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"Intruder come and leave his mark"

Class C

Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Mood Music, Smart Pop, Singer-Songwriters
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




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It's a rare case, as you might have noticed, when I give a solo artist the same rating as the one of his major 'ex'-band. But truthfully, my love for Genesis (and yes, Genesis is one of my two favourite prog rock bands of all time, with Jethro Tull as the second one) is mostly due to Peter - whatever they may say, it was Peter who was the face, the soul and the heart of this band for most of its glory years, and they have never been as good without him (okay, A Trick Of The Tail is a wonderful album, but for goodness' sake, it's only one album!) His poetic imagery, surrealistic and at the same time grounded in old British fairy tale tradition and often containing a good deal of humorous social critique, defined their whole schtick, and after all, he did have a big hand in creating their melodies after all.

The problem is that those who hope to find a sequel to Genesis in Peter's solo career will be hugely disappointed (not to mention those, of course, who'll be interested in checking out Gabriel's Genesis albums after being exposed to his musical output of the past twenty years - a situation that's much more close to the real thing). Since his departure, Peter has released about ten albums, and, while there can still be found traces of an old Genesis sound on the first two ones, it sometimes seems to me that he's been intentionally alienating himself from his past all this time. Already on the very first of his albums it is obvious that he's trying to adjust himself to any new style possible, as long as it doesn't have anything to do with his status as a 'theatrical minstrel', and since then he's steadily moved into a dark, creepy, almost Freudian direction, assimilating world beats and electronic music on the way. If you need an example, take 'The Musical Box' and 'Shock The Monkey' to see how far Peter has evolutionized over the years.

Not that this is a bad thing. For me, Gabriel's best work was, and will always be, with Genesis - he has never made up an album better than Selling England By The Pound. But even so, Peter has turned out to be an absolute miracle over the years. For instance, I have never heard anybody call Gabriel 'an old fart' (unlike Phil Collins). As much as I love the mighty 'dinosaurs', I have also to admit that most of the 'music greats' like McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Townshend, Dylan, Zappa, etc., haven't evolved much since the late Seventies. Their music is rarely formulaic, but since the epoch of punk they have clearly lost their magic wand - having passed the baton over to younger bands, they have either stuck to replicating their old successes or following in the steps of the younger generation, sometimes with good, sometimes with disastrous results.

Peter Gabriel is one major exception. His early Genesis-period music was never truly 'experimental': its main attraction can be said to lie in the fact that Peter was never satisfied with 'conventional' chord patterns, always building his songs around complicated, untrivial structures that even Yes couldn't boast to have mastered; yet he was always able to fill these structures with enough emotional resonance and force to come out with a winner. On leaving Genesis, however, his approach to music has radically changed. He began building songs around rhythms rather than chord sequences - and not your standard disco or techno rhythms that all sound similar, no, around complicated, untrivial rhythms as well, drawing on lots and lots of information. This also explains his interest in 'world music'. Maybe Peter was not the first person to marry rock music to ethnic rhythms, but he's certainly the most consistent and laborious worker in that direction. Together with Robert Fripp and Phil Collins, Peter pioneered the use of the whole 'drum-machine-electronica-pattern' stuff, using it as creatively as nobody ever could, before or after. Not to mention his glorious work on the concept of musical video - he really elevated it to the status of true art, and his videos for such songs as 'Sledgehammer' or 'Steam' have already entered the Gold Archive of musical video, never surpassed by anyone. The man's fantasy and creativity seem to be practically unlimited, and they fully compensate the lack of a feel of melody. Because let's face it, the one problem Peter has always been forced to battle with is that he's not a very talented songwriter or musician. He can hardly play any instruments himself, and his approach to songwriting is known to be a slow, meticulous and analytic one, based not on inspiration, but on a diligent and almost 'technological' patching together of diverse musical segments. Music as we know it - the stuff consisting of notes and tonalities - is not Gabriel's forte. For me, Peter has always been primarily a lyricist, vocalist, psychologist and castle-builder, unsurpassed in any of these skills. This is why it takes many people a lot of time to appreciate his music: if you cannot identify yourself with Peter and his lyrical heroes, or 'get into the mood', there's no way you'll ever get a blast out of the majority of his songs. Some, indeed, are catchy (how can anybody resist 'Steam'?), but most are definitely not. You'll just have to take it as it is.



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Peter is running in all directions, painfully trying to find a style. Hey, what's the matter baby? His style was perfect in the first place!


Track listing: 1) Moribund The Burgermeister; 2) Solsbury Hill; 3) Modern Love; 4) Excuse Me; 5) Humdrum; 6) Slowburn; 7) Waiting For The Big One; 8) Down The Dolce Vita; 9) Here Comes The Flood.

Having taken two years off after the er, umm, 'immeasurable' success of The Lamb and his successive departure from Genesis, Peter suddenly decided to be cool again - right at the peak of the punk era. And no, this album is not punk, it's as 'progressive' as can be. Wait, though! This is where the rub lies! This record, it ain't 'progressive' at all! See, apart from a couple of tracks, it sounds nothing like your classic Genesis, so that I can't even heartily recommend it to Gabriel-era Genesis lovers. On the contrary, it seems like an intentional alienation from the image Peter had sported in his Genesis days - the one of a weird fairy-tale teller. This album has it all - pop, jazz, schlocky balladeering, guitar-driven rock, and bombastic glammy anthems, but there's virtually nothing that would ever remind you of 'Musical Box' or 'The Battle Of Epping Forest'.

Wait, wrong again. I've almost forgotten the two first cuts off the record. Now if you take these off, my previous statement will be a hundred percent true. But stick 'em on and you'll see that the process of getting rid of the Genesis image was not such an easy affair. First of all, the opening 'mini-suite', 'Moribund The Burgermeister', is certainly a worthy successor to all the lambs and ready suppers and wardrobes and suchlike. The best and undeniably the most complex and elaborated piece on the record, it already shows signs of a different Gabriel - the echoey vocals, the booming drums, the overall bombastic arrangements - but the lyrics are pure Genesis, even if somewhat more obscure than usual, and, probably for the last time in his career, he manages to plunge us into thar fairy-tale land again, this time into a medieval city, I presume. While the song's melody is not terribly memorable (less memorable than your average Genesis cut, in fact), it's clever, and his usual vocal tricks (like that spooky voice that keeps repeating 'I Will Find Out!') work perfectly.

And then there's 'Solsbury Hill', of course, probably the closest thing to a hit off this record. Here, the melody is much more simple, based on a simple acoustic pattern, and it also echoes the Genesis spirit - something like 'Seven Stones' comes to mind when you listen to those mystical lyrics, and the final 'paranoid' part is also quite amusing. Funny how the most Genesis-like songs on this album turn out to be the most complex and the most simple one, eh?

But that's it. Here all the Genesis links end and we follow Peter in his new life. 'Modern Love', the third song on the album, sets a new pattern - a pop rocker that, as energetic and funny lyrics-wise as it can be, is still utterly generic and, in the end, forgettable - even in spite of the great Gabriel vocal workout. From here on, we witness Peter mess around with a huge load of styles, some of which he manages to pull off decently, some not. The big problem with Peter is that he's no great musician and/or composer, and I also don't think the dudes in the studio knew particularly well how to fit in his company. So, for every (accidentally) successful cut that ensues you get a complete duffer. Among the latter I count the painfully unconvincing and dullwise produced ballad 'Humdrum' - the fact that it features brilliant lyrics like 'I like tandem with a random/Things don't run the way I planned them' doesn't help much. Likewise, the more 'rockin', anthemic 'Slowburn' turns out to be a dull, ploddering dinosaur with next to no discernible melody at all.

On the positive side, there's the ridiculous Fifties' throwback 'Excuse Me', with its charming, extremely light, almost ragtime rhythm that, among other things, nicely showcases Gabriel's beautiful singing voice (one major complaint about this album, actually, about most Gabriel solo albums, is that he always tends to mask his voice - with echoes, low mixing and everything. A crying shame it is - songs like 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight' truly demonstrate that Peter had, and maybe still has, one of the most distinctive and impressive voices in prog rock). He also tries his forces at what I'd call 'prog-jazz' on the overlong, but not uninteresting 'Waiting For The Big One' that has the best line on the album ('I'm the credit on my credit card', it goes), and lets his guitarist (Steve Hunter, although Robert Fripp is also credited in the notes) underpin 'Down The Dolce Vita' with a steady, rockin' riff that's about the only welcome aspect of this rocker. And as for the closing song, the boomin', bombastic 'Here Comes The Flood', it brings up mixed emotions - I'm not a fan of overblown gospel-style choruses like that one, deemed to stimulate the raisings of millions of hands on stinkin' stadiums as the stoned 'n' silly audience waves back and forth tryin' to keep their lighters afloat. Almost sounds like Queen to me, maybe worse. On the other hand, at least the lyrics are nice - there's no denying that.

