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Peter Gabriel - So CD (album) cover

SO

Peter Gabriel

 

Crossover Prog

3.83 | 494 ratings

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lazland
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The album that marked the transition of Gabriel from a slightly cultish solo artist into a global megastar, So is, therefore, a very important album in the prog pantheon. By and large, Gabriel escaped the massive hostility that accompanied other "classic" prog artists in the 1980's when commercial success hit. Listening to this wonderful album again tonight, it is not very difficult to see why.

Gabriel's career has been a fruitful and satisfying one, and the thing that really sets him apart, I think, from other artists who took a more commercial route is that he does it without at any time losing the lyrical, artistic, and sincere creativity that made his name in the first place. Even a blatantly commercial track such as Sledgehammer, which is loads of fun, was accompanied by a music video that was utterly ground breaking at the time in its use of real time animation and is, even now, many years later, still wondrous to watch. You also wear your toes out tapping along to it!

Virtually every track here is a classic, with the one exception of Big Time, whose funky backdrop and overly knowing irony of the dangers of success, is too grating to be convincing. The other huge hit single was a wonderful duet with the lovely Kate Bush, Don't Give Up, an extremely moving paeon to the wanton and senseless destruction of whole communities of working class people, and the accompanying social deprivations, wrought by Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA. Kate had appeared on III, and was known to have been hugely influenced by Gabriel's use of drum machines in order to compose music. Her vocal accompaniment is also a massive highlight of her own marvellous career.

Of course, for us old proggers, there were also some great moments. Opener Red Rain is magical, a thunderous track built almost entirely around simple piano and drum machine. Mercy Street is one of my favourite Gabriel tracks, a sensitive and very moving testimony to the poet Anne Sexton, whose work I explored a lot after getting the album on its release. If you should read her words, you will understand just why, lyrically, Gabriel was oceans apart from many of his contemporaries.

My personal favourite, and still my all time favourite Gabriel live track, is In Your Eyes. As with much of his work, the studio version is far more delayered and quieter than the live versions, but absolutely none the worse for that. It features the incredible voice of Youssou N'Dour, a superstar in his native Senegal, but, prior to this, virtually unknown in the wider world. This incredible vocal performance changed all of that, and, overnight, many of us became hooked on the best of what became known as World Music. Gabriel, naturally, was at the heart of the movement. Of course, what is best about the track is the heartfelt lyrics, a love poem to his then wife Jill prior to the convulsions that would lead to eventual divorce.

That Voice Again is notable as being the first writing credit jointly owned by long time collaborator David Rhodes. Mostly standard fare, the vocal solo by Gabriel towards the end is utterly stunning.

Album closer, We Do What We're Told, is brilliant, and another of his many thoughtful lyrical forays into the dangers of dictatorship. The tone of the track, very simply written and performed around keys and drum machine, is brooding and heavy.

For those who do not own this album, I would recommend the remastered CD version which features an old live favourite, This Is The Picture, featuring a vocal duet with the eccentric, and brilliant, Laurie Anderson.

Big Time grated on my nerves at the time of release, and does so even more now. That Voice Again is pretty standard, and it is for these two tracks alone that my rating for this album shifts from utterly essential to the four star rating of an excellent addition to any prog rock collection.

Be sure, though. Vocally, Gabriel has rarely sounded better. Creatively and commercially, he was approaching the height of his powers, and this album left a massive imprint upon popular music all over the world. The title, by the way, was Gabriel's way of protesting at the record labels insistence that his solo work now carry "proper" titles, rather than merely Peter Gabriel (as was the case already in America).

The creative torch he carried for Genesis was still well and truly alive, and Gabriel was and is living proof that creative commercial music deserves our attention and respect.

lazland | 4/5 |

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