While fans were accustomed to Peter Gabriel’s slow release pace and interest in world music, they were clamoring for the true follow-up to So. With Us, chock full of songs built on hooks, they got it.
He’d written about relationships before, of course, but what made this album so different was that each of the songs (well, nine of them, anyway) overtly dealt with topics like communication, desire and sex. He was in a crossroads; having finally divorced from his wife, he had also found himself in the tabloids when he was seen in the company of the fetching Rosanna Arquette.
The opening fanfare of “Come Talk To Me” sounds like bagpipes, with galloping drums accompanying a plea, a demand for attention, it’s hard to ignore him. Things turn down though, first for the straightforward “Love To Be Loved”, then for “Blood Of Eden”, which musically sounds akin to “Don’t Give Up”, only this time the voice of hope is provided by Sinead O’Connor. The horn-heavy “Sledgehammer” sound returns on “Steam”, and while it’s not explicitly about the physical act, there’s a horniness to it. “Only Us” uses a variety of conflicting meters to disguise the song’s true rhythm, but it doesn’t really settle in.
“Washing Of The Water” is lyrically and musically reminiscent of spirituals, and its feel certainly conveys the desire to be cleansed, to start anew. (Indeed, some of it sounds influenced by “Bread And Wine”, the closing track on Passion.) The mood is truly jarred by “Digging In The Dirt”. Here the emotions touched on via therapy are exposed to the raw, culminating in the sinister “don’t talk back” sections before the choruses. “Fourteen Black Paintings” begins as another throwback to the Passion album, with its tense ambience and use of Mideastern instruments, but its simple lyrics rather recall “We Do What We’re Told”. But to revive the attention of anyone who left the room to get popcorn, “Kiss That Frog” provides an uptempo come-on, with all the hallmarks of vintage soul, and little subtlety in the lyrics. But he saves the best for last. “Secret World” gears up steadily on an almost machine-like beat, and brings in a vocal that’s tired, resigned yet proud of the state of his relationship. It’s not clear whether the people in the song are going to stay together or separate, but that’s what makes it universal. Chills arrive at the whispered “shh—listen” near the end.
Us is a heavier listen than So, but the overall strength endures and reveals itself over time, just as the composer revealed himself in the songs. While Daniel Lanois (again) helped bring Peter’s ideas into the ‘90s, older fans likely enjoyed the touches that reminded them of the Peter Gabriel of a decade before.
Peter Gabriel Us (1992)—3½