But looking back, I'm still more pleased with this album than displeased with it - maybe it all stems from my deep love for Peter Gabriel? I know, I know, you might suspect that I really don't, based on this review, but if you're not convinced, go check my Genesis album reviews. Please! Do it! Peter Gabriel was a nice lad. He just allowed himself to be placed in the hands of studio jerks who managed to ruin a good deal of his ideas.



Year Of Release: 1978

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

More refined, with quite a lot of good stuff over here - this is Peter's 'pop' masterpiece before a radical change of direction.

Best song: ON THE AIR

Track listing: 1) On The Air; 2) D.I.Y.; 3) Mother Of Violence; 4) A Wonderful Day In A One-Way World; 5) White Shadow; 6) Indigo; 7) Animal Magic; 8) Exposure; 9) Flotsam And Jetsam; 10) Perspective; 11) Home Sweet Home.

Actually, this is something in between an 8 and a 9, something like an 8.5 - I still can't define my feelings towards the second side here. Fans call this album 'Scratch', but if you look close enough, you'll notice that the streaks coming from Peter's fingers cannot really be traces of scratching, because in that case he'd have to have his palms turned the other side. To me, this seems more like some kind of lightning coming out of his fingers, which is even a more cool concept. Of course, it's probably scratching nevertheless, just a contradictory one.

In reality, though, this isn't a metaphor - this album doesn't 'scratch' or 'grate' even a single bit, like the previous one. Here, Peter was joined by Robert Fripp, and together they decided to record a slightly more 'normal' record, in that it's no longer such a horrible mix of styles. This seems okay to me - a solid collection of soft piano ballads and loud guitar rockers, with some deviating oddity appearing only at times. This is still very far from the things Peter would start trying out in a few years, but nevertheless, it's still one more step away from Genesis past and in the future. There are almost no more self-references (no 'Solsbury Hill') or medieval fantasies (no 'Moribund'): lyrically, Peter steps onto the tricky path of social critique - almost every song has some anti-society reference to it, starting from the environmentalism of 'On The Air' and ending with the absolute stupidity of modern life on 'Home Sweet Home'. He handles the task with honour, though: most of the lyrics are intriguing and intelligent. Musically, there are still few evidences of the upcoming electronical onslaught: apart from some distracting Frippertronics on a couple of tracks, this is just your standard drums-guitar-piano kind of thing. Even the synths are used sparingly, and this makes it for perhaps Peter's most fresh-sounding album ever - especially if you can't stand all that hi-tech stuff.

Almost every song on the album has something exciting to offer. The one that's the most well-known is, of course, 'On The Air', a bombastic, metallic power-rocker about the advantages of living out of town; even today, it stands as one of the loudest and angriest Gabriel compositions. Fripp does a mammoth job on this one, punching out the rumbling riff and the blistering solos, and my only complaint is that Peter sounds a bit muddy and strained - I actually prefer his vocals on the Plays Live album, even if in general it's a tie because the live version has no Fripp. In fact, the 'vocal' problem is one of the most annoying on the record: much, much too often the production is so murky that I can't hear Peter at all, whereas for me, the clearer the vocals, the better the song (I think I've mentioned in my Genesis reviews that I only felt a true passion for Gabriel after hearing him sing accapella on 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight'). Thus, the production almost ruins the other catchy rocker on the album, 'D.I.Y.': the ingenious ascending guitar riff is an absolute marvel, but dammit, I can't hear what the hell the guy is singing at all! Again, be sure to grab the live album for that...

It gets better on the lighter numbers, though, where the gentle acoustic guitars and piano chords don't mess up the voice. 'Mother Of Violence' may not be gorgeous, but it's very pretty and touching, and hey, what's that accent? 'Znapping her heels, clicking her does...' Is it German or what? It's groovy! And the two other 'gentle' ballads are even better: 'Indigo' deals with the premonition of death, and 'Home Sweet Home' is the definite 'soft' highlight of the album, a charming sounding McCartney-esque ballad where Peter tells a horrible story of dire straits, starvation, and death with a thoroughly unexpected and even dumbfounding ending, all in that sweety-sappy tone of his. It isn't even 'tongue-in-cheek', it's just scary - and leaves a lot of questions to be answered.

And then, of course, there are the 'weird' moments of this record (as if all that previous stuff wasn't weird enough). There's a bit of rhythm experimentation on 'A Wonderful Day In A One Way World', a song with Dylan-influenced lyrics (dealing with a rich man's troubled position on this Earth, it seems) and a silly, but exciting reggae pattern. Personally, I love those twinkling guitar licks on it, and, as far as I know, it's the only time Peter ever flirted with reggae. And there's a gloomy, synth-laden, trippy instrumental jam ('Exposure'), where Peter keeps singing the title through some Vocoder. It's eerie, and presumably predicts some of his later experimentalism on the third album.

Overall, the production on here is really not that strong, like I said, and plus, there are three or four songs that can't really hold their ground against the more 'weighty' numbers: 'Animal Magic' and 'Perspective' are bouncy, upbeat rockers that I enjoy quite a lot while they're playing but really can't remember much when they're over; 'Flotsam And Jetsam' is a piece of charming, but tepid balladeering; and 'White Shadow', with its apocalyptic visionarism and lengthy guitar jam at the end, seems to be Peter's solo version of 'Firth Of Fifth', but it can't help being inferior. I mean, none of these numbers are bad, but they don't have Peter Gabriel's soul etched in them - and when there's no Peter Gabriel soul, he can never get on by technical features alone. So I guess I'll leave an eight here, and, anyway, for some strange reason critics don't like this album at all (the All-Music Guide states it as highly inferior to the debut, a thing I simply can't get), so I consider my treatment of it very fair.



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Pure psychological thrill, plus some dance and some politics - Pete wants to be Roger Waters, Joan Baez and Phil Collins all at once.

Best song: BIKO. Maybe INTRUDER. Maybe none, as it often goes with masterpieces

Track listing: 1) Intruder; 2) No Self Control; 3) Start; 4) I Don't Remember; 5) Family Snapshot; 6) And Through The Wire; 7) Games Without Frontiers; 8) Not One Of Us; 9) Lead A Normal Life; 10) Biko.

'Melt'. Peter's finest hour as a solo artist on this planet. At least, that's how the critics raved about this one, and for once, I have no arguments for the contrary. Dark. Ominous. Innovative. Catchy. Scary. Eerie. Tender and caring. And above all - clever, clever and clever. There are no signs of improvisation or hasty decisions anywhere: everything is meticulously calculated, planned down, pinned down and categorized, in the best tradition of Pink Floyd. That's probably why the closest analogy I could draw is The Wall - only that album, while maybe musically it could score a wee bit higher, was nowhere near as deep, intriguing and hard-hitting. I mean, Roger Waters is a good dude, but in comparison with Gabriel he's, well, much too ordinary, if you get my drift. It's also much easier to get into Waters than into Gabriel, but once you got into Gabriel, Waters can safely fly out the door...

Anyway, let's not get carried away by the analogies. This record features a series of 'firsts' for Peter. Namely, it was the first record on the cover of which he had short hair. It's also the first record where he extensively used drum machines - and in fact, it was one of the first records, if not the first record, with drum machines ever. As far as I know, it boasts the first appearance of cymbal-less drums on an album, pioneered by Peter and Phil Collins who was helping him on the drums at that time. Finally, it's Peter's first real serious 'psycho' album - from now on, his musical identity was shaped by songs like 'Intruder' or 'Family Snapshot', with old fairy tales and curious pop excursions left far behind. Not that the album is indeed as 'spooky' as it is often depicted: I could safely play 'Intruder' in the dark without feeling afraid, and I'm a very jittery person. But somehow, someway, Peter manages to find the right buttons, and he keeps pressing them throughout...

'Intruder' welcomes us into the new, bright, freshly polished planet of Peter Gabriel with defiantly loud, booming drums, unsettling synthesizer grunts and war cries of 'Hey hey hey hey', whereas Peter calmly proceeds to explain to you how he 'knows something about opening windows and doors'. I do not think that the song is about a real burglar (that would be too easy) - it's certainly a metaphor for fear and angst, and it works - the song can chill you to the bone, if you're an impressive type. And how can you forget that beat? But if it's too slow and ominous for you, then on the next one, 'No Self Control', Peter goes for a faster groove, this time impersonating a desperate, fidgety character who doesn't know how to stop - and finally falls into total insanity in 'I Don't Remember', a fast, gurgling, synthesized rocker that's meant to signify paranoia, what with all those murky synth noises and Peter's frantic howling in the beginning.

