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  • Peter Gabriel Albums From Worst To Best

Peter Gabriel is a pop enigma. For a guy with so many ubiquitous hits, he’s never even pretended to play ball with radio. And his occasional brushes with the mainstream? Mostly accidental: “Sledgehammer,” the British singer-songwriter-producer’s global smash single, was an Otis Redding homage recorded as a post-session afterthought; that track’s iconic stop-motion music video defined the entire MTV era, even though it’s one of the most surreal, subversive items in the American pop-culture time-capsule.

Unlike almost every other mega-star, Gabriel seems to be motivated solely by artistic passion, with no apparent willingness to compromise for the sake of commerce. He creates music constantly, but releases tangible proof at a snail’s pace. We Gabriel-heads know the drill: It isn’t unusual to wait an entire decade between studio albums. 1992′s Us arrived six painfully long years after his masterful commercial break-out, So; meanwhile, I/O, his long-awaited sequel to 2002′s Up, has been teased and postponed so many times, it’s something of an urban legend — the SMiLE (or perhaps the Chinese Democracy) of art-rock. Yes, being a fanatic of this man’s work is emotionally taxing. But even the man’s misfires (like 2010′s Scratch My Back) harness a radiant earnestness, daring us not to be dazzled by the sheer scope of his vision. When Peter Gabriel bothers to release a piece of music, it’s clear he’s maximizing every fiber of his artistic being.

“I was feeling part of the scenery,” Gabriel once sang on “Solsbury Hill,” a triumphant romp from his 1977 self-titled debut, “I walked right out of the machinery.” And he’s built his entire career on that principle, consistently reinventing his own creative wheel. No two Peter Gabriel albums sound alike — just compare the sinister minimalism of 1980′s Melt with the densely layered sprawl of Up.

During his early run as frontman for prog-rock legends Genesis, Gabriel was notorious for performing in outlandish costumes, using bizarre characters as a vehicle for his schizophrenic storytelling. And even though he doesn’t dress up as flowers or sexy foxes anymore, he hasn’t stopped chasing that same cinematic grandeur. Gabriel’s music thinks as big as it sounds.

Attempting to rank the maestro’s catalog comes with a host of hair-splitting conundrums. What’s a proper studio album in the first place? You can’t ignore Passion, Gabriel’s mind-blowing soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ. But if film scores are in-bounds, then what about 2000′s scattershot OVO? What about Birdy and Long Walk Home? What about the often overlooked Big Blue Ball (technically a collaborative album that only feels like a proper Gabriel album)? These are tricky questions with debatable answers. (Even Gabriel’s B-sides are worth exploring — the funky, immersive “Don’t Break This Rhythm” should have been a hit single.)

Ultimately, we went with the 10 most essential Gabriel albums and ranked them — from least awesome to most awesome. It was a tedious and painful process. Tell us what we overhyped and underrated in the comments section. (And try not to break our Big Blue Balls.)

Start the Countdown here.

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Comments (39)
  1. THANK YOU for acknowledging the disaster that was Scratch My Back. It’s like the Titanic if it sunk in thick, syrupy molasses. He sings every song as if he’s hiding from someone in a little box and it’s just sooo boring.

    And then that whole situation was super awkward too. It was kind of like a nerd making a mangled homemade valentine for all the cheerleaders in high school, and the cheerleaders were just like “Oh…that’s so sweet, Peter Gabriel….but I don’t want to date you….but thank you for the…thoughtful…card.”

    I feel kinda bad that most of them didn’t reciprocate (mostly because an Arcade Fire cover of Games Without Frontiers would have been so great), but maybe if he hadn’t completely ruined the other artists’ songs something would have come of it.

    • You’re clueless… ok so maybe gabriel should just not do anything.. it was a side project. it worked and it was amazing. The hollywood bowl show was the 3rd best concert of all time OH WAIT WAS THE BOWL SOLD OUT COMPLETELY AT 200 bucks plus a ticket ??? UMMMM YES!!! thats 18,000 seats sold out after a 10 plus year hiatus wow did he go back a year later and sell it out AGAIN??? UM YA!! SCRATCH REALITY HEY ELVIS DON’T BE ALARMED BY WHAT YOU SEE YOU YOURSELF WILL NEVER BE THE SAME IN GOOD TASTE IN MUSIC AS ME….LOL

  2. I really feel that “So” was when Gabriel turned in to a pop star and I lost interest. Having said that, I’m disappointed that it’s at the top of your list, although I won’t deny that it’s a well-crafted album. Nice to see “Melt” at number two (my personal favorite).

