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Peter Gabriel - OVO CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

3.47 | 237 ratings

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4 stars Face it, the 1990s weren't very fulfilling if you were a big fan of Peter Gabriel. While in '92 he did release what I consider his best record ever, the stupendous "Us" album; if one discounts the live discs culled from the resulting tour he basically disappeared from sight for the rest of the millennium. I do understand that he had some personal issues to work out and that he'd said pretty much all he had to say in revealing songs like "Digging in the Dirt" and "Secret World" but 8 years is an eon for an avid admirer such as I when waiting for new tunes. As a matter of fact, by the time he got around to putting out OVO in August of 2000 he'd so effectively vanished from the public eye and ear that many didn't even notice. Maybe it was the turn of the century brouhaha or that I'd changed so many things in my life by that time but when I learned about OVO's existence I didn't even bother to investigate. The descriptions of it being a soundtrack/project kinda deal didn't really foster any urgency in me to get a copy so I put it on the back burner.

Two years flew by. In September '02 Peter released "Up," an honest-to-God studio CD and I bought it pronto. Yet that challenging, strikingly mature album didn't pack the punch that "Us" did when it swept me off my feet and didn't leave my changer for months. My educated guess was that Gabriel no longer cared to compete in the music biz rat race and was content to return to being viewed as the eclectic outsider he was at the start of his solo career. I wholeheartedly applauded his decision, accepted that Peter wasn't going to deliver a fresh record every few years and satisfied myself with occasionally revisiting his exemplary catalogue of work. Even though I had all of Gabriel's albums OVO got lost in the shuffle and became an overlooked item. Recently a friend gave me a copy so I finally got around to hearing it a decade late. It was a pleasant surprise in that it's highly reminiscent of the genius he displayed on the "Passion" soundtrack while possessing a lot of the better aspects of "Up." The plot is vague (a forbidden Romeo and Juliet-ish scenario where the duo don't die but procreate a son who's the culmination of peace between earth people and sky people following a war involving the two factions) but that's okay. The bottom line is that it has the paw prints of the one-and-only Peter Gabriel all over it and that makes it well worth your time.

However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the first cut scared the crap out of me and caused me to suspect that an imposter had invaded his body. "The Story of OVO" opens with a dirge-like atmosphere that's slightly suffocating but that's not the problem. Assaulted by two rappers, I instantly got the urge to projectile vomit due to my acute and incurable allergy to that form of expression. (Sorry, but I'm just not genetically designed to accept hip-hop as an art form. Sue me.) Once one traverses Peter's momentary lapse of reason, though, good stuff arrives starting with "Low Light." It drifts in like dawn over an ominous drone, then symphonic strings descend with Gabriel's wordless voice before things become even more ethereal. It's a beautiful piece of music. "The Time of the Turning" is next and it sports more of a full orchestra motif. Guest Richie Haven's voice is eerily akin to Peter's as he sings emotive lines like "It's the time of turning and there's something stirring outside/It's the time of turning and the old world's falling/Nothing you can do can stop the next emerging" while the underlying rhythm buoys the tune effortlessly. An instrumental, "The Man Who Loved the Earth/The Hand that Sold Shadows," follows and it's a return to the earthy aroma of the first cut sans the monotone rapping. Odd effects rattle around that give the impression of some hooded, vinyl-scratching DJ mole at work and then the 2nd half ensues with an abrupt upswing in tempo and a rude, grinding electric guitar.

"The Time of the Turning/The Weaver's Reel" marks the reprise of the earlier melody but this time it features sparser instrumentation and Elizabeth Fraser's angelic vocal singing "Did you see it move?/There's something there/It's in this very cloth that I weave/In the most peculiar ways that we behave" that expands to include spirited Irish pipes and violins that dominate Part II. They perform a frenetic melody with verve, then the track alternates between the two themes. Peter gave it an intriguing arrangement and the overall product comes off as highly progressive in nature. "Father, Son" is to die for. After a lone piano intro Gabriel's voice appears and wraps you in his unique, husky warmth as he sings about the hard-to-express relationship between a man and his pop. "Remember the breakwaters down by the waves/I first found my courage/knowing daddy could save/I could hold back the tide/with my dad by my side," he croons passionately. This is the kind of song in which Gabriel displays his gift of being able to reach in and grab your heart. "The Tower that Ate People" is the brand of fun, arresting weirdness I've come to expect from him. His distorted vocal and his manipulation of electronic noises create excitement while, at the same time, all semblance of commercial viability goes sailing right out the window. "The more we are protected/the more we're trapped within," he warns. Gotta love him for that. "Revenge" is a short snippet of sound wherein I detect an appealing Nine Inch Nails influence. It leads to "White Ashes," an experiment with different types of synth percussion bounding underneath the nursery rhyme melody that trills "The weight of a dream can bring you down."

"Downside Up," with its folkish air and the duo of Fraser and Paul Buchanan on vocals, is a 180 degree alteration in atmosphere that's disarmingly quaint. "All the strangers look like family/All the family looks so strange/The only constant I am sure of/Is this accelerating rate of change," they sing. Along the way the song increases in pace and intensity as it broadens into a tune that's much more involved. The gorgeous instrumental, "The Nest that Sailed into the Sky," sets a mystical mood reminiscent of the earlier "Low Light" while delving even deeper into a state of serenity. Acoustic guitars and Buchanan's pleasant voice sow great expectations for the closer, "Make Tomorrow." Rumbling rhythms take over briefly, then subside in wake of the repeated chorus, "Make tomorrow/where the sacred meet the scared/Make tomorrow/where the dreamer's dream is dared" that brings Havens and Gabriel back into the spotlight. As so many of Peter's compositions do, this tune shape-shifts and evolves all the way to the last note.

I stated earlier that the story line is enigmatic and fairly nebulous but then so is the narrative of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" and it didn't keep the music and poetry of the lyrics of that epic from making a lasting impression on my psyche. OVO may not be in that league but it certainly makes for an engaging, intriguing listen. And any time you see musicians like Tony Levin, Manu Katche, Steve Gadd, Shankar and David Rhodes on the list of contributors you know it's going to be of a lofty caliber no matter what. Yet I must penalize Mr. Gabriel a half star for his dubious hip-hop gaffe that makes me wonder how many turned OVO off at the first syllable of rap. If you're one of those folks I sympathize with your involuntary gag reflex but I urge you to simply hit the skip button and give the rest of the album another chance. It is superb prog fare.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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