Monday, September 9, 2013

Track of the Week: Peter Gabriel, "Games Without Frontiers"

I've been listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel lately, both his solo albums and his work with Genesis in the 70s.  He's an artist who's sort of fallen through the cracks, perhaps because prog rock and 80s baby boomer rock are not genres with a great deal of staying power.  He might be known better these days for the uses of his music in film, such as "In Your Eyes" in Say Anything, and "Solsbury Hill" in seemingly every trailer for a feel-good Hollywood movie.

Gabriel's best record might well be his third self-titled record, sometimes referred to as "Melt" because of its disturbing cover.  (Evidently the effect was produced by rubbing a Polaroid while it developed.) It came out in 1980, but sounds like something from much further into the decade.  Certainly the use of metronomic beats, synthesizers, and gated drums would get rather pedestrian and overdone, but these effects were new at the dawn of the spandex decade.  Instead of using these elements to make a poppy sound, Gabriel creates a mood of dread, perhaps no more pronounced than on "Games Without Frontiers."  It has got to be one of the few catchy dirges to ever crack the charts.

The whole song is an allegory about war and great power politics, and treats them like schoolyard scrapes.  While the meaning might be opaque, the whole point is that the games played by the generals and politicians on the global stage are childish and silly, but "if looks could kill they probably will."  We're seeing some 'games without frontiers" being played out right now over Syria, which has this song on my mind.

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