    I originally balked at the low placement of “Car” until you made a point that I never realized until now: the second of half of that album is a snooze.

    I like “Scratch My Back,” although I realize I’m in the minority. Kind of a drag that the proposed followup never really materialized – Gabriel’s solo output is ripe for a tribute album.

  3. I JOINED STEREOGUM JUST SO I COULD SAY:

    If someone’s willing to rank every single Bowie album, surely it wouldn’t have been beyond you to include his complete soundtrack work?

    I say this because, patchy though it is, OVO is a fantastic album.

    And if it’s not fantastic, any album that features the stirring Downside Up, the bizarre Tower That Ate People and the utterly devastating Father Son would sit proudly in the back catalogue of absolutely any other artist, ever.

    Other than that, brilliant list.

    Can you do Genesis next? It’s fine if you ignore everything post Gabriel. Most everyone else does.

    • I would agree that their best days were behind them but there are some good tracks to be had on “Trick of the Tail” and “Wind and Wuthering.” Hell, even “Duke” had a couple of good songs on it.

      • ‘Trick of the Tail’ is a forgotten masterpiece and holds its own amongst anything from the Gabriel era (sure Lamb and Foxtrot are better but not so much that they wipe the floor with ‘Trick’). ‘Wind and Wuthering’ is solid as well. For my money, the real line of demarcation for Genesis is when Steve Hackett left the band as Trick and W & W have much more in common with the Gabriel era than the ‘And then there were 3′ (or the Patrick Bateman) era.

      • WIND & WUTHERING is pretty bad, it always seemed to me like their attempt to do a Peter Gabriel-era album without Peter Gabriel, and the result was dire. As soon as they started writing songs that used Collins’ extremely underrated blue-eyed-soul-singer voice to good effect, they improved dramatically – sure, DUKE is good, but I’ll go so far as to say that if you haven’t listened to INVISIBLE TOUCH in a while, you should probably give it another shot. Your mileage regarding “Anything She Does” and the title track may vary, and “In Too Deep” is probably regrettable, but the rest of the album is quite solid. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” “Domino,” and “The Brazilian” are all awesome.

      • Yeah, I like Trick of the Tail.

        1. Selling England By The Pound
        2. Foxtrot
        3. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
        4. Nursery Cryme
        5. Trick Of The Tail

        ALL great.

        • 1. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
          2. Foxtrot
          3. Selling England by the Pound
          4. Nursery Cryme
          5. A Trick of the Tail
          6. Trespass
          7. Duke
          8. Abacab
          9. Wind and Wuthering
          10. We Can’t Dance
          11. And Then There Were Three
          12. Invisible Touch
          13. Genesis
          14. From Genesis to Revelation
          15. Calling All Stations

    • THIS. Please do Genesis next. They’re one of the greatest bands of all time, yet criminally under-appreciated, if only out of spite for Phil Collins. For me, the number 1 album there would be “A Trick of the Tail”. Such a beautiful album, and what a great message to the skeptics who didn’t think they could go on without Gabriel.

      • Mick, I disagree with trick.. I think Duke was the break out masterpiece for collins. if you read below, i make an earth wind and collins referrence. Collins is a genus and so is the band period the end. it was only used for referrence lol .. Trick is too one dimentional… besides everyone thinks gabriel had something to do with it lol

  4. I’ve always thought Up was criminally under-appreciated. I’m sure I’m in the minority but I would definitely put it in my top 5 or maybe my top 3 depending on the day..

    • Up is a great album. I actually saw him on his tour supporting that album, which was just a fantastic show all around. The only thing that confused me about that show was that he couldn’t sell out the arena. There were TONS of empty seats in the nosebleeds.

  5. This is one catalog that more people would do well to explore. I saw him do the So anniversary tour and he is just an incredible, engaging performer. I’ve been listening to Gabriel since I was a child and his music just never gets old for me.

    I think you did a good ranking here, but I would always put Melt on top. There’s just something about the darkness and claustrophobic feel of that record that draws me back time and again.

  6. where is BIRDY???

