#14: Peter Gabriel, ‘So’ (1986) vs. Snoop Dogg, ‘Doggystyle’ (1993)

One of the joys of the VanJam project has been discovering albums I wasn’t paying attention to at the time but probably should have been. Here we have two in that category.

Peter Gabriel temporarily became a superstar despite himself with So. He was an art rocker who answered his record company’s call to try to be at least a bit commercial. And so he did. He made hits. He gave the album an actual name – every other had been eponymous – and for the first time you could see his entire face on the cover (this was actually a request from the record company – stop obscuring half your face, Peter!).

But the album is still art. Gabriel was experimental enough to bring African and Brazilian sounds into it. It’s beautiful stuff. So is both smooth and challenging – it pulls you in. The ballads are my favourite, especially “Don’t Give Up”, with Kate Bush’s gorgeous and soothing vocals. You also gotta enjoy “Big Time”, which has Gabriel making fun of the kind of megastar he’d been working hard not to be and now kinda was.

Snoop, on the other hand, knew he was destined to be a superstar and wanted everyone to know it on his debut, Doggystyle. I’ll admit I have mixed feelings on Doggystyle.   There is no denying it is infectious as hell. SUPER catchy. It sounds fantastic (thanks in large part to Dr. Dre’s production), and Snoop’s rapping is as smooth and mellow as the finest herb you’ve ever tasted. It’s mostly party music – although “Murder was the Case” tells an interesting story of life on the streets – and much of it is just silly. But what else to expect, I suppose, from an album that opens with the star being bathed by his girlfriend (or one of many, apparently), and is periodically interrupted by a DJ from “W Balls” radio.

Also, why oh why must the lyrics be so damn misogynistic? I suppose we’re supposed to accept at least a certain amount of that in rap (especially from the 90s), but shit like “Ain’t no Fun” and the talking intro to “Doggy Dogg World” are way too dumb to forgive the offensiveness.

JG

WINNER:  Peter Gabriel, So (4 points)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 16

90s: 21

EARNED POINTS
80s: 39
90s: 49

Next week’s post – #13: Midnight Oil, ‘Diesel and Dust’ (1987) vs. Beastie Boys, ‘Ill Communication’ (1994)

#46: Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (1980) vs. Jay-Z, ‘Volume 2…Hard Knock Life’ (1998)

 

This is a strange battle.  An interesting battle where similarities are minimal.  Aside from the numerical album identifier, both albums at times offer strange and alluring sonic touches that create interest unique within its own genre. With Gabriel, he mixes up different rhythms and musical styles incorporating African drumming and bag pipes on top of a synthy melange of distraught funkiness.  With Jay-Z, he mixes non-traditional hooks to give depth to the seemingly superficial world of Gansta Rap.

Despite the troubled inference in the title, Jay Z has no distraught funky qualities.  Touting his Roc-A-fella CEO status, this is a man demonstrating that he is in charge of both his world and yours too.  Aggressive and relentless, letting you know where he and those around him stand.  There is only one rhythm here. That tight ‘boom bap’ 90s hip hop perfected by Jay-Z and other outfits like A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, Wu Tang, and Black Sheep.  What I love about Jay Z’s songs is his sample and riff selections.  To my ear, it starts off sounding wrong but immediately makes sense and always works. Like the title track.  It’s quite an achievement to make a group of orphaned little girls who often break out into saccharine songs sound as hard core as a drive by shooting.  I am not sure anyone else could do that and get away with it. He even acknowledges that he might get criticized for his riff selection, but he couldn’t care less. On the track “Money, Cash, Hoes”, he spits:

I know they gone criticize the hook on this song
Like I give a fuck I’m just a crook on this song

Hard Knock Life was a commercial break-out for Jay-Z.  Once I get past the N-word fueled misogyny laced anger words, I can definitely bounce to stand out songs like “N***a What”, “N***a Who”, and “Can I Get A…”.  A highlight for me is using Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” on the track “It’s Alright (Streets is Watching)”.  The album is an undeniable party.

There is no party for ol’ Pete here.  If anything, Peter Gabriel (a.k.a. 3 or Melt) is the cozy but achy stay-in-bed hangover after.  Like the album cover, 3 presents two faces.  Sometimes between songs and other times within the same song.  Peter Gabriel is filled with clean musical lines and clear voicing mixed with a weird atonal smearyness that is hypnotic and at the same time unsettling. There is a grand sweeping musicality but it’s also minimal in that Eno-esque style common to the burgeoning New Wave landscape.  Melt was a critical breakout for Peter Gabriel and I can see why.  It’s a gorgeous, ugly, sprawling, melancholic, upbeat, danceable, anthemic, understated, sad, and angry piece of work.  With still more to discover in the morning after, I am more likely to stay in Pete’s complex world a little longer and forgo the next party.

JS

WINNER: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (1 point)

BATTLE TALLY

80s: 4

90s: 1

EARNED POINTS
80s: 4
90s: 1

Next week’s battle  –  #45: Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation (1988) vs. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)