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Tuesday 12 December 2023

Review: Peter Gabriel (Review By Matt Bladen)

Peter Gabriel - i/o (Real World/EMI/Republic)

There's is only one Peter Gabriel, no matter what Life Of Rock With Brian Pern tells you. He's an artist that transcends music, his Real World Studio is the most sort after production studio around, he still curates WOMAD and stands as one of The Global Elders. 

He also happens to be one of my favourite artists of all time, so to say this album is anticipated would be an understatement. His tenth studio album i/o has been in development since it was supposed to be the follow up to 2002's Up, but has been gestating since 1995 and Us.

Recorded in countess studios, and on tour, it was pushed back by the two covers/orchestral records and soundtrack works Gabriel has released over the last few years. It was also delayed due to Peter taking time away to look after his wife. But in 2019, he focussed on whittle down the record from 130 tracks to 12. 

Gabriel though has never done anything by the book and the entirety of 2023 he has released a single every Full Moon and an alternate mix on the New Moon, this has resulted in 12 'Bright Side' mixes from Mark ‘Spike’ Stent and the 'Dark-Side' mixes, by Tchad Blake, 12 of the same songs, reshaped and mixed in different ways to bring out both significant and minor differences. The standard edition is Bright Side and Dark Side but the deluxe edition continues and Blu-Ray In-Side mix which is Dolby Atmos. 

But what about the music? Well it's Peter Gabriel so to my ears it's perfect, awash with synthesisers/programming, world music tropes, wrought with emotion and topped with a voice that defies his years. Gabriel has been again joined by his go to players, guitarist David Rhodes, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Manu Katché, all flexing their muscle over these songs, all three keep their place in the upper echelons of the art rock genre. 

Along with them though Brian Eno collaborates with his longtime friend, co-producing with Richard Russell. Pianist Tom Cawley, trumpeters Josh Shpak/Paolo Fresu, cellist Linnea Olsson and keyboard player Don E all add to the record in their own way. Peter’s daughter Melanie contributes backing vocals with Ríoghnach Connolly while the "Real World Regulars" Richard Chappell, Oli Jacobs, Katie May and Richard Evans provide programming and play various instruments. Collaborative and creative this is Gabriel at his finest. 

Tackling life and the universe, the passing of time a overarching concept but never steps to far into sadness, though So Much is a heartbreaker, a track such as Road To Joy has the So-like funk rhythm. Lyrically intelligent and musically expressive, I could go into the nuances between the two mixes but it's better to listen and fawn over yourself, picking out every moment as the Soweto Gospel Choir, Swedish all-male choir and the New Blood Orchestra all provide their tracks with magic. 

It's forward thinking but also looks back to Gabriel's past, you can hear influences from all of his first seven records on i/o, the album cover having a manipulated image of Peter, similarly to all of his albums with the exception of So. Gabriel encouraged and invited a range of visual artists to contribute to the music videos in their own medium. 

I could spend hours explaining each track but the whole thing needs to be heard fully, I've listened to it over 15 times already and each time I've been moved, enthralled, overjoyed and excited at what I'm hearing. 21 years since his last album and nearly 50 years as a solo artist, Peter Gabriel proudly stands alone as a true legend in the music industry and i/o is a late career masterpiece. 10/10

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