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Peter Gabriel - So CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

3.84 | 681 ratings

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5 stars Gabriel Hits the Big Time

So, Peter Gabriel's 5th solo album, represents the pinnacle of his popular success. A perfect alignment of the development of Gabriel's sound, use of the music video, and spectacular songwriting combined to make one of the iconic albums of the 80's. It is without a doubt one of the masterpieces of modern pop, but the question for members on this site is whether it also reaches that level as a piece of crossover prog. Where the previous album still had some of PG's most creative work with a bit of pop sprinkled in, So is a pop album that incorporates Gabriel's exploratory genius. Again, the songs are simply beautiful, some of his most memorable melodies and music of his career. But the song formats, beats, and general approach are much more user-friendly, and in fact the album is even easier to digest than later albums such as Us and Up.

1. Red Rain - We are greeted with a lush piece propelled by the now well-honed Tony Levin - Jerry Marotta rhythm section. The production is perfect, the vocals flawlessly executed, Gabriel having achieved his signature textures without the rough edges. The sonic world we are dropped into is deeper and wider than ever before, a sound that PG would use many times after So. At the same time, the song structure is easy to follow, more inviting than the previous intense openers. The song sets the tone for the entire album quite well, a powerful track by a band primed to capture new fans.

2.Sledgehammer - This is the song that, even more than "Shock the Monkey" on Security, drove a wedge between Gabriel and some of his long time fans. Unashamed as a purely pop song, this track (fueled by a very creative video) introduced a whole new world of fans to PG including a 14 year old me. Alongside Journey, Eddie Money, Bon Jovi, and even Genesis' Invisible Touch, this video and song ironically seemed quirky, edgy and frankly a little wierd. The song is simply great - intelligent but straightforward pop, unlike sellout songs like Genesis' "Illegal Alien" or even PG's later "Barry Williams Show." The signature flute warble is the most prog moment on this one.

3. Don't Give Up - Gabriel called upon Kate Bush once again and this time she gets a full duet rather than an accompanying role. The result is a touching, tender song which was again accompanied by a quirky video. The background loping, circular bass line places this firmly in the classic solo Gabriel sound, more akin to the previous two albums than the pop songs on So. Both vocal performances are very powerful and of all the blatant tearjerker songs in existence, this one affects me most.

4. That Voice Again - A very unremarkable piano brings us in to a crush of layers and a multi-voiced chorus. The rhythms and accompaniment lean toward Gabriel's world music influences. The soundscape is excellent, striking a nice balance between exploratory layering and pop sensibility. At the same time, the lyrics and song itself is one of the more average on the album. Very listenable but also the most forgettable song on the album.

5. In Your Eyes - Placed last on the remaster (which I'm now listening to) this song uses the formula of the previous song (melding pop and world influenced texturing) with a compelling lyric and a powerful vocal to make what actually became Gabriel's most popular song of all time. Never released as single, the song was played by John Cusack's iconic boom-box outside the Ione Skye's window in the movie Say Anything. The song became perhaps the most memorable love song for all of Generation X in the time of hair-metal ballads and throwaway pop. The genius of the song also lies in how the song transitions from pre-So Gabriel at the beginning to Us-style world music by the end.

6. Mercy Street - The B side of the vinyl contains three songs that are the logical continuation of Melt and Security. Mercy Street, with it bell rhythm covering the high frequencies and a deep bass below, is typical Gabriel studio composition. The lyric and melodic contour are also quite good on this one, classic PG solo.

7. Big Time - This was the second single which followed in the "Sledgehammer" mold. Blatantly pop, its lyric simultaneously swipes at the luxuries of stardom, and also reveals how much Gabriel really did want to enjoy a higher level of popular success. The lyrics are fun, "The bulge in my big big big big...." the hooks catchy, and the song happens to sport a bass riff that puzzled players thoroughly. The technique? Drummer Jerry Marotta using drum sticks on Tony Levin's bass, which Levin would reproduce live by attaching miniature sticks to his fingers.

8. We Do What We're Told - A dark electronic nightmare soundscape, this song finally sounds like the Peter Gabriel the hard core fans love. The programming is just great. Unlike many of his contemporaries (and friends) of the electronic scene, Gabriel somehow was able to coax unique sounds out of the technology that hold up even 20 years later. The only weakness of this track is that it's a bit short and feels just a bit unfinished.

9. This is the Picture - More classic dark Peter Gabriel, simply brilliant. The fact that this duet with Laurie Anderson was a bonus track rather than one of the core tracks is as dumbfounding as the choice to exclude In Your Eyes from the greatest hits album. Anderson's voice contrasts Kate Bush's in its straightforward but emotional delivery and surprisingly good meld with Gabriel's in harmony.

I have vacillated between 4 and 5 stars for this album, and finally decided on 5 stars because it is nearly impossible not to call this a masterpiece album. True, it is not as adventurous sonically as the previous two albums, but it draws heavily on those innovations to achieve its more polished sound. What's more, the songwriting equals or betters anything else Gabriel has done. Finally, there are absolutely no weak points on the album, making it his most complete piece of work as well.

And a P.S. - The fact that this album was the entry point into prog by pointing toward classic Genesis for many in my generation (including me) solidifies it place in the prog catalog.

Negoba | 5/5 |


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