Paranoia's the main theme on 'Family Snapshot', too - an introspective, piano-drenched 'ballad' about a kid who thinks of himself as attempting to assassinate the president, until he comes to his senses, realizes that he's 'growing up sad' and decides to practice his skills on Mom and Dad instead. I think somebody ought to write a thesis on that song, it deserves it - and, thrilled by the lyrics, I even forget the fact that there's practically no melody at all, just mood and (sometimes) rhythm. But who cares? The lyrics are so intriguing!

And it's not true that the album lacks catchiness at all. 'And Through The Wire', for instance, is a tight, cleverly constructed pop song with a clearly identifiable hook - the way Peter screams that 'and through the wiiiiire' line all the time is certainly impressive. And what about the chorus in 'Games Without Frontieres'? The one where Kate Bush sings backup vocals and she needs to sing 'Jeux sans frontieres' but only manages something which I can only identify as 'She's so funky'? Her French leaves a lot to be desired, of course, but it's still soooo moody. And 'Not One Of Us'? Well, that one's catchy as hell! It seems to be a desperate scream of social protest, only addressed not from the minority to the majority, as is the usual pattern, but from the majority to the minority ('You're not one of us, no, no, not one of us'), and it works, it works, it works! It's a good one! Shucks, there are no bad songs at all on this album. Well, I'm not particularly fond of the nearly instrumental 'Lead A Normal Life', because it leads nowhere (apart from these breathtaking synth burps at the end), but hey, one so-so song on such an album is nothing serious. And in compensation, you get 'Biko', Gabriel's famous political rant about some dead African leader. So famous, in fact, that it was even covered by Joan Baez. I mean, it's no serious compliment, because Joan Baez would probably cover a techno tune if the lyrics dealt with some political protest, but it's intriguing, at least. And the song is really good - in fact, it was Peter's first serious flirtation with the 'world beat' (he even incorporated some tribal chants into the song). It also feels warm and heartfelt, as if he really cared. I know he did, and, in fact, Peter is one of the main musical 'preservationists' in the world, with a serious passion for all the ethnic stuff. I couldn't understand him better. Keep up the good work, Peter! And thanks for this album, one of the best post-Seventies records and evidence enough that rock music wasn't yet fully dead in 1980. Now if only drum machines didn't prove to be such horrendous influences in the end...



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A half-successful attempt at marrying rock with legions of ethnic rhythms. Gee, did this guy share the same philosophy as me?


Track listing: 1) The Rhythm Of The Heat; 2) San Jacinto; 3) I Have The Touch; 4) The Family And The Fishing Net; 5) Shock The Monkey; 6) Lay Your Hands On Me; 7) Wallflower; 8) Kiss Of Life.

By 1980, Gabriel had finally stabilized his musical direction - not for very long, of course, as he'd started moving in a more pop direction on his next album. Still, I wouldn't rank myself among the people who think there's some kind of a sell-out precipice between Security and So. Come to think of it, isn't 'Shock The Monkey' a pop song? And aren't there enough 'world beats' on So? Peter's evolution over time was gradual and rather slow - not 'leapy' (actually, most people's evolution is slow. Even Rod Stewart's!)

Nevertheless, there's something about Security that really, really distinguishes it from among other albums in the Gabriel catalog. If you listen closely, you'll see that almost every song follows its specific formula - which is to take some ethnic rhythm or polyrhythm and build the actual song around it. This is not the first time Peter ever experimented with such kind of things ('Biko' on his third album, for instance, is in the same pattern), but certainly the first time he did it on such a grandiose scale. In this respect, Security is the experimental album of 1982 and one of the most groundbreaking albums of the early Eighties. Not only that - it might be one of the last truly groundbreaking albums in rock as a whole. What Peter was trying to find here is a new prescription, a new direction for rock to follow, by doing quite a simple thing, in fact: taking these rock basics and meshing them with those existent musical styles that haven't yet been married to rock, or have been married to it insufficiently. Add to this Peter's wild behaviour around such suspicious elements as drum machines, and you get a truly interesting album indeed.

Not that I like it that much. In fact, I originally planned on giving it a 7, but time has convinced me to add one point for originality and historical importance. Quite often, it's just your generic tribal music with a modernistic rock arrangement - and that's not necessarily a good thing. Of course, Peter is much too smart to produce a truly embarrassing effort: this album's anything but commercial, even if it did become his best-selling to date. American record company dudes might have attributed this to the presence of a valid album title (although it was still issued as the fourth volume of Peter Gabriel in Britain), but, in my opinion, this is due to the fact that it was mistaken for a fashionable pop album - which it isn't. Songs like 'I Have The Touch' and 'San Jacinto' can be treated as cool, of course, but I don't think they were conceived as such. Plus, there's drum machines! Everybody loved drum machines in the early Eighties (shudder)! Thanks Heaven, Gabriel puts these to good use - apparently, he was taught a few important lessons by Phil Collins during the recording of his previous efforts.

On to the songs, though. Like I said, quite a few of them are indeed tough nuts to crack, but worth it. 'The Rhythm Of The Heat', my favourite here, sounds like it - a pumping, ominous chant that's supposed to reflect a modern man's reaction to the spiritual life of Africa (yeah, right). Maybe it doesn't sound all that entertaining, but it sure sounds quite convincing - especially when Peter reaches the climax by bellowing out the line 'The rhythm has my sooooooouuul!' Plus, the song really picks up steam towards the end, when Peter speeds it up to imitate a real ritual dance or something. 'San Jacinto', on the other side, is built around a rhythm that sounds almost Chinese to me, but is more probably South American; in any way, it's quite mesmerizing. And, where 'Rhythm Of The Heat' is sung from the point of view of a modern man, 'San Jacinto' is sung from the point of view of an Indian who gathers his mystical forces to battle against white man's domination. So it seems to me, in any case, and again, it works - not on an entertaining level, but at least on the philosophical one.

Other standouts include the lengthy 'Family And The Fishing Net', a dreary, apocalyptic tune about nothing in general; it definitely does not merit its seven-minute length, but the way Peter uses those drum machines here is nothing short of genial - something in between a war march and an execution squad ('silence falls the guillotine'). Creepy. And, of course, the hit off this album was 'Shock The Monkey', a fast, upbeat, catchy song with a brilliant use of the trademark Gabriel falsetto (remember 'Steam'?) and fascinating, meaningless lyrics. 'Shock the monkey to live', eh? Who's that monkey, I wonder? Anyway, I don't like it as much as I'm supposed to do, maybe because I'm not such a great fan of dance rhythms and drum machines after all, but I do admit it's a good song. And the other dance number is 'I Have The Touch' - also quite obviously a 'pop' song, and a good one at that. Maybe the most interesting thing about it is the lyrics - Peter introducing himself as an ultra-social type whose favourite time is the rush hour and who never misses a social occasion because 'I have the touch'. Funny, I never imagined Gabriel as a very social type. Not in his Genesis days, at least, but maybe he'd changed.

Unfortunately, the last three songs kinda spoil the fun for me - 'Lay Your Hands On Me' and 'Wallflower' drag, as far as I'm concerned. This is due to the fact that they don't have those kinds of riffs that creep under your skin, like in, say, 'Family And The Fishing Net'. They're just 'mood music', as Mark Prindle calls it, with little to redeem 'em. And, while the album closer 'Kiss Of Life' picks it up again with some wild-style Brazilian pseudo-disco rhythms, it's also the weakest of the experimental tunes because it's the least original and it also gets on my nerves quite a bit. Nevertheless, I leave the 11 rating, simply to stress the album's importance. Because it is important. If 'world music' ever happened to be one of your interests, this is one of the first and most essential records to buy.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Peter shows that he's true to the name of Genesis - this live stuff is performed exceptionally well.

Best song: gngngngngn. Most are quite good

Track listing: 1) The Rhythm Of The Heat; 2) I Have The Touch; 3) Not One Of Us; 4) Family Snapshot; 5) D. I. Y.; 6) The Family And The Fishing Net; 7) Intruder; 8) I Go Swimming; 9) San Jacinto; 10) Solsbury Hill; 11) No Self Control; 12) I Don't Remember; 13) Shock The Monkey; 14) Humdrum; 15) On The Air; 16) Biko.

If there are any gripes to be had with this live record, they're pretty similar to the kind of gripes one might have with live Genesis records (particularly Genesis Live). Peter made himself famous once again by going into the studio and recording rich sound textures and moody, atmospheric, creepy masterpieces that nobody ever did before. But would all these masterpieces sound convincingly in concert? Well, as a matter of fact, they would. The audience noises do spoil some of the fun, for sure, but after a while you get to not noticing them at all. Gabriel's backing band (the only dude I know is bass wiz Tony Levin of King Crimson fame) is superb, and the only thing they can't effectively pull off is when it comes to imitating drum machines: 'The Family And The Fishing Net' suffers a bit as a result, losing its 'war march' elements that made it so scary in the studio version. Nevertheless, these are but minor complaints, and, after all, both Jerry Marotta on drums and David Rhodes on guitar reproduce Peter's music as best they can - well, 'On The Air' cannot boast a Fripp-level guitar solo, for sure, but after all, the song is enjoyable by itself as well. The major complaint is, of course, what the hell was the point of this album but to squeeze out money from fans: the songs really really sound quite similar to the studio versions, only spoilt by audience noises.

