Feb 5 2022

Album Review: Peter Gabriel – So (#MWE)

It has taken all of my life, but I have finally managed to make time to hear So, the acclaimed 1986 art pop album from former Genesis mastermind-turned worldly solo troubadour Pater Gabriel. The album has always intrigued me, mainly because I love “Sledgehammer,” which was #1 the week I was born and which soundtracks inarguably one of the best music videos of all time. The song is a ton of fun with its horn stabs, bamboo flute intro, and Gabriel’s not-so-cryptic innuendo. The surrounding album itself is immaculately textured, immersed in world music instrumentation and highbrow pop composition, with production by Daniel Lanois. The atmosphere is rich throughout, and there isn’t a skippable song in the bunch.

“Red Rain” features some nice hi-hat work from Stewart Copeland and Gabriel delivering an impassioned statement on the destructive state of our world in a more grisly, gravely register, a particular delivery Dave Matthews would imitate in the next decade. The album smoothly transitions to “Don’t Give Up,” a somber take on rising unemployment featuring guest vocals from fellow audio auteur Kate Bush, who delivers the optimistic rebuttal to Gabriel’s dismay. The song fades with an incredible bass line, then we are rocketed into African rhythms and professional 80s pop sheen courtesy of “That Voice Again.”

Gabriel and Lanois capture a haunting soundscape in “Mercy Street,” perfect for a tribute to the confessional American poet Anne Sexton. The abrupt change in mood to “Big Time” is quite jarring initially, but the single is too fun of a moment to stay in that headspace for long. We’re treated to a satire on yuppies alongside a funk-heavy, bass-led arrangement fit for the topical message. He hit the nail on the head, but many of Gabriel’s quips on consumerism in “Big Time” could easily be applied to the culture of 2022 as well.

“We Do What We’re Told,” meanwhile, serves as a dystopian mantra of sorts that has traces of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, before giving way to Gabriel’s elaboration on the song’s theme of blind obedience. The daring “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)” was composed with help from avant-garde visionary Laurie Anderson and features a captivating rhythm that would fit well on the front half of Remain In Light. The album (n its streamable version, at least) closes with Gabriel’s most beautiful work, the massive hit “In Your Eyes,” a flawless realization of the artist’s vision and the album’s focus. The song is a spellbinding mixture of Brazilian rhythm and technologically advanced (for 1986, anyway) Fairlight DMI synths.

With So, Gabriel reached the peak of his commercial and artistic journey – the experimentation and gradual shift to pop songcraft produced what is still regarded as one of the best albums of its era, and Peter Gabriel compromised almost none of his vision to create it. Almost forty years later, it remains an intriguing and rewarding listen.

Score: 8/10