“So what?” - The deluxe 25th anniversary boxed set of Peter
Gabriel’s So album examined by Alan Hewitt.
A bit late this review but better late than never as they say! Besides which, there is a hell of a LOT to get your teeth into here so I hope you will pardon the fact it has taken me a bit longer than usual to digest it all.
I will begin with the Live in Athens recording. This was a delight when originally issued as Peter’s first live video back in 1988 although even then there were minor irritations with it mainly the fact that it wasn’t a complete recording and the interruptions by extraneous visual material no mater how interesting it might have proven in its own right, while watching a live performance, they never served as anything more than a distraction. This has been put right here and interestingly enough, both the CD and DVD have tracks restored to them which were missing from the original VHS which makes for a much more rewarding listen/viewing this time round. These recordings capture Peter at his peak in terms of performance as far as I am concerned and will no doubt bring back memories for fans who saw any of the shows on this tour and amaze newer fans who didn’t. One thing puzzles me though; why does the recording start with This Is The Picture? Nowt wrong with the song but it wasn’t the set opener at the time. A minor quibble though as the sound and vision more than compensate for it.
The other DVD item in this package was a surprise. The Classic Albums documentary about the So album had been broadcast on TV several years ago but the version here has been judiciously expanded to include more interview and other footage extending the finished result to 90 minutes. This is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the creation of the album and when combined with the DNA disc certainly gives a greater insight into the creative process than you would usually find in such a project.
So itself was an album that divided opinion among Gabriel fans. The sheer scale of its success led many to accuse Peter of selling out (SO - geddit?) in pursuit of commercial profit. And why not may I ask? Peter is a musician and SELLING music is how he makes his living is it not? So manages like none of his albums since his first, to merge the commercial and altruistic sides of Peter’s character giving equal exposure to both. How else can you explain the presence of such a heart rending piece of social commentary as Don’t Give Up sharing space with the outrageously commercial Big Time? Here on the newly remastered version of the album there is a wealth of previously ‘hidden’ detail which will be a delight for fans who have had the album in their collection. Listening to it this time for the first time will be like looking at that old painting that hung in your hallway for so many years and which you thought you knew, which you finally had cleaned to reveal aspects you had never suspected. Each and every track has something ’new’ just waiting to be discovered making the whole experience a genuinely enjoyable one all round.
Peter has never been one to share the origins of the tracks which grace his albums apart from a handful of demos which have occasionally appeared as single B sides (remember them?). So, the DNA disc which appears in this package is a genuine thrill for Gabriel fans and collectors who have sought unreleased material and demos from his vast catalogue like the quest for the Holy Grail. Here we have a warts and all look behind the scenes at the creative processes that went into the album and it makes for a fascinating experience as well as giving an insight into exactly what made Peter tick during the recording sessions.
The entire thing is housed in a sixty page hard backed book which is crammed with many previously unseen photos as well as a highly informative and honest text which in itself is the icing on a particularly full cake.
Whether you like the album or not, what is not in doubt is that this package has been extremely well thought out and for once, gives the fans more than your usual collection of odds and ends and fully justifies the expense incurred in obtaining it.