Peter Gabriel’s third album is not only available in german and english language, but also as a reissue on 45 RPM. We compared the two and found many more differences than expected.
A few thoughts on Peter Gabriel – III (Melt)
Peter Gabriel’s third solo album was officially called just Peter Gabriel. However, since the two previous albums also bore the same name and the following fourth album was also given this title, the discs are either numbered consecutively in fan circles (this album would then be “III”) or described according to the cover motif (in this case “Melt”, because Gabriel’s face seems to melt on the cover motif of Hipgnosis). You can find an in-depth review of Peter Gabriel II (aka. “Scratch”) here.
Either way – there were many firsts on Gabriel’s third album. For example, the characteristic drum sound of the 80s was heard for the first time on this album. Right from the first track Intruder and right from the beginning: Insanely fat beats with “gated reverb” i.e. reverb where the long reverb tail is cut off. Just like the most famous drum roll in the world for In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins. But that was a year later.
But until that happened, a few things had to happen independently.
Hugh Padgham, freshly employed as a sound engineer in the newly founded Townhouse Studio, had just bought a mixing console from the then young, up-and-coming UK company SSL. The special feature: for the first time, each channel had its own compressor and noise gate. Finally, the recording engineer no longer had to economise with the existing compressors and gates.
In addition, the console had a permanently installed intercom system to facilitate communication between musicians and sound engineers. For this purpose, this channel had an extra-large compressor on board and a microphone hung somewhere in the recording room – coincidentally near the drums. It was used between the recordings for conversations between the studio room and the control room. Nobody had thought of drum sounds when the console was designed. Now chance came to the rescue. By mistake, the talkback mic stayed on, capturing the ambient sound of the drums. And how! Suddenly there it was, the mega-fat sound that sounded like no drums before. Especially good to hear because Peter Gabriel had imposed a restriction on the drummers for the whole album: no hihats, no cymbals.
Peter Gabriel’s buddy Phil Collins was on drums; they knew each other from their time together in Genesis. Collins can be heard on drums on three of the album’s tracks: Intruder, No Self-Control and Biko. The first two songs in particular use the newly invented baller sound that Phil Collins subsequently made the sound of the 80s. Incidentally, Hugh Padgham was again at the mixing desk for Collins’ first solo album Face Value with In The Air Tonight, but that’s another story.
For the album, Peter Gabriel gathered some well-known and sometimes surprising guests in addition to his long-time collaborators such as Larry Fast (synthesizers), Jerry Marotta (drums) or David Rhodes (guitar). Robert Fripp had produced the previous album Peter Gabriel II. But the guitarists Paul Weller (The Jam) or Dave Gregory (XTC) made their first appearance here, and Kate Bush also sang for Peter Gabriel for the first time on Games Without Frontiers. And not for the last time. A few years later, the two landed a world hit with Don’t Give Up.
How are the two versions of Peter Gabriel – III equipped?
Originally Peter Gabriel – III was released as a simple album in a single sleeve with a designed inner sleeve and the song lyrics.
For the reissue, the album was split onto two 45 rpm LPs. Both 45s were mastered at half speed and pressed on 180g vinyl. The double album comes in a gatefold cover with the motifs of the original inner sleeve printed on the inside. Additionally, a voucher for the album download in standard CD resolution with 16Bit/44.1 KHz or in High Resolution with 24 Bit/192KHz resolution is included.
What else stands out about the first pressing and the German album?
For the first time, there was a German version of the album, called Ein deutsches Album. Peter Gabriel had asked the record company’s foreign subsidiaries if anyone would like to release a version in the national language. Only the Germans responded. They found Horst Königstein, who had already written lyrics for german rock pioneer Udo Lindenberg, to translate and rephrase the lyrics. The lyrics try to capture the spirit of Gabriel’s lyrics without translating woodenly. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether this is successful. We are torn on this. The lyrics are certainly well done. But Gabriel just sounds a bit more strained when he sings in German than in English.
How good do the 33 RPM and 45 RPM pressings of Peter Gabriel – III sound?
