Friday, March 11, 2022

Peter Gabriel 11: Up

After several years of rumors and false confirmations from the man himself, a full ten years passed between new Peter Gabriel albums, a break that spanned the Millennium. In the meantime he’d become very active on the Internet with his own personal website. In person he’d come to resemble none other than Burl Ives, a far leap from the skinny, more hirsute frontman of old.
Note we said “albums”, plural; first there was Long Walk Home, his soundtrack to Rabbit-Proof Fence, a drama about displaced Aboriginal children in the 1930s. While not as familiar and haunting as Birdy, nor as consistently dynamic and striking as Passion, his trademarked textures and touchstones resonated through to his next “real” album, released shortly afterwards.
Up starts promisingly enough with the fiendish “Darkness”—thirty seconds of muted percussion before exploding with a cry of pain or something, moving through sections reminiscent of the eerier tracks on the third and fourth albums. “Growing Up” delivers an upbeat groove but not much in the way of melody; still, he felt it important enough to name the tour after it. The haunting “Sky Blue” is based largely around a piece from Long Walk Home, specifically a repeated refrain sung by the Blind Boys Of Alabama. “No Way Out” has a rhythm reminiscent of “In Your Eyes”, but is nowhere near as catchy. Those fans who’d held onto their copies of the City Of Angels soundtrack from a few years earlier might have appreciated the alternate version of “I Grieve” included here.
The downfall of taking so long on this album meant that “The Barry Williams Show” becomes a weak diatribe against the likes of Jerry Springer, and makes it just as dated as it would have become anyway. (Apparently he wasn’t familiar with the iconic American status of the Brady Bunch actor, and used Shooter McGavin in the disturbing video instead.) “My Head Sounds Like That” sports a gripping but sad backing of piano and brass band, turning things up in the middle. While it’s not the Roxy Music song of the same name, “More Than This” is another attempt at a hit single. More uneasy listening comes in “Signal To Noise”, featuring the wailing, flown-in voice of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; the tension, albeit compelling, abates for “The Drop”, which is just Peter and the piano.
While Up has its moments, it’s just not that memorable, which is one of the last things we’d ever thought we’d say about a Peter Gabriel album. There’s plenty of promise in these tracks, but not enough songs, most of which pass seven minutes anyway. Perhaps all that time tweaking things in his quest for the perfect sound removed any spark. It also didn’t help that he’s easily distracted, as evidenced by such things as Long Walk Home and the Millennial OVO project (which featured the lovely tribute “Father, Son”). Artists with more obtrusive management might have suggested he make one good album rather than two so-so ones.
But he never wanted to be a superstar, and always strove to make his own music following his own whims. That’s why he’s still got a rabid fan base, who would have been happy to snap up the “official bootlegs” from the tours that followed Up, with each show represented on CDs pressed from the soundboard mixes.

Peter Gabriel Long Walk Home: Music From The Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)—
Peter Gabriel
Up (2002)—

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