Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Age shall not weary them?
Guns'N Roses' 2008 album Chinese Democracy arrived 17 years after their previous album of original music and was so long-promised that some suggested China would get democracy before we'd get the album.
The Rolling Stones' recent Hackney Diamonds appeared 18 years after their last album of original material (A Bigger Bang in case you had forgotten).
You'd have thought – in their advanced years – the Stones and Gabriel (74 in a couple of months) might have felt the hot breath of haste on their cheeks . . . but no, they were clearly busy doing something -- or nothing -- elsewhere.
To be fair to Gabriel he did have some releases in that chasm of a couple of decades: eight years on from Up he released Scratch My Back on which he covered songs – with an orchestra – by Bowie (Heroes), Paul Simon (Boy in the Bubble), Neil Young (Philadelphia) and others.
Then there was New Blood (orchestrated versions of songs from his own back-catalogue) and live albums: Live Blood and Back to Front; Live in London.
There were other projects too (concert films), but no album of new music until now.
That said – and again to be fair -- every full moon this year he released a new song, which had been how he intended the Scratch My Back/And I'll Scratch Yours (the Scratch My Back artists covering his songs) to arrive.
Anything involving Gabriel seems to take its time, but now these moontime singles have been compiled as i/o (“in/out” or “inside/outside”, depending on what you read) which arrive on streaming services in a Bright Side Mix by Spike Stent and the same pieces given a Dark Side Mix by Tchad Blake.
There are also In-Side mixes on the expanded CD sets.
You wait decades for an album and then one comes along . . . in three different iterations.
That is a lot of intricately detailed listening – and looking too, there are commissioned artworks with each piece in one edition.
But people have given him the time: the album went straight to number one in Britain and top five in a number of European countries where he is revered as an artist and not just a pop singer.
So, as expected, i/o is full of fascinating sounds, percussion and profound thinking with a cast which includes Eno, longtime musicians Tony Levin (bass) and David Rhodes (guitars), string and horn players, a Swedish male voice choir, an orchestra and the Soweto Gospel Choir.
Despite that collision of talent, this rarely sounds crowded and Gabriel's distinctively snapping, menacing and yearning soulful voice remains central.
The Bright Side Mix of the ballad Playing for Time is classic Gabriel which becomes a heroic swell as he contemplates the passage of time, memory and love: “The young move to the centre, the mom and dad the frame. Any space, any time, any moment that we bring to life. Ridiculous, sublime”.
It sounds more agonised and resigned in the Dark Side Mix.
There's a lot of big thinking here, as on the inspirational Live and Let Live.
The philosophical title track places the singer in the greater picture of life (“stuff coming out, stuff going in, I'm just a part of everything”) and the skeletal and scratchy Dark mix of Four Kinds of Horsemen takes us back to his unnerving songs on his third self-titled solo album in 1980 (aka Melt, a longtime Essential Elsewhere album).
This is Home connects with his world music funk and ironically sounds brighter, more intimate and poppy in the Dark mix: “Here beside the churning sea a calm came over me, 'cause I know this is home. Home is where I need to be”.
There are some slight pieces here which get by on the arrangements and heavyweight lyrics, but over at least two and quarter hours, Peter Gabriel offers ample rewards in this banquet.
i/o is best enjoyed in small servings.