Thursday, December 8, 2011

Song #43 of 9999 - Shock the Monkey by Peter Gabriel

Song #43 of 9999

Title: Shock the Monkey
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1982
Album: Peter Gabriel ("Security")

I had been thinking lately about whether it's better to have a sound that defines or belongs to a specific time period in pop music history or whether it's better to produce songs that withstand the test of time or seem to belong to no discernible decade, even if it means limited or no commercial success. I think most of my friends would choose the latter and there is something appealing about having a legacy that remains fresh. But there are plenty of examples of artists who wrote great songs for a specific generation, then reinvented themselves for the next or faded into obscurity. I was thinking specifically about Prince, whose Purple Rain seemed absolutely brilliant in 1984 but seems so so dated now. There are a million examples of either, I'm sure, and admittedly, it's not a very deep subject, just something I've been pondering.

Which brings me to "Shock the Monkey" and much of Peter Gabriel's solo material (but not all of it). Gabriel's initial foray into dance music seems timeless to me, like it could be released tomorrow and no-one would bat an eye. This has almost everything to do with the sounds Gabriel chooses to use, as if he were able to magically filter out any sounds that were destined to be associated with the 80s. There are no DX-7's here and certainly no stock sounds that I've ever heard. That slightly detuned brass whine is cool even thirty years later. The percussiveness of Tony Levin's bass (or perhaps Chapman stick) stays fresh by avoiding the slap and pop of more in-the-moment bassists like John Taylor of Duran Duran. Even the electronic drums tend to sound bigger and fatter than anything available at the time. The production is not just ahead of its time–it truly defies the typical pop time stamp. And Gabriel's lyrics about how "jealousy can release one's baser instincts" are still weird and probably will be for some time to come.

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