    • Staw can we not talk about this record EVER and i mean like EVER lol Never got it never will .. I would like to think of it as unprotected writing lol hahahahahaha

  7. Is you remove “Steam” and Kiss That Frog”, US is an awesome play-through. Beautiful songs that feel honest.

    • I kinda agree with STEAM i feel it should have been a b-side to sledgehammer remixes.. that song is out of place and out of time.. FROG is FROG and the video and experience is MTV SLEDGEHAMMER CHALK BOARD brought to life. Even listening to the song with no visuals is an experence

  8. I love this man.

  9. Security should have been number one. That is all.

  10. I also think “Us” is pretty great. “Kiss That Frog” is not but the rest of the album has some great melodic tracks.

    • JONLAN, I just have to disagree… the songs on US are SO deluxe with a touch of MELT.. He just couldn’t go where Earth Wind and Collins could.. Us is amazing and frog, digging, come talk, are production masterpieces

  11. snarfblat  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2013 0

    i kind of grew up on ‘passion’ so i’d put that a lot higher, and i also spent a lot of time with my bong and ‘up’ so i would think that’d be up there too. however, for sheer accessability/commercial appeal/great songwriting, you really can’t beat ‘so’ as #1.

  12. Still waiting for Lil B’s projects ranked from worst to best.

  13. US is probably too high and SECURITY could stand to be higher, but SO was a foregone conclusion. I listened to that album quite a bit last year after the 25th Anniversary edition came out, and it holds up just as well now as it did when I wore the tape down to hiss on my red Walkman in 1987.

  14. Did anybody else find a used vinyl copy of So for a dollar from a street vender for $1? Great great album.

  15. Great great list and well chosen. It was refreshing that you put ”So” first and had no mainstream bias. It’s the perfect synthesis of pop and art and I can’t think of many better examples then it in the 80′s (or beyond).

  16. PG’s fourth album is definitely in my all time top 10 LPs (with Stationtostation, The Colour of Spring, etc…). US is really up there for me (without Steam and Frog). It’s a big album but so layered. My other favourites would have to be the third LP and Passion; the latter is definitely worth listening to even without the film.
    PG really is a class act.

  17. The almost immediate enjoyability of the majority of his back catalogue has found me tired of it – the album I find most interesting and listenable now is #2. The acerbic attitude, punk/pop riffs – everything after is over-produced Fairlight, synth and effect drenched.

    Sad that I’d have described myself a rabid fan for most of my life only to find that he’d released an album two years ago which I’ve never heard of.

  18. pretty solid list, although i’d have to rank “the barry williams show” as the worst track in his catalog.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Kiss That Frog is absolutely the low point on US, but it’s still better than half of UP. I always felt like the singles from US were its lowest points.

      And U2 steals the spotlight for over-the-top live shows in the early 90′s, but Gabriel’s Secret World Tour overshadows Zoo TV in every way but bombast.

  19. How can you call “Scratch My Back” a disaster? And how can you knock, ‘Ill Scratch Yours” when it hasn’t even come out yet. Sure it’s been delayed since everyone involved couldn’t just drop everything to record a track for the album. But it’s done and set for release. Why don’t we wait to hear it before we pan it.

    Update: http://www.stereogum.com/1415901/arcade-fire-feist-lou-reed-to-cover-peter-gabriel/mp3s/

  20. My favorites in order:
    1. peter gabriel
    2. peter gabriel
    3. peter gabriel
    4. peter gabriel
    4. So
    …and then all the rest

  21. Thank You Ryan for your obvious attempt to dis a master. At least you tried, and to all you followers or sheep in drone clothing, please keep buying what they tell you buy. I happend to be probably one of the biggest Genesis 68-75 and Gabriel 77—ON collectors in the world. Scratch was amazing. The only problem was he really couldn’t GABRIEL the songs. You say that people didn’t want to cover his songs— UM can anyone really?? i mean come on!!! paul Simons BIKO is pretty dang amazing. I must say that Micheal Mcdonald and Marie Brennan do a smokin Don’t give up. Ok OK Greg Lake w/steve Hackett NAIL watcher of the skies.. lol Anyway, it is truly sad that Mr reed and the drones don’t see beyond the bubble gum they so desire. UP for example is a musical MAsterpiece THE ALBUM doesn’t need words… Gabriel does what Joel failed at.. BUT PLEASE MASTER BILLY forgive me. You are THE MAN!! anyway, i felt the need to share somewhat lol share more later…

  22. I’d put Melt way ahead of So, which seems positively banal and dated these days. Melt is far and away his masterpiece. It’s where he perfectly balances listenability with the cutting edge.

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