The setlist is mainly composed of selections from the last two albums - they do five numbers from Security and a grand total of six from III. The first two, on the other hand, are underrepresented, which is a pity: I, for one, would appreciate hearing 'Moribund The Burgermeister' or, dammit, even 'Excuse Me', instead of the gradually increasing boredom of 'Humdrum'. Even so, the song selection is quite clever: as far as I and My Humble Opinion are concerned, none of the dreck from Security made it on to here - no 'Lay Your Hands On Me' or 'Kiss Of Life', for instance. And, while I'm still getting used to the more complex material from III, it mostly seems okay to me - none of these songs seem to drag particularly. Yes, I mean, some of the darker, creepier numbers like 'Intruder' just cannot be reproduced perfectly fine onstage, but what can you do about that? Nothing. On the other hand, if you're a scary type of person and III used to drive you under the bed, this live album is a great alternate variant for you, because everything is much more cheerful. Even 'Biko'!

Sometimes Peter extends the songs (sometimes he cuts them, though), to have a little audience participation. The performance of 'Shock The Monkey' is exceptional in that respect - this might be the one Gabriel number that's most perfectly suited to being played to a large auditorium. Apparently, it was already a hit at the moment, because the people simply go wild, and chant the 'shock the monkey to life' line throughout. Captivating and magnificent, perhaps some of the best stuff that the wretched Eighties could ever offer to you. The end of the show does indeed seem spectacular: just skip through 'Humdrum' and you'll get 'Shock The Monkey', 'On The Air' and 'Biko', three incendiary performances that stand there as a great climax to the whole show. Hmm, maybe the album is worth something after all... And then, it's nice to hear Peter's live singing - have you by now realized that my main passion for Gabriel is as a vocalist? Be sure to check out this live version of 'San Jacinto' to see just how strong his voice was both in and out of the studio.

Oh yeah. If you're a completist and you're really that upset by the perspective of having to buy a hardly necessary double-CD live album, you'll at least be blessed with one 'extra' song that, as far as I know, still hasn't made it to any of the official studio albums and/or compilations. It's called 'I Go Swimming' and it's a bit odd, at least it doesn't really fit in on this album: it's a bit boogie-woogie in style! It has Peter chanting his 'I go swimming, swimming, I go swimming' line all over the place and it's quite cool - and it's the fastest song on the whole record, and a good relaxation after such eerie numbers as 'Family And The Fishing Net' and 'Intruder'.

Rumour has it that the album suffers from some, er, 'post-gig doctoring', which is apparently an euphemism for 'putting on the public that it's a genuine live album'. In fact, I hate it when people 'doctor' their live albums (unfortunately, a practice that's widely applied by even such great bands as the Stones): I would really prefer to have it all true and raw, mistakes and all. Oh, well. At least I can't tell what exactly is doctored here and what is not. By the way, that Genesis Archive issued recently seems also to have most of its live performances 'doctored', so I'm seriously considering changing my mind about buying it... aw shucks, not that I can ever afford the money in the first place.

Anyway, I was talking about Plays Live, wasn't I? Well, I still give it an exclusively high rating, because it distributes the selections so wisely. In fact, it's as if you had all the best stuff from III (not guaranteed, though, as I haven't yet heard it) and Security in one superb pack, without any downers at all. If only it would have fitted on one CD, it would be a great buy. As it is, you might want to invest in the studio albums instead, but be sure to grab this one, too.



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

One of Pete's first soundtracks and possibly one of his best, too. Even if not much of the music is original.


Track listing: 1) At Night; 2) Floating Dogs; 3) Quiet And Alone; 4) Close Up; 5) Slow Water; 6) Dressing The Wound; 7) Birdy's Flight; 8) Slow Marimbas; 9) The Heat; 10) Sketchpad With Trumpet And Voice; 11) Under Lock And Key; 12) Powerhouse At The Foot Of The Mountain.

Don't worry, that's not Peter on the cover. It's Matthew Modine, the main character of Birdy - an Alan Parker movie about a Vietnam veteran who goes batty in the literal sense - that is, imagines that he's a bird and tries to fly. All that stuff. I haven't seen the movie and I don't know if it's your typical anti-Vietnam stuff, you know, war's influence on people's mind and all, or if its meaning is somewhat more philosophical. Maybe someday I will. Today, though, all I have is this little CD with the soundtrack to the movie, all of it written and arranged by Peter Gabriel.

Not that Peter wrote a lot of stuff for the movie. The liner notes warn the potential buyer in a noble way that 'This record contains recycled material and no lyrics'. Not all the material is really recycled, but Peter did use some of his older stuff: 'San Jacinto', 'Rhythm Of The Heat', 'Wallflower', 'Not One Of Us' and even 'Family Snapshot' are all reprised here. Overall, Birdy still explores Peter's newly-found love for world beats and electronic gadgets; it's not as 'outside' or 'ambient' as would be the norm for his next (and better known) soundtrack, Passion, but most of this is still kinda weird. Dark, spooky and mysterious, just the kind of atmosphere you'd expect from such a psycho movie.

Out of the older tunes, 'The Heat' (reworked from 'Rhythm Of The Heat') is the easiest to recognize - it takes the melody without any major deviations from the arrangement. The other bits and pieces, however, are seriously reworked, or else Peter just emphasizes your attention on bits you wouldn't remember. I'd never acknowledge, for instance, that 'Powerhouse At The Foot Of The Mountain' is indeed taken from 'San Jacinto' - somehow, that tune is always associated with the pretty wind chimes and the powerful scream 'I hold the line - San Jacinto!', not with the dreary, uncomfortable synth growls and backwards guitars that encumber the Birdy track. But yeah, I did relisten to 'San Jacinto' and it does indeed feature that slow, moody coda - remember it? It's been revitalized, expanded and rearranged, but it's 'San Jacinto', all right... 'Under Lock And Key' is 'Wallflower' in disguise, with more emphasis on the pretty flute playing, and 'Birdy's Flight', the album's centerpiece, claims that it's 'Not One Of Us', but that's a bit of an exaggeration.

In any case, while these tunes are all good (how could they not be? they're all reworks of classics, except for 'Wallflower'), the real reason to acquire this album, if you need one, are the originals. There are at least three instrumentals here that gotta rank along with Pete's best work, and my guess is nobody's really heard 'em unless he has a passion for films about flying. First, there's 'Floating Dogs'. Maybe I just like the title so much - you know, it's fun to imagine floating dogs. But the melody on there is very powerful, building up from an atmospheric synthfest to a mighty drum-machine-powered rocker. The dog must have been an Olympic champion in floating, I presume. 'Quiet And Alone', on the other hand, is just spooky... that Gabriel dude really went in for the exploration of the darkest corners in the man's soul (I suppose this is his primary distinction from, say, Brian Eno, who mainly explores bright corners), that's why making the soundtrack to such a disturbing film was right up his alley. The recorders sound positively scary on that track, especially when they're mixed in with the thunderous synth sounds.

But my personal favourite here is 'Slow Marimbas', a hallucinogenous Eastern-ish instrumental with, sure enough, the main accent placed on slow marimbas as they beat out an enthralling primal rhythm while the 'ambient-flavoured' synths remind us we're not in the primal world anymore - man, it's the nineteen-eighties, after all. The fact that the instrumental is deadly repetitive just doesn't bother me at all, this stuff is supposed to be repetitive; and then again, if you pay enough attention, you'll notice that the synths slowly build up, throwing at least several crescendos of sound on your ears. And the minimalistic melody that gets repeated several times near the end is simply God-like. But take some advice from me - don't forget the headphones.

I still wouldn't give this more than a seven (a ten for an overall rating), but keep in mind that a seven is incredibly high for a soundtrack of 'recycled music with no lyrics'. In any case, everything on here is perfectly adequate. A couple tracks do tend to limp along lifelessly ('Slow Water and 'Dressing The Wound' do jack for me, and personally, I find the 'Sketch Pad With Trumpet And Voice' incredibly annoying; I'd rather the album be fully instrumental, with Pete shutting his trap for the whole duration), but that's not a huge complaint. And no, don't take me for a diehard: I do recommend this for diehards, but casual fans need not bother. What do you want from me? It's a soundtrack. It's a decent soundtrack. It's a decent soundtrack that probably fits the film perfectly. Maybe you should go see the movie instead? Why not? Maybe I should just shut up, since I have nothing else to say.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

The famous 'sell-out'. There's more to it, but overall, well... 'smells like Payola', they say. A little.

