"Up or down?" - Peter Gabriel's new album, "Up". Review by Alan Hewitt.
Well... here we are some ten years since Peter's last full studio album. Ten new tracks one per year perhaps? Even by Peter's standards that is something of a slow growth rate but then again, quality is always more important than quantity - but do we get that here? We shall see...
The album opener, "Darkness", begins inauspiciously with muted sounds before letting rip with a cacophony of raw sounds which reminds me in more ways than one of King Crimson circa their "Thrak" era. Peter's vocals are their usual haunting self but for me this track seems to be something of a hybrid between the "Passion" and "Us" albums and consequently it falls between two stools.
"Growing Up" is an altogether more satisfying track, drawing heavily on the rhythmic and aural influences which have made Peter's albums such an adventure... this for my money should be a single, it has the industrial grind and syncopation which might even see it a hit on the dance floors(shock horror!).
"Sky Blue" once again, reminds me of previous efforts, both vocally and musically with particular echoes of the "So" album. A pleasant enough track but hardly challenging.
"No Way Out" features some excellent guitar work from David Rhodes which instantly gets the toes tapping. Musically once again though, this is a throwback to several tracks from the "So" album... Sorry but this is re-hashed "Mercy Street" and "Red Rain" for me.
I Grieve was a track which I was looking forward to hearing on the album after hearing the excellent version from the film soundtrack to City Of Angels. Without doubt this is the strongest track on the album so far. The understated vocals and muted percussion and what sounds like a reedless flute all add to the melodramatic atmosphere. This is Gabriel at his creative best.. worth the price of the album alone!
"The Barry Williams Show" has already been widely touted on the internet and is scheduled to he the first single and in response to that I have to ask "Why?" - this track certainly does not float my boat and I don't hold out much hope for it's chances in the singles charts! Even the wry, (and I must assume, humorous) lyrics to this one have been done so much better by Peter on previous efforts, it is cliched to the point of becoming trite.
"My Head Sounds Like That" is another throwback to my ears. This time it is the same familiarly depressing territory covered so many years ago by "Home Sweet Home" which didn't move me then and sadly, this track has the same effect on this album.
"More Than This" is much better. Musically, this is an altogether stronger track and I am sure that this will become a favourite in the live set for the forthcoming tour.
"Signal To Noise" is already a long time favourite and one which fans have been waiting for on an official release ever since Peter performed it with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and it is a delight to hear this posthumous tribute to this marvellous singer. Already established as a classic in the Gabriel cannon, this will be a live set highlight without doubt!
"The Drop" rounds of the album in a dramatically simple way with a minimalist piano and vocal performance haunting in its simplicity and provocative in its atmosphere... Peter still manages to challenge our preconceptions even after all this time.
So, there you have it; a new album which had a lot riding on it. With the gap between albums becoming unbearably long one has to ask does this album live up to the obvious expectations of Peter's fans? After all, he has always been one of the most thought provoking and original artists of the last thirty or so years. Well, to my mind no... this album does not live up to my expectations. As I said at the outset, ten tracks, one for each year and two of those previously available albeit in radically different versions, does not compensate for the length of the wait. Quality has not won out over quantity here I'm afraid. In fact we are the losers on both counts. "I Grieve" and "Signal To Noise" are the album's main redeeming features and I definitely think that I will be in a minority here when I say that Peter's slide into mediocrity - long deferred by the delay in releasing this album - has been plainly begun in this the finished result of ten years' work... not a bad album , but one which hardly scales the heights of passion and originality.