Coming out of the ground-swell of late 60s English schools and colleges were the future masters of English art-rock: Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie et al, defined their artistry in the early-to-late 70s, by striking bold and thrilling musical paths, often in group contexts. Global acceptance and commercial success followed in the 80s with admirable, but safer musical mandates: David Bowie said let’s dance; Bryan Ferry asked we not stop the dance; and Peter Gabriel and his sledgehammer promised that he was ready to come dancin’ in. All fine and well, with no harm done. Peter Gabriel may well still tour with Sting (to good reviews), but it is interesting to note of a resurgence of interest in the darker, more sonically challenging works of these artists: David Bowie’s Low was voted as his number one record by readers of the influential Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog (a month before his death); and members of Peter Gabriel’s original band have re-grouped with with ex-Shriekback and King Crimson members to form the Security Project, a live recording unit originally started in 2012 in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the release of Peter Gabriel 4 (US: Security). The Security Project has released two live albums this year (May and October) and the intensity of the output demonstrates the considerable staying power of this period, the Golden Age of Gabriel’s solo career.
Peter Gabriel 3 and 4 may well be two of the most adventurous sonic masterpieces ever recorded – rhythmically constructed, percussive but disallowing cymbals, and adventurous enough to use one of the first Fairlight CMI‘s in Britain (John Paul Jones purchased the first). In both albums the subject matter is forbidding, an examination of lack of self control, with intruders and assassins conducting their deeds in real time, analysed by the penetrating moral acuity that Peter Gabriel famously possesses. Indeed, the power of music as a moral force is a common theme in Gabriel’s work (Biko being the most obvious example), but just so is the idea as music as possession, a surrender to that that cannot be seen, such as the process of internal thought (Here Comes the Flood) or radio waves that grow stronger in the night (On the Air/Solsbury Hill), or the strength and vulnerability of putting trust in strangers (Lay Your Hands On Me), and even communion with those no longer with us, the spirits of the dead (Rhythm of the Heat).
Peter Gabriel based Rhythm of the Heat on psychologist C.G. Jung’s autobiographical description of a nocturnal ritual dance (the n’goma) among villagers in the Sudan, Africa. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung outlines his own fears of the local villagers in a particular area of the Sudan. Sixty men, along with women and children, gathered together and lit fires before the “savage singing, drumming, and trumpeting” (p. 271). Jung joined in the dancing, became intoxicated with the dance, as the “the rhythm of the dance and the drumming accelerated” (p. 271). Here Jung begins to reveal his fears: “the natives easily fall into a virtual state of possession. As eleven o’clock approached, their excitement began to get out of bounds. . . The dancers were being transformed into a wild horde, and I became worried about how it would end” (p. 271). Jung becomes at one with the music and the tribe, and in letting go of rational thought and responding to the physical experience and wholly uncaring for the outcome, both tribe and scientist merge concerns and energies and the tribe begins to accept him.
Rhythm of the Heat opens with Gabriel’s incantation for the listener to lose themselves in a new listening experience. Recreated is the sense of menace and foreboding at having to face the alien and the unknown. As one of the first albums committed directly to digital tape (for the early CD age) the clarity of the deep chill atmospherics propel the track onward (Smash the radio. . . smash the watch. . . smash the camera (cannot steal away the spirits!), before Jung’s great dance begins and we experience the intense and exhilarating African multi-tracked Ghanaian drumming performed by the Ekome Dance Company. There is little as rewarding in recorded music as the final minute of dance, drums, and communion on this record.
Give it a spin, and, you know, PLAY IT LOUD.