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Peter Gabriel - So CD (album) cover

SO

Peter Gabriel

 

Crossover Prog

3.84 | 684 ratings

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Xonty
5 stars "So" is Peter Gabriel's breakaway from his string of 4 consecutive untitled albums. It marked a change from the more experimental and progressive styles he was investigating and went into a more upbeat, almost mainstream, kind of experimentation. Although nowadays his third album (usually nicknamed "Melt") is regarded as his magnum opus, this album is what got through to bigger audiences and perhaps allowed more of the public to discover these earlier albums. The album has a distinct and signature sound throughout, employing the more state-of-the-art 80s electronic techniques, and introducing aspects of world music ("In Your Eyes") and soul/R&B ("Sledgehammer") to his repertoire amongst other things. Must have been very thrilling in the lull of the mid/late 80s music scene :P

The album opens with the very powerful "Red Rain", employing lots of these electronic techniques and some great recording, giving you a great impression of the standard of "So" and what's to come. The chord progressions could have perhaps been a little more adventurous (even though it begins on a tri-tonal D/C chord), but the lyrics are excellent, especially the tension at "with the trust of a child". Leaves quite a lot to your imagination on the first listen, but can be listened back to when you're not fully concentrating. A great opener (plus a great intro from Police drummer Stewart Copeland on the hit-hat, entirely different and fresh coming from the no-cymbals barrier Gabriel constructed for himself on "Melt").

The intriguing and very quiet panpipe (?) intro leads you into the horns of the jumpy, soulful, and humorous "Sledgehammer". Of course, a massive hit that most of you will have heard of, paired with an excellent stop-motion video of Gabriel, courtesy of Aardman Animations. Such a great feel on this track, and Tony Levin (more famous in the prog world for playing with the 80s King Crimson) brings such a great fretless bass tone to the song, again adding a sort of humour. Nothing quite like it really, and more great production and song-writing from Peter here!

"Don't Give Up" goes quite suddenly into a gentle duo with Kate Bush (perfectly playing the role of encouraging a despaired character by Peter). Works very well, but perhaps a little too long? There's a great sort of hum throughout the song, and the melodies and lyrics just get better and better, especially at the climax with Richard Tee's extremely gospel-y piano playing. The next track "That Voice Again" lifts you back up straight away, with some great little harmonies and chord sequences, leading into a more melancholy verse. A very underrated track in my opinion - one of the best on the album!

"In Your Eyes" is key to this album for me. Whilst not being the greatest track, it sorts of shows a kindness to Peter Gabriel that perhaps lacked in the more indulgent untitled albums. The variation it adds to the whole work is also simply brilliant, and Youssou's vocals are pretty magical. Comes out of "That Voice Again" very well, and suddenly brings you right down to the more dark (but still somehow sort of glowing) "Mercy Street". The lyrics on this are just astounding and fit the music brilliantly, even the one chord over "Let's take the boat out, wait until darkness" just works. The octave harmonies also greatly contribute to this mood - some of Peter's best singing in here.

"Big Time" takes you right out of "Mercy Street" (maybe a bit too aggressively on the first listen), and is my favourite track on "So". Like "Sledgehammer", it has a killer video, and a great mid 80s atmosphere, mainly due to Daniel Lanois' production but also the excellent music. I think this song has much more meaningful lyrics than "Sledgehammer" but still maintains enough humour. I love the sort of big-headed character that Peter plays, which he knows he's close to becoming, even before the release of this song, which for me subtly shows the confidence in his risks that attract me to this album more than his others. The harmonies about a minute through are also quite experimental for more of an art pop song, and the guitars/bass/vocals/drums are also just so tight on this!

"We Do What We're Told" is a less memorable track. Still very good, with a powerful atmosphere, but perhaps lacking something the rest of the album has. Sounds more like a song off one of his earlier albums. Quite a nice contrast with "Big Time" though, and certainly commendable. The final track on my CD edition "This Is The Picture" concludes the album very well. Seeming that there's only one chord on the whole of the verses, it's an outstanding piece of song-writing. His duo with Laurie Anderson is of course less emotional and intense than Kate's, but she brings a wiser sort of ambitious and forward-looking quality to the track. The trading lines are quite good, but I wish the lyrics weren't repeated as much later on - it might as well have been cut. The 3/4 chorus is very short and sharp, especially on the live versions, and keeps you a bit more interested in the song, taking you out of the 1-chord 4/4 trance. Considering the song was made, mixed, and filmed in just 48 hours, it's just incredible!

A(-): A very professional prog/art pop album, amazing production, songs and emotional climaxes. Therefore, my all-time favourite Peter Gabriel album. Highly recommended.

Red Rain: ***** Sledgehammer: ***** Don't Give Up: **** That Voice Again: ***** In Your Eyes: **** Mercy Street: ***** Big Time: ***** We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37): **** This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds): ****

Xonty | 5/5 |

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