by Geoff Bailie
Usually, when we come to write an album review, we’ve had a chance to hear the music before most of the readers. That means the review is about giving future listeners a taster of what’s in store. However, if you’re a fan of Peter Gabriel, you’ll already have not only heard most of his new album, but in some cases have been able to digest it further over the period of a year.
With the exception of a few one-off tracks and some soundtrack music, the last album of newly composed material was Up from 2002, a welcome release after what, at the time, seemed an extremely long (now regarded as a modest) 10 years since its predecessor, Us, in 1992. While Gabriel has maintained a regular pattern of touring in the intervening years, often dropping a new song / work in progress, the fan base responded enthusiastically to news of a single, a tour, and a forthcoming album. At that point, I’m not sure I realized that the album was actually a year away, but that the music would come in monthly installments. By the time I saw the tour in June 2023, around half of the tracks had been released, but that didn’t prevent Gabriel from building a show around 11 of i/o’s songs – and it was fantastic. Each track arrived in two mixes: Bright-Side and Dark-side, plus members of Gabriel’s Full Moon Club also got a 3rd related version, usually an early version/ demo / stripped back version.
What then makes it a bit challenging – and I know this is a big thing for some of my Prog Report colleagues – is how do you then assess it as “an album”? Would it have been better to get it all at once? Well it would have been different. Personally I enjoyed the gradual reveal, especially given there’s been … well, no reveal really for 20 years, so it’s good that this one lasted.
What about the mixes? The album comes in 2 different versions: Bright-Side and Dark-Side. Again I’m okay with that – the songs are not radically different between one mix and the next. A serious/ intense track doesn’t become happy-clappy due to mix changes, but the overall tone shifts between the versions to make it feel worthwhile. Can I pass the blindfold test on each one? Hmm not sure. I do think that as an alternative, the Bandcamp bonus tracks may well have been a better “second disc” as they do contain more differences – but it is what it is!
So if anyone is at this stage going – why hasn’t he told us about the music yet? – you’ve got a good point! What I will say is that stylistically this album is in the space definitely of Up and to an extent Us in terms of its style and tones. There is perhaps a greater element of acoustic instruments (possibly the New Blood influence) but from the opening of “Panopticom,” where an acoustic 12 string guitar blends with electronica and Tony Levin’s deep bass tones, you can tell it’s PG in “artist-mode” painting the soundscape in the hues he’s sees / hears. And sonically it’s magnificent from start to end – particularly if you enjoy surround and Atmos (I assume the Atmos is great too – full disclosure my set up only extends to surround).
For me the album is definitely a stronger collection of tracks than Up was – it’s probably the PG album that I connected with the least well. By comparison, from the title track i/o onwards, this album has an unbroken streak of 9 contrasting but brilliant songs:
i/o – IMO the classic Gabriel line up: Levin/ Rhodes/ Katche power this one into classic track status
Four Kinds of Horses – a sensitive musing on religion and terrorism with a stunning sympathetic backing
Road To Joy – a crazy upbeat track on the album, with Don-E’s bass synth and Brian Eno’s programming and… ukulele being highlights!
So Much – a simple song about getting old with a fantastic orchestral arrangement. An incredibly beautiful and sensitive piece of music.
Olive Tree – the best chorus on the album! A song about the joy of being alive that… just makes me smile! Love the horns!
Love Can Heal – massive contrast as the soul sounds of Olive Tree shift to this quite experimental, atmospheric track with a simple message.
This Is Home – Gabriel described this as a modern take on traditional Motown sounds, as he does his best Smokie Robinson: “I know you are my home”
And Still – can we call this an epic? It’s nearly 8 minutes long and this is The Prog Report! This is a tribute to Gabriel’s late mother, and the closing orchestral section is superb.
Live And Let Live – a great closer… a joyful song about forgiveness and acceptance in a chaotic world.
It’s great to get the final piece of the jigsaw in place, and the album is now complete, to be digested again in its entirety!
At 73 years old, if there is another album, I really hope it isn’t 20 years away, because… well… who knows! However, an album this good was certainly worth the wait and i/o is a wonderful addition to an incredible catalog.
Released on December 1st, 2023
Order here: https://lnk.to/PG21
Playing for Time
Four Kinds of Horses
Road to Joy
Love Can Heal
This Is Home
Live And Let Live