The reissue is considerably louder and more compressed than the first pressing. As a result, this 45 seems more powerful at first glance. With the level adjusted, this impression levels out. The differences in sound are there, but actually play a smaller role than the differences between the two productions. Because anyone who thinks that only the vocal tracks were re-recorded on the “German album” doesn’t know the perfectionist Peter Gabriel very well. He used the second chance to fine-tune the production again. For example, the whistling at the end of Intruder got more reverb on the German version and the outro lasts almost eight seconds longer. As overall the running times of many tracks vary on the two pressings, but more on that later. The saxophone in Start is also more prominent on the 45 and has a louder reverb tail.
In general, the German vocal track was mixed more to the foreground – possibly to increase intelligibility – and also has a somewhat tinny character sonically. This may be partly due to the harder sound of the German language, but here the equaliser on the mixing desk has contributed more.
Even in the listening test, it is noticeable that the 45’s new edition does not make use of the larger dynamic range of the higher number of revolutions, but that everything is simply louder. The slow increase in Family Snapshot, for example, is almost imperceptible; the peak in level has long since been reached with the 45, when the 33 increases the drama for a few bars.
And Through The Wire was played a tad faster for the 33 version than the 45 version. Since this is an analogue album, the entire piece is transposed upwards by about a quarter tone. The 45, on the other hand, is in the correct tuning. Although played slower, the 45 is finished 30 seconds earlier because the final chorus has been shortened.
What are the differences in level and frequency response between the two pressings?
Our diagrams confirm the listening impression: The new edition of Peter Gabriel – III has been compressed considerably more. In the waveform of I Don’t Remember (left arrows), after the quiet intro, volume differences can hardly be made out on the 45 (bottom), while the first edition (top) literally shows a more transparent picture. The differences in dynamics were compressed away even more blatantly in Family Snapshot. Where the original slowly moves towards the high point from the start, some levels of the German version have long since reached the stop.
Noticeable throughout the album are differences in running time between the English and the German album. Of all the tracks, only Family Snapshot has the same running time in both versions. Sometimes the English version runs longer, sometimes the German version. In the diagram we see the three titles on side three of the double album one after the other. For better comparability, we have arranged the titles of both versions so that they always start at the same time. So the differences always show up at the end of the song.
Track 1 And Through The Wire lasts a whopping 28 seconds longer on the English album (although the master tape ran a tad faster while the lacquer was cut). Games Without Frontiers, on the other hand, takes about 8 seconds longer on the German album on 45 RPM. Not One Of Us is 21 seconds longer in the English version than in German.
I Don’t Remember and Lead A Normal Life were also given a few extra seconds of running time for the 45 reissue by Caroline Records. But the last track of both albums, Biko (between the dotted lines), takes the cake. Not only was a different intro used for the German album, the song also lasts 1:30 minutes longer than in the English version.
We can only speculate about the reasons for the differences. Most likely, CD master files play a role here, which take advantage of the longer running time of a CD (or a double album with 45 RPM). In contrast, there are tracks like And Through The Wire, where the speed control of the master machine was already turned in the original to create more drive. In the analogue mastering process, this is noticeable in increased pitch. With digital mastering, higher playback speeds can be realised without changing the pitch.
Which pressing of Peter Gabriel – III (Melt) is better?
Before assessing the sound properties of the two pressings, it is worth bearing in mind what Peter Gabriel and Hugh Padgham were trying to achieve. If audiophile productions strive for the highest fidelity, here the two wanted to create sounds that had never been heard before. The alienation in the recording studio was an artistic stylistic device here.
In 1980, the album sounded like nothing before. The sound of both productions is still impressive today – after 40 years. Would Hugh Padgham have compressed even more back then, if only he had had the chance? Hard to say. But by no means to be ruled out. Nevertheless, the new edition seems over-compressed today. It is louder and more direct but the finesse of the original is lost. We prefer the original here.
- Intruder (Eindringling)
- No Self-Control (Keine Selbstkontrolle)
- I Don’t Remember (Frag Mich nicht Immer)
- Family Snapshot (Schnappschuss)
- And Through The Wire (Und durch den Draht)
- Games Without Frontiers (Spiel ohne Grenzen)
- No One Of Us (Du bist nicht wie wir)
- Lead A Normal Life (Ein normales Leben)