Best song: RED RAIN

Track listing: 1) Red Rain; 2) Sledgehammer; 3) Don't Give Up; 4) That Voice Again; 5) In Your Eyes; 6) Mercy Street; 7) Big Time; 8) We Do What We're Told; 9) This Is The Picture.

The album that polarizes Peter Gabriel fans. Some, indeed, regard this as a totally unashamed sellout - and they're right, since the album made Peter commercially big by sacrificing a large portion of his famous 'wierdness' and experimentalism in favour of a more accessible, Eighties-pop style. On the other hand, some protest violently, saying that this is nothing more than yet another change of direction, and there's plenty of the usual wierdness and 'style' to be found. They're right, too. Now let's try and take an objective, unbiased view at the picture - and I don't care whether you've been thrilled by 'Sledgehammer' and 'Big Time' in your childhood or you're just sick of them and can't stand them any more. I'm neither, so I'm the judge here!

What's certain is that this time around, Peter (or his record company, or his record producer, Daniel Lanois, or whoever, including God Almighty) was interested in making the album break through the commercial pressure and competition at all cost. Considering the fact that this desire coincided with the occurrence of the year 1986, the worst year ever in the musical business, at least for older groups and artists, it was maybe not a very wise decision to do. Thanks Heaven, it worked, and Peter managed to get away with making his album more commercial and yet, not as thoroughly embarrassing as, say, Paul McCartney or Eric Clapton or Elton John or, again, whoever. Nevertheless, it is embarrassing, and, while in general this record is tolerable, for me this is unquestionably the worst studio output of Peter's entire career. A mid-Eighties album, drenched in drum machines, moody 'heavenly' synths taken freshly off the hundred and twentieth volume of 'Romantic Collection', love songs and Kate Bush vocals; this kind of stuff could only be saved by clever melodies, artistic sincerity and a fresh, innovative approach to at least some of the material. Unfortunately, Peter was never a strong melodist - and when he was, he was the master of complicated, twisted, witty musical structures. He couldn't write a truly catchy pop song to save his life, or, at least, he never wanted to write a truly catchy pop song. I'm pretty sure he could, but his idea was always to mess things up, make them less accessible, suitable for the 'chosen' to endure (please don't tell me that any of his pre-1986 albums, solo or Genesis, are destined for a mass auditorium). Here, he's kinda trying to balance between two chairs - write a song that would be super-duper-intelligent and popularly accessible at once, and the effort is failed, overall. The time had not yet come - he would repeat the effort eight years later, on Us, to a much more convincing effect.

Some of the songs here, in fact, are totally offensive - how can anyone really appreciate the horrendous vocal duet with Kate Bush on 'Don't Give Up' is way beyond me. I mean, what's the line separating this song from contemporary sappy Phil Collins ballads? It simply doesn't exist! A melody that balances on the primitive, Kate's sickeningly sweet vocals blurting up banal lyrics, and above all, those crappy 'angelic' synthesizers that make my head ache. The worst song Peter ever recorded - without any doubt. I'm pretty sure of that just because there is simply no question for me that it's terrible, a song that's probably good to make love to but nothing else. Yyyuck, I specially bothered to decrease the record's rating one point for that nightmare.

Likewise, I'm not a big fan of 'That Voice Again' and 'In Your Eyes' (one of the biggest hits on here). For my money, there's nothing about these songs that makes them worth special listening - the melodies are simply not there, and the lyrics suck. They're not dark, they're not experimental, they don't rock, they just drag and drag and drag in the most banal way possible. 'Mercy Street' is a wee bit better: it has that creepy, ominous aura around it, the one that reminds me of some of the best stuff on Security, but it's still simply mood music, never reaching the primal magic heights of 'Rhythm Of The Heat' or 'San Jacinto'. Most of the time, it puts me to sleep, but when I'm strong enough to endure it, I actually think of it as a work of art - more than I could say about the previously mentioned three songs. And, of course, there's 'Big Time' - a little bit of surrealistic imagery (best lyrics on the album) set to a driving, electronic, but still guitar-filled beat. It's pretty toothless, for sure, but at least it has drive.

So... whatever the hell does this album get its six for? Four songs. First of all, there's 'Sledgehammer'. Whatever ever be, may be, will be, should be or could be, 'Sledgehammer' is one hell of a great pop song - and it's based around a guitar rhythm track, after all. And that wonderful brass! Not to mention, of course, the video for the song, possibly one of the five or six greatest videos ever (number one is 'Steam', of course). Yeah, I know the song's been overplayed, but I don't listen to the radio, so that's all right by me, moreover, I never consider the argument of 'being overplayed' valid at all - it's stupid. Worse, of course, is the fact that your ordinary music listeners usually associate Peter with that song, but let's leave that on the conscience of these poor, limited music listeners.

Next, there's 'Red Rain'. Moody, scary, even dreary, with strange, apocalyptic lyrics, it opens the album on a completely deceptive note - no other song lives to its potential and emotional strength, I mean, real emotional strength. The ending is dang hypnotic - it's particularly great to listen to this in headphones with the volume turned up loud, with Peter almost whispering in your ear about how red rain is falling down. And then, of course, as an odd appendix come the two last tracks - the only true experiments on the whole record, carefully hidden at the very end so as not to distract the casual listener. The nearly-instrumental 'We Do What We're Told' is very suggestive, whatever it means to you, and 'This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)' is just weird, weird, weird... not a pop song at all, rather a large, exciting question mark. But these two songs just don't fit with the general mood at all. You either love all the rest or you get your kicks from 'excellent birds'. Or, well, do what you want, do what you will, but this is dang just a damn just a helluva normal album for Peter Gabriel. Just look at the cover! It's got a name, for Chrissake, for the first time in ten years (Security was just the American title corresponding to the nameless British release). And Peter is not melting on the cover, or scratching us, or peeping out of a car, or anything, just staring at us blandly in a cool black shirt. What the heck is that?



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A soundtrack. That's what it is. As a soundtrack, it's great. But I just don't buy that much into soundtracks.

Best song: oh if there only was one...

Track listing: 1) The Feeling Begins; 2) Gethsemane; 3) Of These, Hope; 4) Lazarus Raised; 5) Of These, Hope - Reprise; 6) In Doubt; 7) A Different Drum; 8) Zaar; 9) Troubled; 10) Open; 11) Before Night Falls; 12) With This Love; 13) Sandstorm; 14) Stigmata; 15) Passion; 16) With This Love - Choir; 17) Wall Of Breath; 18) The Promise Of Shadows; 19) Disturbed; 20) It Is Accomplished; 21) Bread And Wine.

In between 1986 and 1992, Peter did pretty little in the way of deep musical creativity - he probably was thinking of a way in which he could pacify both the weird experimentalist and the pop cheesemeister inside him. Along the way, though, he agreed to make the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation Of Christ - a film presenting Jesus from a, ahem, rather non-traditional point of view. I know this because I've actually seen this film on TV - preceded by a fierce bloody battle with the Orthodox Church that's recently started to rear its ugly aggressive head in Russia (I have nothing against the Orthodox Church or any Church in particular, but what about freedom of speech and religion, eh?) Thankfully, they did finally show the movie, and, frankly speaking, it's pretty dull, not to mention that there's really nothing particularly blasphemous there. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware that the soundtrack was by Peter, or I should have paid more attention to it back then. Now, however, it's rather hard for me to identify the exact tracks with the exact episodes of the movie, but anyway, this is hardly necessary.

People often describe the soundtrack as 'stupendous', 'spectacular', 'marvelous', etc., etc., but keep in mind that this is no simple dance music and no 'normal' balladeering or anything like that! Twenty tracks, every one of them instrumental, every one sounding quite close to the previous one, and going on for more than an hour - this is, indeed, enough to try anybody's patience. As a 'soundtrack', however, it is supposed to be working, and probably does. Problem is, I'm not quite sure as to what make of it. No need to say that this music makes a perfect choice for putting on when you're not planning to listen to it carefully (this probably explains why I have never encountered a review of this album that exceeded the limit of two or three sentences - people are just unable to go through it track by track); plus, I heard somebody mention that this is the best album to make love to. To me, this is not a compliment, but you might try...

This stuff is, I guess, what clever people might call 'ambient' - influenced by Brian Eno and his followers. For more ravings and rants on 'ambient', please consult my Brian Eno page; here, just to put it short, I'll remind you that 'ambient' music is 'mood' music taken to the extreme - as I put it; which means there are simply no melodies at all, but a lot of noodling with synths and special effects and such-like... aw, come on, you probably know it better than me. Sometimes such music is beautiful, sometimes it is not. This here music is not exactly beautiful (maybe a couple of tracks like 'Of These, Hope' are), but quite weird and well worth getting used to. Basically, Gabriel dumps all the pop extremities of So (thank God) and returns back to the vibe of Security. This means that most of the tunes are constructed of various disjointed elements of World Music, used by Peter as a basis for his modernistic techniques - synths, drum machines, etc. In fact, rumours have it that there exists a record called Passion: Sources or whatever, that collects most of the original ethnic melodies 'butchered' by Gabriel; I'm not particularly interested, but diehard fans interested in the development of Gabriel's musical vision might want to check it out. See how many melodies the man has stolen, right? Ha ha! No, no, joking, of course - he just borrowed them. He was doing rock music a favour, in fact.

