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Peter Gabriel - Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

3.88 | 102 ratings

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4 stars What a surprise many of these songs are bound be for the non-progging Muggle who buys this collection because they think "Sledgehammer" is a cute dance song and expect the other tunes to be in the same playful vein. But for the more knowledgeable fan of Peter Gabriel this is a decent sample of his solo work from the time he left Genesis in 1975 to when he released the soundtrack for "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1989. When it comes to this gifted artist I urge you to procure his complete albums but if you are a neophyte to his music and want a general idea of what he's about then this isn't a bad place to start.

His iconic "Solsbury Hill," written about his dramatic departure from Genesis, is a great example of getting the public tapping along to a 7/8 time signature without them even realizing it. Aided by the punctuation of Robert Fripp's expressive guitar, this catchy song was instrumental in giving Peter a solid foothold in the music business and its moderate success insured that he'd be allowed to make more LPs. "I Don't Remember" features the amazing talent of bassist Tony Levin and is the first indication that you aren't going to necessarily be hearing only radio-friendly pop ditties along the way. This track has a groove that just won't quit and the way it drives right into the funky horn section of "Sledgehammer" is very cool, indeed. (Obviously this package doesn't present the cuts in chronological order but I'm sure that's because the big shots at Geffen wanted to have some of the more recognizable hits spread out evenly through the disc.) While this song wasn't revolutionary as a chart-topper, its highly imaginative and entertaining video was an absolute sensation on MTV and gave artists a new perspective on what was possible in that booming medium. I also like the fact that they include the intriguing drum march ending that appeared in the video but not on the LP version.

"Family Snapshot" is one of Gabriel's unconventional tracks and its disturbing story line about an assassin closing in on his prey and its intriguing arrangement gives you an insight into his more eclectic side. "Mercy Street" carries you effortlessly along like a leaf in a stream and it is one of his most soothing creations. His unique voice is mesmerizing. Originally released on Youssou N'Dour's '89 album "The Lion," the remixed version of the outstanding "Shaking the Tree" is a must-have for all of Peter's followers. Its jubilant celebration of women is infectiously uplifting and Manu Katche's expert drumming adds dynamic excitement to the tune. "Don't Give Up," with its lyrical contrast of perspective portrayed brilliantly by Gabriel and guest singer Kate Bush, is one of his most profound pieces ever. The way Levin's bass flits around the basic time signature is also worth mentioning. "San Jacinto" may take some getting used to at first but I assure you that it will stick in your head forever because of its haunting, sequenced synthesizers and mysterious aura. And when the cavernous depth of sound opens up like a giant crack in the earth in the second half it is nothing short of awesome.

The simplicity of "Here Comes the Flood" works well at this juncture as Peter's soul-penetrating voice performs its magic. "Red Rain" is another stellar cut from the masterpiece that is "So" and the audio wall that characterizes this tune envelopes your senses with irrepressible inertia. In comparison, the lighter feel of the sardonic "Games Without Frontiers" is like a walk in the park. It's another song that lent itself well to the still-primitive video clip format and gave him much-needed recognition at that point in his career. While it sounds a bit dated now days, "Shock the Monkey" was definitely a shock to radio in the early 80s because there was simply nothing else like it in the musical universe and, when it shot into the top 40 (his first to do so), it identified Gabriel as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

The remixed version of "I Have the Touch" adds a little spice to the track and gives it a different flavor from the album version that suffered somewhat from a lack of punch. The slick, satirical "Big Time" was the follow-up to "Sledgehammer" and it made it all the way up to #8 on the singles chart in 1987. It also made for yet another captivating video but its brittle edge gets on my nerves sometimes. "Zaar" is an odd inclusion here but hopefully it steers some listeners toward his groundbreaking "Passion" CD that helped to introduce world music to the masses. If you enjoy hearing something totally mind-expanding from time to time then you should definitely check it out. The last tune here, the breathtaking splendor that is "Biko," is timeless in its profound message and its emotional impact. It defines a truly progressive way of thinking in that it follows no known set of rules and creates seven minutes of one-of-a-kind music that leaves a big footprint in your subconscious. Perhaps more than any other Peter Gabriel song it personifies the genius that he is.

The glaring omission is his beautiful "In Your Eyes" and it's like traveling to Yellowstone and not seeing Old Faithful. For whatever reason it was left out that inane decision defies all logic and keeps this CD from being a representative history. I once read that PG didn't want it included because he wrote it for his ex-wife who was divorcing him at the time. That seems rather selfish and immature to me and I hope it's not fact.

In the vast MTV wasteland that was the decade of the 80s this artist's output was one of the bright spots in that otherwise lifeless landscape and Peter gave many of us undernourished proggers hope for a future that would include a return to adventurous excursions in the music world. There were times when Gabriel's albums provided the sole beacon of light along a very foggy and disheartening shoreline and he deserves a prog medal for that alone. He kept the flame lit. Not as essential as most of his records are but an excellent addition for those who don't know him as well as they should.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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