First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2002, Volume 9, #12
Written by John Metzger
Prior to its release, Peter Gabrielís Up was probably the most anticipated album of the year. Since then, however, thereís been barely a whimper out of anybody about it, and thatís a shame. Itís not surprising that mainstream press and radio have chosen largely to ignore Gabrielís latest suite of songs; thereís nothing here thatís remotely close to the pop sensation of Sledgehammer, its subsequent knock-off Steam, or, for that matter, any of his other hits such as Red Rain, Digging in the Dirt, Shock the Monkey, or Big Time. No, Up is an entirely different beast. What is surprising, then, about the subdued buzz surrounding this effort is that those who remember Gabriel from his days fronting Genesis ó think Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, and Selling England by the Pound ó havenít been screaming about the brilliance of his latest outing. Then again, perhaps he lost these fans when he became such a huge pop star.
Thereís little doubt that Up is a return to the strange tales and avant-garde soundscapes of Gabrielís early work, but for the record, thatís also a place he never fully left. True, beginning with his first solo outing in 1977 and continuing straight through to his previous effort Us, Gabriel has wrapped many of his lengthy, ambient panoramas in tight layers of irresistible pop, incorporating dance rhythms and world beats in ways that made his songs much more accessible. On Up ó an album that took ten years to make ó he still does manage to draw upon a universe of sounds, folding them one over the other to form dense layers of music, and most of the tunes donít retread his Genesis days as much as they overhaul them. Yet, even when he does employ big dance beats ó Growing Up and The Barry Williams Show, for example ó thereís absolutely nothing pop-oriented about it.
Up begins with a soft, inviting percussion loop. Thirty seconds later, Gabriel drops the other shoe, and the opening song Darkness becomes an ominous, lumbering creature of frighteningly epic proportions. He sings of fear, and the music with which he surrounds himself masterfully evokes this feeling in ways that recall an acid-trip gone wrong while listening to Led Zeppelinís Kashmir. As for the remainder of Up, it is as rewarding as its shocking beginning. The haunted chants of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan punctuate the otherwise Beatle-esque Signal to Noise; The Blind Boys of Alabama lend a gospel flair to the heady Sky Blue; and I Grieve melts in a sea of sorrow with the same sense of detachment one feels at the loss of a loved one, before it seamlessly mutates into an uplifting celebration of life.
Indeed, thatís the entire point of Up ó itís a meditation on life and death, one that is at times terrifying and at other times quite beautiful. For eternities, humans have grappled with these very topics, raising many questions and finding few answers. Gabrielís latest batch of songs merely continues the discussion, albeit within musical arrangements as infinitely complex as the meaning of it all. Up isnít for the faint of heart. Itís not for passive listening. Itís meant to be played again and again, for only then will it begin to reveal its mysterious beauty.
Of Further Interest...
Up is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box