"Wait Up!" - Peter Gabriel's new album. Review by Ted Sayers.The most noticeable thing about the recent release of "Up" is how it has significantly polarised opinion. I have come to this album via one of the strangest routes ever for a Gabriel album. The songs were slowly leaked from his official web site through the Full Moon Club, which allowed members to hear clips of two tracks a month. Having become semi-familiar with the songs like this meant that the album was oddly comfortable with everything contained within.
Many have complained about the fact that "Up" has been ten years in the making and, while I too feel that this is an inordinately long time to spend on one album, I don't really feel the length of time taken to record it is relevant. There has been plenty of music produced by the man in the meantime: "Ovo"; "Long Walk Home", and many songs contributed to various soundtrack albums.
It is one of these songs, contributed to the "City Of Angels" soundtrack , that has been the cause of the most controversy. "I Grieve", a beautiful eight-minute piece concerning the loss of a loved one. The song is presented herein a slightly newer form. Gabriel's reason for this is that he was understandably rushed by the deadline for the version which appeared on the soundtrack. Whether the track on "Up" is justifiably different enough to warrant inclusion here is questionable. However. I do feel the song fits perfectly with the mood of the rest of the album.
The mood of the album is very dark, and some have said depressing. This appraisal is lacking in that it fails to look deeply into the album and its themes. Yes, it is dark, but depressing it is not. Many of the songs are fairly uplifting in their execution. "Sky Blue" is a perfect example of this. The contribution by the Blind Boys Of Alabama and Peter Green's guitar work on this song should not be underestimated. A personal favourite, "Sky Blue" is also familiar from its inclusion on the release (earlier this year) of the "Long Walk Home" soundtrack album. This was an instrumental version called "Cloudless", but its appearance here can easily be justified if only for the beauty of the lyrics and that vocal harmony that raises the song into the classification of one of Gabriel's best.
The album's opener, "Darkness", finds Gabriel on top form, with one of his best kick-offs to any Gabriel album. The listener is lulled into a false sense of security with an almost silent intro that bursts into life after twenty seconds (and probably burst a few ear drums for the unsuspecting). Once the song has roared into life, it changes pace on more than a couple of occasions. "Darkness" also contains some marvellous lyrics, dealing with fear and how we adapt to it as we grow up.
And speaking of "Growing Up", that's the album's second song and the one I had the most trouble with. Parts of the song gripped me immediately but some sections left me wondering what had possessed him? Gradually this impression was dispelled and I have now come to realise how well this works, though I am still not convinced by a couple of lines in the lyrics.
The first single from "Up", "The Barry Williams Show", has caused as much of a stir for the fact that it is not the most obvious selection. After repeated listenings; I felt more comfortable with this as the single. Airplay and chart success appear to be the last things on his mind with this one though as it was immediately disqualified from either with a blood soaked video and a CD single that was in excess of twenty minutes (chart rules only allow singles that are less than twenty minutes in the UK).
The album's most familiar song award must go to "Signal To Noise". This one seems to have been knocking around for years since he first performed it at the VH1 Honours show in Los Angeles. The sad death of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has necessitated a little studio tinkering to retain his part, but the effect is stunning nonetheless. A string section has replaced the guitar part, and maybe that can be seen as a mistake as David Rhodes' guitar work on the show was amazing (as usual), but the track remains every bit as effective.
Ten years may be a long time to wait for this album and whether or not the wait was worthwhile is up to individual taste, but what I feel is indisputable is that the album certainly challenges the listener. This , in itself, is remarkable in these days of pre-packed manufactured music that seems to dominate the charts in the UK.