So, really, it all comes on like this: first, the synths step in with some moody, atmospheric backing, then some Middle Eastern rhythm comes dancing or chanting in, and then, all of a sudden, some stupid drum machine comes and bashes out a seemingly incoherent rhythm on you! Which is sometimes quite all right, though (I think that this trick works amazingly well in 'Troubled').

The vocals are completely missing - unless you count some tribal chanting on some of the tracks, or the hard-to-understand mumble on 'A Different Drum' (I don't know whether it's Gabriel or not). This makes it sometimes really hard to distinguish one track from another, especially since most of them are rather short, from two to four minutes. Only the title track runs for seven minutes, and it's not very distinguishable. But what the hell? It's not only impossible to say which tracks here are the best and which are the worst, it's useless to even try, because Peter doesn't stray too far away from the formula described above. In brief: you will either be moved to tears, or lulled to sleep. Maybe both. Me, the harsh and evil-hearted reviewer, I'm neither, but I still say it's a good album, though who knows? perhaps this stuff was more appropriate in the movie, after all. Now if only they'd shown this on Russian TV again...



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Artistic integrity combined with pop sensibility. In other words, a bunch of really fucked-up dance ditties...

Best song: STEAM

Track listing: 1) Come Talk To Me; 2) Love To Be Loved; 3) Blood Of Eden; 4) Steam; 5) Only Us; 6) Washing Of The Water; 7) Digging In The Dirt; 8) Fourteen Black Paintings; 9) Kiss That Frog; 10) Secret World.

Yeah, Peter hadn't been releasing any new studio albums, Passion soundtrack excluded, for eight years - and it's up to you to decide whether the break was for good or for worse. In any case, Us definitely seems to continue the line of So, with quite a few arguments to back up the proposition. First, its title is a two-letter word, and that already says something. (Apparently, Pete thought he'd settle on two-word letters since the record companies disapproved of his not naming records at all). Second, it's nowhere near as 'experimental' as his early Eighties' stuff: either he just wasn't interested, or he decided that he'd already given the world every innovation he could innovate and now was his turn to relax. Third, quite a bit of the songs have the same kind of soft, cheesy modern pop arrangements that they had on So. Fourth, some of the players are the same. And so on, and so on, you get my drift, anyway. But no, you probably don't. You'll want to shout and scream: 'hey, why the hell did So get a six then and this one gets a nine?'

In response to this hell of a question, I'll say: get up your asses and play these two albums back to back! They sound identic, and yet, at the same time, they sound nothing like each other. Us is, unquestionably, a million times more mature - a million times more mature in every possible way. The lyrics are more introspective, more Gabriel-style (which is, enigmatic), and there are absolutely no banal lyrical throwaways like 'Don't Give Up'. The melodies are more complicated, too: just compare 'Steam' to 'Sledgehammer' and see how far Peter had progressed in the pop genre. What's even more important, these melodies are moody: I mean, real moody! They don't rely so much on 'heavenly' synth tones that remind me of L.A. soap operas; instead, Gabriel goes for more 'world beats', employing tricky percussion beats and bits of ethnic chants all over the place. In other words, you can easily think of this album as a cross between So and Passion, and, in fact, at least one of the songs, the fillerish 'Fourteen Black Paintings', sounds like an outtake from the latter with a later vocals overdub. I must say he overdid the trick here - the song's a bit too lethargic even for my tastes. I mean, the whole Passion sounds lethargic, but it's supposed to, right? While 'Fourteen Black Paintings' sounds pretty weird and out of place wedged in between the dancey 'Digging In The Dirt' and 'Kiss That Frog'.

Apart from that one, though, and a couple more slow slow slow songs that you're not guaranteed to enjoy if you were ever to agree with me a bit about So (like, I'm not quite fond of 'Love To Be Loved' and the mantraic, Eastern-influenced 'Only Us' whose grumbly guitar tone just doesn't fit in with the rest of the instruments) the album is top-notch. Peter sounds as full of emotions as he'd never been before: 'Come Talk To Me' has him pleading and laying bare his soul amidst a swirl of bizarre rhythms and various mood-setting gimmicks; 'Blood Of Eden' is a beautiful, resplendent 'epic' on the nature of love, albeit slightly spoiled with the corny female backup vocals; and 'Secret World' - again dedicated to the problems of mutual feeling - is really cool in a special way: Peter sounds like an old, bearded philosopher, a little shaky and tired of life, perhaps, kinda like he's making a special testament for the newer generation... 'what was it we were thinking of?' If Gabriel never makes a new album, this is going to be a fine 'swan song'. Actually, in this case I'd even forget the fact that it 'overstays its welcome', as some say: for a career-closing epic, seven minutes is not really that much. Oh, and I heartily welcome the streak of 'country' (???) that is introduced by 'Washing Of The Water'; as usual, Pete takes a somewhat strange approach to the genre (slowing the song down to the point of absurdity, for one), but somehow it works, if only for the bizarreness of the tune.

My main fascination with the record, however, lies with the faster songs. 'Kiss That Frog', probably inspired by Peter playing a little King's Quest IV (or re-reading a fairy tale in between the sessions), is simply funny: I love the sneering lyrics, and the song bounces along with them pretty well. 'Digging In The Dirt' is a much more important song, and a much more complicated one (was it four different melodies or what?) It's also kinda scary - the main riff is so spooky you'd think it's gonna be Satanic or something, but the chorus, by contrast, is quite gentle and loving, albeit not without a dark mood to itself. My favourite part, though, is where Pete goes berserk and starts shouting, 'this time you've gone too far - Itoldyaitoldyaitoldyaitoldya!' And the video ruled, too.

Hey now, but I'm coming close to the tastiest moment so far - the biggest hit was 'Steam', and in my humble opinion, it's one of the greatest songs of the Nineties - no bull. I remember seeing the awesome video for it, stuffed in among various crap that I can't even remember the names of, and being totally struck with it - it's still one of my favourite musical videos of all time. But to hell with the video, this is one heck of a terrific song! First, there's the funky bassline - it simply can't be beat, it eats up into your mind like yeah yeah yeah (kudos to Tony Levin for that one). Then there's Peter, of course, and the way he conducts the song through several different grooves - including the hilarious chorus with that breathtaking falsetto 'Get a laaaaaaaaife with the dreamer's dream!' and an echoey rap section. And then there are the screeching guitar licks, the steady percussion, the jerky lyrics and the quirky allegories ('you know your culture from the trash/you know your plastic from your cash'). And the video, of course. Quintessential song of the Nineties? Ah dammit - it could be! Heck, it's now coming close to my favourite Gabriel song!

A cool, cool album, this one. Maybe the lyrics are the most essential part of it, but the mood is right, too. The drum loops get on my nerves sometimes, but that's about all I can twirl my nose about if it's general problems I'm speakin' of. On the other hand, in my eyes Us restores my faith in Peter which could have certainly been shattered after So - if it weren't, of course, for the fact that I heard Us first. Or maybe it's just 'Steam'. You know - get a life with the dreamer's dream?



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

More live stuff, according to the formula 'one live is worth two studio...'

Best song: STEAM (surprised?)

Track listing: 1) Come Talk To Me; 2) Steam; 3) Across The River; 4) Slow Marimbas; 5) Shaking The Tree; 6) Red Rain; 7) Blood Of Eden; 8) Kiss That Frog; 9) Washing Of The Water; 10) Solsbury Hill; 11) Digging In The Dirt; 12) Sledgehammer; 13) Secret World; 14) Don't Give Up; 15) In Your Eyes.

Yup, another live album. And another double one, grrr, which means you have to shell out a fortune to mostly hear songs you've all heard previously plus a couple rarities which aren't really worth bothering about. Or are they? 'Shaking The Tree' is a cool ethnic shuffle, funny, bouncy and dancey, with 'solo showcasing' of every band member and an amusing vocal delivery from Peter. If you don't get this album, the only way to get it is to acquire the album Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Greats or something like that, and I don't wanna do that cuz I hate hit collections. So the best way to avoid such problems is to grunt and fork out.

Aye, why does Peter need so many live albums? His live shows are definitely great - I have not the least doubt about that, but live albums don't really transfer all the excitement, and, moreover, most of these songs are far better appreciated when not accompanied by audience screams, but I guess I already said that before. The only reason I see for having this album is that you get a chance to get to hear some of his best stuff once more and pretend that you're not just putting on the studio albums one more time (which you might just as well do). Aw, I guess the discussion is pretty much useless. They're just milking the fans again.

