First things first. This is his best album cover – what exactly is that thing? – and his best album title too – sure, it’s just another eponymous entry everywhere not in the U.S., but as opposed to his first three albums which are given titles later based on their covers (“Car,” “Scratch” and “Melt”), this one was titled Security in its U.S. release, and when combined with that freaky cover, you feel anything but secure.
Anyway, song by song review:
1. If you want to know about Security and whether it’s the album for you, you need only listen to “The Rhythm of the Heat” which is simultaneously representative of the album’s strengths and flaws. On 90% of the album (this is not hyperbole), Peter Gabriel will eschew melody in favor of world rhythms and his typical theatricality. (It speaks volumes to the success of the former that my mother asked me what was making that noise as he screamed with every fiber of his soul – if I was playing one of my video games. Nope, just Peter Gabriel screaming. Still, bad move using the same trick twice.) The problem here is that with the inexplicable increase of the average poo/rock song length in the 80s, these rhythms aren’t enough to capture the listener’s attention the entire way through and you end up wishing there was a melody. That being said, the last minute or so sounds exactly like what the title would have you believe, is worth the four-minute trek at least once.
2. The driving mechanism of “San Jacinto” is a really fast xylophone-generated rhythm that makes it easily the album’sprettiest cut. Unfortunately, because the riff doesn’t change throughout its runtime, it grows tired fast, especially when you realize that it’s just Melt’s “No Self-Control” but twice as long with a useless coda.
3. ”I Have the Touch” reminds us that Peter Gabriel does indeed remember how to pen a rhythm-based song, give it a climax and still keep it under 5 minutes. Quite love the sentiment expressed through the lyrics in the song’s final verse and said climax: that no amount of “food, drink [or] cigarette” will ease one’s anxiety (demonstrated through the laundry list of “I tap my fingers, fold my arms, breathe in deep, cross my legs / Shrug my shoulders, stretch my back – but nothing seems to please”). Only contact – physical, emotional, sexual – will work.
I’m the type of person to loathe remixes with every fiber of my soul because of how great in number and uselessness in scope most of them turn out to be, but Robbie Robertson remixes the song for the 1996 film Phenomenon, which is the version found on Peter Gabriel’s Hit, a collection of Peter Gabriel hits, and he ups the bass and the barely audible keyboard of the original and because of the introduction of a melody in addition to the rhythm, it’s infinitely better than the original.
4. Really love the drum sound of “The Family and the Fishing Net” – don’t know if it’s drum programming or a session musician made to sound like Phil Collins’ drums on Melt who was made to sound like drum programming (see: “Intruder”) – but it’s a lovely slow creep that’s still kinetic enough to make the ridiculously lengthy song a relatively enjoyable listen (Peter Starostin describes it as “something in between a war march and an execution squad”). The best part is Peter Gabriel’s vocals at the 2:48 mark, and though the saxophone sounds made to sound like flutes (reminds me of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”) take a backseat to everything else that goes on, it’s frankly the most interesting sound of the entire album. Still, 7 minutes?
5. Like my criticisms of previous tracks and the two to come, “Shock the Monkey” didn’t need to be so long – the last minute or so is just a revamp of the previous hook with added love-it-or-hate-it falsetto, but frankly, it’s the best song on the album because it doesn’t eschew melody for rhythm – it remembers that both can work concomitantly and cooperatively.
6. Unlike “The Rhythm of the Heat,” whose climax came kind of out of nowhere, “Lay Your Hands On Me” actually builds towards it, with heavier drums joining the by-then familiarized drumfill halfway through. Great vocals – shifting between melodic and creepy when the song calls for it and the background synths were a great addition too.
7. Whereas I called “San Jacinto” the album’s prettiest cut, “Wallflower” is the album’s sweetest cut with Gabriel’s affecting “Hold on”’s. It’s also the only song on the album that isn’t rhythm-driven. Still, 6 minutes?
8. ”Kiss of Life” ends the album on a thankfully punchy note – easily the album’s most danceable cut, and though the melody is certainly there with the rhythm, it’s also incredibly generic for Gabriel’s standards.
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Much has been made about the lyrics within Security which really turn Peter Gabriel from the serious artist that we always knew him as into a very serious artist that I would not like to know him as. For example, “San Jacinto” takes the perspective of a Native American witnessing his culture being steamrolled by urbanization, except Peter Gabriel doesn’t bother with a melody so there’s no way of the words getting to your auditory cortex since they don’t have much a chance of rising above the rhythm. Then there’s “Wallflower,” inspired by the treatment of political prisoners after Peter Gabriel read about it from an American Heritage pamphlet and I can’t help but think about Jon Anderson penning the lyrics to an entire double album based on a single footnote about Hindu Shastric scriptures. “Games Without Frontiers” has always been (and will probably always remain) my favorite Peter Gabriel song, and I like the fact that the lyrics in that song can be debated about whether they’re a critique on the childlike nature of war or complete nonsense. For that reason, the lyrics of “Shock the Monkey” mean more for me than the ones in either of those two songs.
This is my least favorite sort of album – one that I can’t help but think how much better it would have been if the songs were tighter. I just spent an unhealthy amount of time deliberating whether this one deserved a minus sign because the songwriting is just incredibly half-assed, especially considering this is the follow-up to 1980’s Melt – Gabriel’s best album by a fair margin – which finally saw Peter Gabriel figuring out what he wanted to do after two spotty, transitional albums. George Starostin goes at length about this one’s “historical importance,” but frankly, that is neither here nor there and everybody knows of an album (Remain in Light) that came out two years before that did the whole third world rhythms and first world rock merging a lot better than this one did. And though Robert Christgau had this to say about So – a better album all-in-all – I think it fits Security much better:
“Gabriel’s so smart he knows rhythm is what makes music go, which relieves him of humdrum melodic responsibilities but doesn’t get him up on the one–smart guys do go for texture in a pinch. […] Where is “Biko” now that we need it more than ever?”