Peter Gabriel’s third studio album is another release that has remained high on my playlist for the last 30 odd years. It is also my favourite of PG’s solo output but only just – his first album, also referred to as Car, is right up there too.
In fact, if I’m honest, there is actually nothing between them in terms of their brilliance and my affection. What places Melt slightly in the lead, is the presence of Family Snapshot which is one of my all time favourite songs. The assassination of a public figure may not be the most pleasant subject for a song but that aspect is secondary, I think, to the desire for recognition and fame felt by the assassin who is desperate to grab the headlines.
I’ve been waiting for this
I have been waiting for this
All you people in TV land –
I will wake up your empty shells
Peak-time viewing blown in a flash
as I burn into your memory cells
’cos I, I’m alive
I think Gabriel’s lyrics are very expressive and capture the emotions and thoughts running through the assassin’s mind as he prepares to “let the bullet fly”. The lyrical effect is heightened by the musical dynamic as the tempo rises and falls, underlining the tension and excitement felt by the assassin as his target draws near. All of which is followed by the haunting, sad portrayal of the assassin as a boy which reveals the agonising loneliness that has contributed to his current state of mind.
All turned quiet – I have been here before
Lonely boy hiding behind the front door
Friends have all gone home
There’s my toy gun on the floor
Come back Mum and Dad
You’re growing apart
You know that I’m growing up sad
I need some attention
– I shoot into the light
Very powerful stuff. But then Melt is an album full of powerful observation. Witness:
the downright creepiness of the unsettling opening track Intruder;
the obsessive slide into mental disorder of No Self-Control and the paranoia of I Don’t Remember;
Games Without Frontiers and its radio friendly skewering of nationalism and the stupidity of war;
and, of course, the closing protest anthem Biko which tells of the arrest and murder of anti-apartheid activist, Stephen Biko.
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In Police Room 619
It really is an amazing album.
And playing it brings back a particular memory from when Games Without Frontiers was wending its way up the charts. This was back in 1980 when, late on Sunday afternoon, I would listen to the BBC Radio 1 Chart Show and record selected songs from it. One Sunday my express intention was to record Games Without Frontiers. A nice, straight-forward task you would think? Well, you would be wrong!
At the time, I had access to a radio (a pretty decent one my father owned), a separate tape-recorder and a microphone. Yes that’s right, a microphone. Connecting radio and recorder just wasn’t an option and, for me at least, a combined radio-cassette player was a long way over the horizon. So recording involved tuning the radio to minimize interference, balancing the microphone at a reasonable distance from the radio’s speaker, pushing the play, pause and record buttons, fiddling with dials to get the recording levels right, and remembering to release the pause button to start recording. No problemo, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
But of course it’s that last step that’s the tricky one.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. I got everything set up beautifully and then forgot to release the pause button in time to capture my intended musical prey.
Had Four Weddings And A Funeral been released by then, I would have gambolled around my parent’s dining room muttering “Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity fuck!” Or something just as cutely profane. Alas it had not. So my choice of language was much more colourful and liberally sprinkled with f, assorted b, a, h, and a couple of c words.
Had I been overheard, I suspect my parents would not have approved.