For fans of Peter Gabriel, Up, the seventh solo studio released by the ex-lead singer of Genesis, may be a hard one to attune to, to empathise with or even in some cases like.
This seems harsh on a man whose innovative approach to music has seen him lauded and applauded. From his early days with Genesis, through the grand scale of such works as Supper’s Ready, Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and into his own solo career with the eponymous self titled albums and finally the riveting and extraordinary So, he touched so many minds and hearts with his incredible lyrics and mind for the utter dramatic and search for some sort of mythical musical lost city of gold.
Peter Gabriel had left Genesis amid the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Tour and the stifling atmosphere he so well pointed out in the classic single Solsbury Hill, whether this was overwhelming his creativity is up for debate but he certainly seemed a lot more artistically aware of what he wanted to produce. The four self titled albums he produced stand as testament to that as the songs really don’t sit in the canon of Genesis songs that came before it. In 1986 he finally found the mythical city of gold in the album So, arguably the finest album he has done in his long career.
From great highs should there always be the inevitable trough to follow, in studio albums terms, or in any artistic endeavour, it seems to follow that rule as not so many bands or solo artists ever seem to follow up album after album that is considered excellent and outstanding. Fans had to wait a long time for another album that wasn’t anything to do with a film or commissioned work, in fact between So and Us a full six years passed by, between Us and Up that wait seemed interminable as an entire decade went by. The British landscape that Peter had written so well about and captured in the 1970’s on the album Selling England By The Pound, seemed as distant as the proposition of a new album by one of the great song writers of our time.
Up first started taking shape during the mid 1990’s but it wouldn’t finally find fruition or a place into people’s collections until the September of 2002. It is no surprise then the album seems to be a kind of grieving process and introspection of a man who now found himself in his early 50’s. Each song, bar one, on Up has the feel of one who is making a final statement of intent, ready to pass judgement not on others but on himself. Rather than ever let the fans down he came out with one more album of original songs and it is that album which leaves so many wondering how to feel.
Pretty much all of literature can be summed up as the age old battle between sex and death, on this album it the latter that leaves its hollow stamp all over it. Although not distressing as it is everyone’s right to wonder about their own life and put it in to some sort of sensible order, when a person who is loved by millions starts talking about it, it can take some getting used to. Some of the lyrics on the album can be bleak and off putting to those fans who have followed him for as long as they had been able.
Each song is interesting and fresh, even when they seemed to have been knocking round for a few years in shape or another by the time he released the album. They offer a new side to Peter’s persona but whilst it was a pleasure for the fans to have this new side to explore, it also had the charm of attending someone else’s hospital results, nice enough to go with and hold that person’s hands but you just don’t want to know how you will react to the news. Being brave on one hand and running away on the other to the relative safety of So and Scratch….
The one moment on the album that bucks the trend is the superb The Barry Williams Show. This song is perhaps the one that makes the album have the element of life, the scathing attack on the American and now unfortunately British fascination with the reality television talk show hosts who inspire their guests to be as obnoxious as possible and make their lives unbearable as they tell all of their dysfunctional lives. The lyrics of the song are criminally brilliant and cutting in their sarcasm. Not only is shown the fascination with these programmes from the view point of those who go on them but also shows the way the producers of the shows degrade their audience and also the flip side of how the exploitation makes the makers of the show money. It is tirelessly pure Gabriel and aside the tremendous Digging In The Dirt from 1992’s Us, the best Gabriel song in 16 years.
Without doubt, Peter Gabriel remains to this day one of the greats of music, innovative, eclectic, incredible and a genuinely unique man. A true humanitarian who shall be remembered for all the excellent work he has done and continues to do. It is just a shame that this album Peter put out for his fans leaves them unsure of what to make of it.
© LSMedia, by Ian D. Hall