I was ecstatic when the first full moon of the year rose it’s head. That night not just marked the mighty release of Peter Gabriel’s first (non soundtrack) release in 20 years, but one with Eno, Fripp and the rest of the original Charisma gang. Thinking about it, I couldn’t think of many artists who have given me Goosebumps the way Gabriel and his trusty collective have musically.
The song on the platter, Panopticom, is titled after Bentham’s philosophy on surveillance states; a concept that grows younger in Behtham’s attic every year. And Indeed, it is a grand opening single, with all sorts of impressive Gabriel-isms. Gabriel favours his gravelly low range on the verses, and compliments it with his trademark high range for the chorus; something that always sounds like returning home to good cooking on any Peter Gabriel record. Two mixes were provided, and although we are spoiled, the bright one is the far superior one, rightly voluming up a cheery acoustic guitar to 11. Notably this feels like the first time since the late 70s that an acoustic guitar has been so prominent on a Gabriel record. Kudos to that.
This being said, I found myself growing less complacent with each new release. In many cases Gabriel’s new songs painted a familiar-ish, but ghostly picture of the man who has once taken me to esoteric worlds. While previous Gabriel records have many moments that I return to endlessly, this one doesn’t really. I guess It lacks the undoubtable sense of humour, the incredible sound design (see Gabriel 3, So) and Gabriel’s undeniable talent for writing POV songs, which to me is sorely missed here. In its place we get some skeletal piano ballads about struggling with old age, which truthfully grabs me a lot more on the underrated Indigo than anywhere here. There are also a set of songs about how we’re all one with the earth, supposedly an album theme (although confusingly, there are also tracks about the evils of terrorists repeating themselves in history. Are we supposed to feel compassion for them because we’re all human?). Then there’s ‘Road To Joy‘, a song which sounds like a carbon copy of Steam, which even in 1992 sounded like a cookie cutter version of the untouchable Sledgehammer. In times like this, I get the sinking feeling that Gabriel pitched his tent at the height of his career.
Still, there are some moments where I’m inclined to be more forgiving. In fact, the retrospective approach can really work in Gabriel’s favour at times. ‘Four Kinds Of Horses‘ isn’t just the best track on the album, but one of his best since the early 90s. The picturesque lyrics are a breath of fresh air after the last few tracks. Gabriel here is the stoic onlooker, warning of the dark ages that are undoubtedly ahead of us. Eno’s moody synths shadow Gabriel throughout the track, and wrap him up by the end. Then there’s a track like ‘And Still‘ , which takes on a fragility that is really intensely moving. Gabriel’s sings about the loss of his late mother, Edith here, and his lyrics can hit hard in the best way. ‘I Press My Head Against Your Skin, as I did when I was a boy‘ . It’s one of the albums best tracks, despite it’s noodling progressiveness, which doesn’t do it the favours I wish I could say it does.
i/o is still Peter Gabriel, yes, and it’s certainly not a bad release in the grand scheme of things. The anthemic choruses are everywhere for one, but it’s not the latter period masterpiece I feel it deserves to be, considering the wait time and sheer quality of Gabriel’s catalogue.