Secret World Live is the logical successor to Plays Live - where that one relied on stuff from Peter's first four studio albums, this one mostly draws from So and Us. The recording is rather compact, based on just two shows played in Modena, Italy on November 16th and 17th, 1993, so you might just imagine it's the complete recorded show, and Peter discards all his past stuff in cold blood - just as he easily discarded all of his Genesis stuff on the early solo tours. The one major exception is 'Solsbury Hill', probably done just in order to please the fans. As for the 'rarities', they include the above-mentioned 'Shaking The Tree' (culminating in a strange section where Peter seems to chant something like 'it's your day! woman's day!' which I just don't get; is November 16th Woman's day in Italy?), as well as one nearly-instrumental ambient tune ('Across The River'), played very much in the Passion style, i.e. the most sleep-inducing track on record. He also goes as far as to resuscitate 'Slow Marimbas' from Birdy, but that's hardly interesting to common fans.

Everything else is taken from So and Us, and I'm not wild about the track selection, although it sure could be worse. The renditions of 'Red Rain' and 'Sledgehammer' are faithful to the originals and easily get my applause. However, the record ends with seven minutes of 'Don't Give Up' and eleven minutes of 'In Your Eyes'! Holy shit! These are the crappiest numbers on So, and they constitute an entire half of disc two? Needless to say that the two docked points in the rating have a lot to do with this crime against bad taste. The fact that Kate Bush is being replaced in concert by Paula Cole makes little difference to me; Maria Callas couldn't have had the talent to bring life into the song. And I don't think I could ever force myself to sink into the eleven-minute horror of 'In Your Eyes'; I can only remember a sigh of relief when it was over. Thankfully, now that the record is reviewed, I can justify myself the skipping of the song on every next listen.

Oh well, at least the track selection from Us is significantly better - nothing really offensive. 'Washing Of The Water' seems to lose much of its quiet, subdued countryish charm when played live, but 'Come Talk To Me' (a great way to open the concert) and 'Blood Of Eden' are treated fine. And yupee, all the three fast bouncy singles are here! 'Digging In The Dirt'! 'Kiss That Frog'! 'Steam'! Now you're talking my language, Pete! Speaking of 'Steam', what's the deal with that lengthy atmospheric intro to the song? It wasn't actually there on the original! I still don't know if it fits the song really well, but at least they don't tamper with the song itself, so I can easily tolerate the lethargic intro section.

The natural question is: do I or do I not regret the loss o' my money (==> would I advise you to repeat my mistake?) Lemme answer you in this way: I regret that Pete went ahead and released this album, as it adds next to nothing to his legacy (just like Plays Live does), but, once it's out and in print anyway, I don't really regret forking out my hard-earned pay for it. Dammit, I didn't pay that much, now did I? I also don't know whether the recording was 'doctored' after the gig in any way; I hope not, and anyway, sound technologies have so vastly improved by the Nineties that Peter was probably able to finally achieve every sound effect he thought necessary right there on the stage. Plus, who needs doctoring, when Tony Levin is playing bass in your band? Buy this album if it's right there patting you on the back and there's some money in your pants that's burning a hole through 'em at exactly the same time; if not, save it for something better. Buy 'War And Peace', for instance. Great Russian novel. Tons of fun. Do I actually have to tell you that? Guess not.



Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Pretentious and theoretically boring, but absolutely beautiful if one looks at it from the NEEDED angle.

Best song: FATHER, SON

Track listing: 1) The Story of OVO; 2) Low Light; 3) The Time Of The Turning; 4) The Man Who Loved The Earth/The Hand That Sold Shadows; 5) The Time Of The Turning (Reprise)/The Weavers Reel; 6) Father, Son; 7) The Tower That Ate People; 8) Revenge; 9) White Ashes; 10) Downside-Up; 11) The Nest That Sailed Away; 12) Make Tomorrow.

Let's be frank here: this here review of Peter's latest installment is the ONLY widely positive review of his unhappy project. If by some happy chance it's not, give me the name and address of the critic in question since it's so hard to find a sympathetic soul these days. As you all know, the natural follow-up to Us should have been Up, an album that Peter has been working on for almost a decade by now (and frankly, I'm starting to wonder if it's EVER going to be released - hey, Peter, the world doesn't need you walking in the footsteps of Brian Wilson or Pete Townshend); however, in 1997 he was asked to write a show/musical opera/visual installation/blah blah blah for the London Millennium Dome, and having accepted the proposition, he made this little 'detour'.

OVO is definitely Peter's most ambitious project ever, in certain respects beating out even The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Three years of planning and writing, a cast of thousands, an album with a QuickTime movie to illustrate the proceedings, a ton of notes and special remarks and above all, a huge philosophic concept. In brief, there's this "trinity" idea - OVO tells the story of a fantasy world where three generations succeed each other in a strictly Hegelian way: the father, Theo, represents the natural and healthy 'way of agriculture', his entrepreneurial son Ion is the dirty 'industrializer' who pollutes the world with his inventions that are originally designed to help mankind but ruin it in the end, and finally, OVO, who is the son of Ion's sister, is supposed to represent a 'synthetic' way of living, combining progress with the natural way (at least, that was more or less what Peter said, although the story itself ends with OVO sailing away into the unknown inside a shining floating nest, so who can tell what that kid's really about). In other words, old ideas expressed in a new way.

But down with the concept. The biggest problem, I think, is that the concept really takes away from the music - and the music, as in every respectable concept album, is never connected closely enough to the storyline so that you could feel a strong relationship between the two. Apart from the opening 'rappy' monologue ('The Story Of OVO') which, indeed, tells the story of OVO with all the necessary details, the rest of the album isn't necessarily OVO-related - not any more than 'Lovely Rita' is related to Sgt. Pepper, at least. Or rather, let's put it this way: most of the songs can be thought of as part of the story and you can try to squeeze them within these limits (often failing), but they can also be thought of as individual compositions. And that, I think, is the mistake most critics have made - they tried to concentrate too much on the conceptual side of things. Some complain, therefore, that OVO sounds 'incomplete' and 'laboured' without the visual installation. That is bullshit. It's like saying that the Who's Tommy is incomplete because the album doesn't let us know exactly in what way Tommy became addicted to the game of pinball. Yeah, well, whatever.

Anyway, maybe I am a little bit biased towards this thing. I first listened to it on headphones stuck in my CD player while taking a solitary philosophic rest atop a lonely Crimean hill, and it was such an amazingly beautiful soundtrack to everything that was happening around I fell in love with the record immediately. That said, even now, within my dirty dusty Moscow apartment, the album's charm doesn't dissipate one iota. What must you prepare yourself for? Well, for certain technical disappointments, I'd say. First of all, there's very little of Peter singing on here: guest stars like Paul Buchanan and even the mighty Ritchie Havens occupy most of the microphone spots; not that they suck or anything (I have absolutely no complaints about the singing whatsoever), but, well, some of that stuff could be sung by Peter. It could be. Second, the songs are LONG, and often they're not as much songs as they're ambient-ish sonic landscapes and 'static jams', if you know what I mean, so if you just can't tolerate that kind of thing, well... (Then again, if you can't tolerate that kind of thing, you'd be disgusted with Us as well, so you're probably not reading this review anyway).

But I frankly don't care. At least two of the tracks on here gotta rank as absolute classics. 'Father, Son' might not very well fit in the overall picture - it's a bit too radically different from the rest of this stuff - but it's easily the best introspective ballad Peter ever wrote and a worthy candidate, along with some of John Lennon's songs, for best "parents-children" relationship theme song ever written. Warning: the song can be potentially dangerous to those who recently lost their father. My father, by the grace of God, is still alive, and even I feel like my heart is breaking in two when I listen to Gabriel singing 'father, son, locked as one, in this empty room...' It's even more amazing when you consider the fact that it's one of the simplest, even 'musically trivial', melodies of Peter's...

The second track, of course, is 'Time Of The Turning'. Full of desperation and hope at the same time - the protagonists kinda feel sorry about the passing of the old world yet look with hope towards the new one, it features a magnificent duet between Ritchie Havens and Elizabeth Fraser... actually, when I heard Liz Fraser sing the chorus, I rushed back to the track listing to see if they had actually forgotten to include Kate Bush, she sings SO MUCH in the Kate stylistics (mind you, this was way before I actually got acquainted with the Cocteau Twins). Beautiful singing, too. 'It's the time of the turning and the old world's falling... nothing you can do can stop the next emerging, time of the turning, and we'd better have to say our goodbyes...' Whoever condemns the album apparently forgets about one of the best vocal hooks of the decade! (Which decade, though? That's a question...)

