I’m not sure how to tackle this review. If you are familiar with Peter Gabriel’s music, you have some idea what to expect, but not the full picture. To give you a little context, I have been a big fan of Peter Gabriel for the majority of my life. Even if you are unfamiliar with most of Gabriel’s music, you have likely heard some of his biggest hits. Songs like “Sledgehammer”, “Big Time”, “Mercy Street”, and Solsbury Hill” are nearly ubiquitous in popular culture.
So, his classic 1986 album is one of the perfect pop records of all time, effortlessly blending a myriad of styles and genres. And for my money, “In Your Eyes” is as good of a song as has ever been written and recorded. While Peter Gabriel is not a believer from what I can find, he is deeply concerned with spirituality and truth. For those who have ears to hear, there is much to be gleaned from his music.
It might feel strange for me to tackle his much less revered 2002 album instead of some of his other more successful works. With that said, I have heard very few albums that hit me emotionally as hard as this one. Peter Gabriel created something layered, textured, and rich with Up. More importantly, he created something real and challenging.
The music ranges from aggressive to contemplative in the matter of seconds. One moment the songs rage, the next moment they feel as if a gentle breeze would cause the whole thing to collapse. This is an album to experience, to feel. With songs ranging from dealing with the death of a loved one, to the miracle of birth, he builds his themes of life, death, fear and hope.
I could go into great detail about every song, but I don’t think that would do justice to the album. This is not an album to pick and choose songs, independent of what has come before or what will follow. It is meant to be heard together, in a particular order.
There are perhaps two songs that are traditional in their structure; (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, etc…) Most of the songs defy any conventions and at times it can be a little overwhelming. He abandons melody at times and simply relies on percussion, electronically produced sounds and vocals to communicate. Other times, the melody is so strong and powerful, that it leaves you floored. He uses instruments from every corner of the globe to achieve his vision bringing in musicians from all over the place to contribute to the songs in unique and satisfying ways.
Stand out songs include “Sky Blue”, “More Than This” and “Signal To Noise”. “I Grieve”, the high point of the album, is one of the most honest and heartfelt explorations of death, grief, and acceptance I’ve heard. It is a perfect representation of Peter Gabriel at his very best.
I would really only consider one song to be weak, “The Barry Williams Show”, and that is simply because it just doesn’t seem like it fits with everything else, not because of its quality. In fact, it sounds more like Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” style than anything else. It takes time to adjust to the new sounds and rhythms of each song. He goes left when you would expect right. He slows the song down just when it seems like it is about to burst. He cranks up the volume and noise just when the song has lulled you into a sense of comfort.
Peter Gabriel has always been an innovator and risk-taker. Above all else, including his incredible ability to craft enchantingly powerful melodies, that aggressive spirit is on full display throughout the album. If you missed this album back in the day, give it a chance, but don’t expect simple, easy to ingest music. This one has to kick up some dirt and get comfortable before you can truly appreciate it.