mon 26/02/2024

Album: Peter Gabriel - I/O | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Peter Gabriel - I/O

Album: Peter Gabriel - I/O

Nearly three decades of reflection have produced a likely classic

Free to get back home: Peter Gabriel

Some 28 years in gestation, Peter Gabriel’s eighth studio album of wholly original songs – his first since 2002’s Up – will delight his fans and top the charts. Gabriel’s best instrument remains his voice, that husky marvel, which is at its most resonantly tender, vulnerable, and intimate here.

Gabriel has always been a humanitarian, earth-friendly artist, but on my initial listenings to I/O – overly tasteful and scarcely risk-taking in its immaculate production, songwriting, and autumnal sentiments, a clear sign of mellowing – I missed the bite and foreboding that shaped much of the music on his first five albums. None of the new tunes intimate apocalypse like “Here Comes the Flood” and “Red Rain”, vent the imperial/racist outrages of “Biko” and “San Jacinto”, or capture the ominousness of “White Shadow”. 

Though Gabriel mordantly targets Trump-era legal abuse in I/O's “The Court” with its deceptively jaunty Cuban steel-drum beat, if there’s any anger on the record it's buried deep, barely felt in the cadences. But this is clearly a work to live with, that will reveal its secrets gradually. It’s growing on me all the time. 

The 12 numbers are presented in dual "light" and "dark" mixes that aren't radically different. They vary from spare to lush, most electronically tinged; a few surely rockier when performed live. They find Gabriel in largely reflective mood. He ponders evanescence, aging and death – his and the planet’s – faith in pantheism, and mass-surveillance (in the driving opener “Panopticom,” its title presumably a Genesis-era pun). 

“Four Kinds of Horses”, inspired by a Buddhist parable that led Gabriel to ponder how religious students can gravitate to terrorism, and the mortality-confronting “Playing for Time” both swell to near-symphonic grandeur, but to different effect. With “And Still”, Gabriel movingly mourns his mother, understandably revealing little about her. A drawn-out breath haunts the song late on.

The “Olive Tree”, a song of renewed hope and empathy, is an uplifting slice of '80s-style rock. “Road to Joy”, similarly upbeat, is about perception and resurrection and, like “This Is Home,” a track I listened to five or six times before I picked up on the melody.

“Love Can Heal”, written by Gabriel as a tribute to the murdered Labour Party MP Jo Cox, features some of his best metaphysical lyrics and Linnea Olsson’s moaning, mistral-like cello. Singers Riognach Connolly, Jennie Abrahamson, Melanie Gabriel, and Olsson harmonise spine-tinglingly with Melanie’s dad as the synth-spangled song draws to a close. 

If Gabriel tends to overlard his songs with metaphors, he has few peers in rendering the spiritual power of the mind-body-earth connection, as “Love Can Heal” and the title track demonstrate. "I/O" is the stand-out piece, a humble recognition of oneness with every animal and plant, a song that surges to an ecstatic peak with each repetition of the chorus.

“So we think we really live apart/Because we’ve got two legs, a brain, and a heart,” Gabriel sings, cautioning against human exceptionalism. “We all belong to everything/To the octopus' suckers and the buzzard’s wing/To the elephant’s trunk and buzzing bee’s sting.” It’s a secular take on “All Things Things Bright and Beautiful" and a danceable eco-pop masterpiece.

If Gabriel tends to overlard his songs with metaphors, he has few peers in rendering the spiritual power of the mind-body-earth connection

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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