The curious thing about Peter Gabriel fronting one of the most – okay, we’ll say it – pretentious prog rock bands of the acid-hazed British 1970s, was that once punk came storming through to destroy everything that prog stood for, the by-then-former Genesis frontman has decisively come down on their side.
And like many of the best punks, he spent the ’80s scratching his way towards mainstream respectability. Which is something that was achieved to spectacular effect with his 1986 album So, going on to sell as it did more than 5 million copies.
A paradigm of his wordsmithing genius was the massive hit single “Sledgehammer,” rife as it was with many layered lyrical metaphors. “You could have an aeroplane flying / If you bring your blue sky back.” Uh huh.
Yet Gabriel was also the most ardent of visualists – and the accompanying video, directed by Stephen R. Johnson, was a decisively new archetype, combining the zeitgeisty claymation of the time with the ultra-jittery editing style of the new MTV generation (it won nine MTV Video Awards in 1987).
“No-one expected it to do quite what it did,” Gabriel says now. “I think we knew that it was very fresh, and that mix of handmade with its imperfections, when everything else was getting smoothed out and digitized, really made it stand out.”
Now the video has been remastered by the team at Aardman (the Bristol-based geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit), in high definition 4K – premiering today on Apple Music.
“One of the things we love about ‘Sledgehammer’ is that it did have that slightly rough edge,” explains Aardman co-founder David Sproxton. “CGI was just coming in, so we were seeing some quite slick stuff coming out – and this video had a different feel, a different roughness and a kind of magic to it.”
Indeed. Watch the remastered video here.