Elsewhere, the tracks aren't as consistently astounding, but they're still good. 'The Story Of OVO' with its detailed rap and goofy 'OVO... OVO' grumbles in between the verses, is kinda funny, and its instrumental reprise ('The Man Who Loved The Earth') gives you a good chance to giggle at all the comic little synth noises that Peter and company dubbed over the basic backing track - hilarious. Cool use of drum machines, too, if you ever needed to hear me saying that about the n'th Peter Gabriel album. 'Low Light' has a beatiful New Age atmosphere all over it. 'The Weavers Reel', believe it or not, incorporates an Eastern-influenced Irish jig (yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but hey, it's not theoretically impossible to imagine such a thing, and kudos to Peter for having imagined it).

Then there's 'The Tower That Ate People' that's pretty creepy and nasty in an almost industrial/Nine Inch Nails kind of way (only much better). I think the album sags a bit towards the end, but the final ten-minute ending number 'Make Tomorrow' is almost too short for me. Again - is it a song of hope or a song of despair? Nobody can combine the two states of mind better than Peter, and when you have such an ambivalent track, it isn't that frightening that it seems to go on forever - the tension lasts throughout, plus there's a slight crescendo if you notice it. And vocal hooks, too. And excellent arrangements throughout. Yup, there's lots of techno and synth-pop and trip-hop elements here, but all proceeded through Peter's creative minds so that the album breathes from every pore.

In short, OVO gave me enough inspiration and hope to look forward to Peter's next offering, and also a good chance to be 'different' and a good pretext to slam professional critics. Not that I did it on purpose - I really really really like this record, and I swear on my head that a proper mood and a sufficient number of listens will cause you to like it, too. Just forget about the visual instalment. Simply dig in the music.



Year Of Release: 2002
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

As usual, strictly for those who allow for the combination "synthesizer + drum machine = catharsis and the like."

Best song: no songs, no best.

Track listing: 1) Jigalong; 2) Stealing The Children; 3) Unlocking The Door; 4) The Tracker; 5) Running To The Rain; 6) On The Map; 7) A Sense Of Home; 8) Go Away Mr Evans; 9) Moodoo's Secret; 10) Gracie's Recapture; 11) Crossing The Salt Pan; 12) The Return; 13) Ngankarrparni (Blue Sky); 14) The Rabbit-Proof Fence; 15) Cloudless.

There's an old joke that goes like this:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because he heard Peter Gabriel was working on another soundtrack!!!

Well, I couldn't make it any funnier than that. In fact, I didn't even try because the subject matter is not funny at all. Imagine yourself separated from your family and kin and sent away to some goddamn faraway boarding-shithouse, all because your culture and heritage was subjectively deemed "inferior" by people actually capable of enforcing their decisions. One thing's for sure - you wouldn't be making up any silly chicken jokes along the way, even if, for some reason, they made part of your cultural heritage.

There was this movie, called Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Philip Noyce, which I actually managed to catch on TV one evening. Its protagonists were three Australian children, taken away from their environment in the early '30s, I think, who managed to escape and get back to their kin by following the infamous 'rabbit-proof fence' for hundreds of miles. Its antagonist was Kenneth Branagh, playing neither Hamlet nor Gilderoy Lockhart but a mean-looking official intent on getting the kids back for their own good. Its level of authenticity, credibility, emotionality, and every other -ity in sight was, I'd say, average, but I did watch it to the very last minute, which is much better than whatever I'd expect from such a movie just by reading the reviews.

Of course, it was only natural to ask the real life equivalent of Spiderman, Peter "Been There, Done That" Gabriel to provide the musical accompaniment. I'm not sure if the man ever studied Australian aboriginal music and culture before; it is quite possible that he didn't get the chance yet, and thus was eager to dive in and put his easily recognizable stamp on yet another part of the world. Now he's got enough reasons to be canonized in Australia, too.

Okay, I'm getting seriously cynical about this whole affair, so somebody please stop me before they start accusing me of racism or anything. The real reason that I'm not going wowsers over this kind of thing is simply that Peter, in my humble opinion, is getting much too predictable. There is absolutely no doubt that there are certain similar traits between the aboriginal music of Africa, Australia, Oceania and the rest of the world. But it's one thing to be similar, and another thing not to be different. When I listen to the way Gabriel handles the stuff on this new release, I don't feel much difference. It's the same monotonous synthesizer patterns, ranging from deadly boring to utterly gorgeous. It's the same overwhelming drum machine sound, ranging from positively frightening to mind-numbingly annoying. It's the same idea of taking your own melodies and trying to weave them in between "tribal chanting", which leads to the same old naggin' suspicion - what if he's just appropriating these tribal elements to make the music invulnerable to politically correct criticism?

I could ask all these questions and more than that, but the plain truth is that, as is also usual with Peter, Long Walk Home simply functions as very, very decent background music. As a matter of fact, 'music' is too rigid a word for most of it: a lot of the tracks are plainly atmospheric and little else. And to be perfectly honest, I'd say that the atmosphere of the soundtrack is overall far denser, far more menacing and disturbing than the atmosphere of the film itself. There wasn't anything particularly creepy about the film. You could care about the children, you could feel negative stuff about the tracker guy, you could have mixed emotions about the Branagh character, but you knew that at least no one would die or anything - if the children got captured, they'd just be put back where they escaped from. It wasn't a bite-your-nail kind of experience, it was something different.

The soundtrack, however, turned out to be downright scary. One of the reasons is that the older Peter gets, the more he falls in love with his drum machines. When they arrive out of nowhere and plant themselves with a gate-of-Mordor-power clang on top of your stereo during 'Stealing The Children', you'll get jumpy unless you've been solidly raised on industrial. Another reason is that in order to actually hear many of the tracks, you'll have to twirl those knobs, and you didn't have to do it while watching the movie because the music wasn't the main thing you were interested in. And when you do twirl them, you hear all sorts of ambient noises that are anything but "psychologically positive". Well, sometimes they are - but usually, it's something croaking or screeching or moaning or representing some other effect of acute, intense suffering. It's certainly much darker than Passion, and it seems to put this darkness before everything else. Which isn't the most exciting idea I've ever heard; there is, after all, a whole goddamn wallop of "evil ambient" stuff available to our ears already. Me, I'd rather have it easier on the mood.

Granted, there are certain moments here that leave me breathless. The first big breakthrough, the first breaking out into the light occurs during the appropriately called 'Running To The Rain', when out of the evil ambience a thin little Bach-like choral pattern starts to emerge and then proceeds to grow into a classic oh-so-Gabriel wordless anthem of peace, love, and beauty that dwarfs you in its majesty. It is, however, but a temporary respite that lasts for little more than a minute, after which you're plunged back into the darkness, and the darkness culminates in 'Grace's Recapture', which is what it bills itself as, and then becomes all dull and bleak and thoroughly painful during 'Crossing The Salt Pan' - the best thing about which is that it is, indeed, the perfect soundtrack to crossing a salt pan on foot, which is something none of us will hopefully ever have to do except in a state of hallucinating over Peter Gabriel sonic textures.

The only 'fleshed out' musical piece on here is really 'Ngankarrparni (Sky Blue)'. First, it actually does feature aboriginal chanting - which I was just going to mention: for a soundtrack supposedly dealing with native Australian culture, there is surprisingly little reference to native Australian music! Second, the aboriginal chanting does slowly give way to an uplifting piece of not just by-the-book, but seemingly by-the-heart spiritual thing, just the kind of item that Peter is so good at - The Big Towering Closing Thing, the 'Secret World', the 'Make Tomorrow', the 'I'm Not Afraid To Make It All Sound Big And Important Because It Is So Big And Important And You're All Lame Cynical Bastards', you know the drill.

I don't even care that for no apparent reason whatsoever this 'Sky Blue' thing is then reprised for the second time as 'Cloudless'. In fact, I'd be even happier if it were reprised thrice at the expense of some of the more boring synthesizer oodling. But then again, maybe the more oodling there is, the happier you feel when the big beautiful release bursts out of it. I mean, I can't even describe any of the other stuff. Ambient is ambient. If I were to describe it in details, I would have to force myself into "falling under the magic spell", and I'm saving that kind of energy up for future experiences. But with 'Sky Blue', no one's asking you to force anything. It all flows out quite naturally. It just doesn't have a lot to do with native Australian people.

Which kinda brings me back to the movie - which, I think, was more unsuccessful than otherwise, because its middle-groundedness satisfied neither the ardent defenders of native rights nor the conservative backlashers who still persevere in thinking that the stuff done back then was, you know, all right. But the thing is, the movie just doesn't seem to be about Australians - it's about hardship and toil and redemption, and in that respect the soundtrack matches it admirably, because it is also about the very same things. There's nothing left to the poor aborigines but to stand back and glance at us with suspicion like they do on the back cover of the CD. Then again, it's a good thing we're not dealing with National Geographic here either.


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