(Real World Music, 2002)
(Image from Wikipedia)
My affection for Peter Gabriel is no secret. Just about all of my friends have heard me gushing over him at one point or another. He is my favourite vocalist, barnone (though the fight for second place is vicious). It began with listening to his time with Genesis and me loving every second of his performances/lyrics there – the ridiculous theatricality, his scratchy wailings telling stories of ghosts-turned-lecherous-old-men and man-eating plants alike. After exhausting the quite small discography of Gabriel-era Genesis, I turned to his solo stuff. Though it took getting over a couple of speed bumps, I slowly made my way through chronologically, having a lot of affection for his first four albums and So. And there it stayed, until I saw the man himself in concert.
It was the Back to Front tour, on which he played the entirety of So, his smash-hit album. He also played, however, several tracks off of Us, the following album, which I had been reluctant to check out based on the brief bits I’d heard. Needless to say, I picked Us up the day afterwards and was summarily blown away. This was textured, mature and rhythmically rich. It was finally the right time for Us. Obviously, now, it was inevitable that I finish the remainder of his solo studio discography (he has several collaborative projects, but solo albums take precedent), which consists solely of Up. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Us was quiet, often times slow and subtle. It was contained, underground, intimate (with tracks like “Secret World”, “Digging in the Dirt” and “Only Us”). Up lifts the lid right off and lets the thunder out. “Darkness” begins the album with a slow, quiet rhythm, making us lean in and gets ready for another album of the kind we enjoyed with Us. One moment later, you’ve tumbled backwards and trying to pick yourself up after an offensive, squealing blast of noise assaults you for a moment. The pieces are then picked up by the drums which shock and rock their way through the track, shuddering and shaking under the sheer force of their own impact (which is picked up again in “My Head Sounds Like That” and “Signal to Noise”), smashing away at the threatening, plodding rhythm. Gabriel whispers to you, in the sinister way that he used to warn you on “Intruder”, while in the background, he screams intermittently with heavy fuzz.
Not every track screams as the first one does upfront, but the noise is allowed to gather and pulse and scream as it will, belying much of the seemingly calm demeanor at the outset. Every track on this album (with the exception of the 3-minute “The Drop” which concludes the album) is in between 6 and 8 minutes, and each one is given time to stretch out and mutate into something else as it goes on – many of them sounding like the serenity of Us and then slowly morphing via scraping, noodlings and histrionics into something entirely different by the end (“My Head Sounds Like That”, “More Than This”, “Signal to Noise”). “Sky Blue” is the only one that manages to keep its calm, with its choruses of plaintive vocals and contemplative pace. This is less a bed for Gabriel’s vocals to lie upon than it is an interactivity between the two. His (still impeccable) vocals are front and center for much of the time, roiling over internal woes, often stacked on top of one another, but always at great interplay with the rest of the track.
I thought was originally going to be a collection of sedate, sad-sounding songs (my indication being his recent Scratch My Back which was his rendition of several covers done with an orchestra, which all sounded rather gloomy), but I am very glad to be wrong. This is a lively, engaging listen, firing on all cylinders. All the best bits of Gabriel are on display here – sinister chords changes, incredible percussion, interesting tones, passionate vocals and songs with multiple but logical sections. Each one has had a great deal of care put into it, and it’s plain to see. And, clocking in at over an hour, there’s lots of it!