabriel’s first ‘political’ song, Biko is as different in sound and feel to Intruder as could be. Brutal to becalmed in 45 minutes and the drums lead the way.
A tribute to the South African anti-apartheid protestor, Stephen Biko, it is topped and tailed by African songs played at his funeral. Biko died in prison in 1977 after a brutal interrogation by police.
Gabriel’s conscience comes through loud and clear, the sensitive drumming by Marotta, persistent pattern of Gabriel’s machine and Collins’ understanding surdo playing. It’s a treat no-one could have expected after resting the needle down on side one.