How an Album Cover Expressed Peter Gabriel’s Dark Creation

e43dbc3e_peter_gabriel_3_0

An intruder, an assassin, and an amnesiac: they are among the fractured souls who inhabit the ghostly landscape of Peter Gabriel’s third album, Peter Gabriel. Released in 1980, Peter Gabriel was the sound of a daring artist finding inspiration from some dark place on the fringes of society. And the album cover art complemented the music with a grotesque image of Gabriel’s melting face, suggesting the decay of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s painting The Picture of Dorian Gray.

book-doriangray-splsh

We remember Peter Gabriel for its penetrating lyrics and propulsive sound, brimming with inventive drums, distorted guitar, and Gabriel’s emotional, sometimes off-kilter vocals. The cover art visualized the music like few other album covers have.

The Backstory

When Gabriel recorded the album in 1979-80, his success as a solo artist was anything but certain. His first two albums, released in 1977 and 1978 (and also entitled Peter Gabriel), had been well received critically, but they achieved unremarkable commercial success. His choice of adventurous material, with sometimes quirky instrumental arrangements, suggested that Gabriel, following his departure from progressive rock band Genesis, was destined to become a critics’ favorite with a cult following.

Nothing prepared his fans or critics for what followed on his third album, released in May 1980. Peter Gabriel distilled all the experimentation of his first two albums into a still adventurous but more cohesive work musically and thematically — and a very disturbing one at that. The opening track, “Intruder,” set the tone for the entire album. Describing a home invasion from the point of view of the intruder, the song featured chants, distorted scratching sounds, and a tribal beat lacking any cymbals (in fact, Gabriel had prohibited the use of cymbals on the entire album).

“I know something about opening windows and doors,” sneered Gabriel on the opening track. “I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors . . . I like you lying awake, your bated breath charging the air/I like the touch and the smell of all the pretty dresses you wear.”

The rest of the album did not let up. “I Don’t Remember,” “No Self Control,” and “Lead a Normal Life” were among the bleakest explorations of inner turmoil and mental surrender anyone had dared to record since Pink Floyd’s ascendance.

The album was so disturbing that Gabriel’s label, Atlantic, refused to release it. Fortunately, Mercury Records agreed to distribute the album in the United States.

The Cover

To depict his distorted world on the album cover, Gabriel turned to Hipgnosis, whose founders, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, had become legends for the album covers Hipgnosis had created with super groups such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Allegedly, the idea of depicting Gabriel with a melted face arose from a dream that Thorgerson had about a dripping face. Mick Jagger or Bryan Ferry would have scoffed at the idea. But Gabriel was inspired; after all, Gabriel had willingly manipulated his own appearance on the covers of his first two albums.

2

To create the album cover, Hipgnosis took a color Polaroid of Gabriel, re-photographed the photo Continue reading