Peter Gabriel's second solo album received lukewarm reviews when it was released in 1978, and continues to get something of a bad rap from fans to this day. Nicknamed SCRATCH after its wonderful cover art, much of the negativity surrounding the album arises from the change in sound from PETER GABRIEL 1 to PETER GABRIEL 2. On PETER GABRIEL 2, Robert Fripp signed on as producer; Fripp was previously the guitarist in the legendary prog-rock band King Crimson. Fripp claimed that his intent was to make Gabriel sound "less American" - what made Fripp think that Gabriel's music sounded "American" is beyond me - and to do so, he cut Gabriel's recording time down to six weeks (a miniscule amount of time for Peter Gabriel, who is known for taking his time in the recording studio). Fripp also pointed Gabriel in a less experimental and more safe direction, although Gabriel fans know that he has never played it safe. The result was a relatively unsuccessful release that Gabriel calls his least favorite of his solo albums. But despite all the bad buzz surrounding PETER GABRIEL 2, many fans are now coming to appreciate the album, and in my opinion, rightfully so.
There aren't as many stand-out songs on PETER GABRIEL 2 as there was on Gabriel's first album, which housed such greats as "Moribund the Burgermeister" and "Solsbury Hill". The greatest songs on the album are the pushy opener, "On the Air", and "D.I.Y.", one of Gabriel's best songs ever. Contrary to what some people would leave you to believe, these aren't the only good songs on the album; in fact, there are plenty of other great songs on the album, such as "White Shadow", the sweet "Indigo", and the dark "Exposure". As a whole, the sound of the album is more consistent than that of PETER GABRIEL 1, but the arrangement of the songs is less consistent. While CAR explored many different styles, SCRATCH never strays far from safe pop-rock. For any other artist as experimentally-inclined as Peter Gabriel, this would be a major problem, but Gabriel deals with it remarkably well. Still, the individual songs lack the punch of those on 1, though the album seems to work better as a whole.
The biggest thing that throws people off of the album is the change in the overall sound of the album from that of Gabriel's first release. The music here sounds far less full and feels as cold as a winter breeze. There's far more synthesizers. The bass has adopted a sort of dour, amused tone. Roy Bittan, Bruce Springsteen's keyboardist, shows up to liven things up a bit, and does a very nice job. Sidney McGinnis plays the guitar parts, which range in sound from being very down-to-earth to far off into space. It seems to me that Robert Fripp was trying to make Gabriel a big pop star rather than just letting him be Peter Gabriel. This is where the fans are divided: some say that Fripp completely took over the project and used Gabriel as a puppet, while others say that Fripp tried to mold Gabriel into a pop star and Gabriel resisted by adapting to Fripp's suggested sound and playing with it. I'm with the latter. I think Gabriel did remarkably well with his "new sound".
Part of what's so fascinating to me about this album is how, like all of Gabriel's self-titled solo releases, it is completely unique. It never really sounds like anything on PETER GABRIEL 1, and it gives no hint whatsoever about what was to come on Gabriel's subsequent release, which wound up being his greatest album ever. Much of the charm of PETER GABRIEL 2 comes from the fact that it's completely unlike anything else that Gabriel ever recorded.
So all in all, how good - or bad - is PETER GABRIEL 2? Let me just say that the saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" really applies here. Some people'll love it and call it a sensation, while others'll call it a mediocre follow-up to Gabriel's wonderful debut. Either way, it's not to be ignored. Give it a spin and see what you think. In my opinion, it's an excellent album, and it deserves a spot amongst Gabriel's other four stellar self-titled releases. All in all, a highly-underrated effort from one of the most talented musicians of the twentieth century if not of all time.