Classic Album Review: So – Peter Gabriel

It’s the 25th anniversary of Peter Gabriel’s album So, a career defining moment for the progressive rock icon that transcended to new horizons once he hit it solo.     The first four albums by Mr. Gabriel were all self titled.  He didn’t think albums needed a title, it was just music, but once his fifth one hit the stands his record company needed a title.   Peter decided he would name it So that way he made it as simple as possible.   It turned out quite good, this album is the one that pushed him in to the mainstream, he won multiple awards and has at least 4 or 5 favorites still played in his live repertoire these days.   In your eyes, Sledgehammer, Mercy Street, Don’t Give Up and Red Rain are fabulous songs that have gotten plenty of air time, and now, 25 years later we go back and analyze why it is considered one of his best.

The four previous Peter Gabriel albums were all very experimental, specially the third one which posted some of the strangest arrangements yet by any musician.    His no cymbals method for that album turned out to be quite eccentric and forced his musicians to go overboard in the creative department, utilizing new ideas to create substitutions for those missing parts of the drums.     Many say the third album is his best, and I can’t disagree.   The fourth album was probably as crazy as the last one, employing samplers as the main source of sound and exploring new boundaries in music.   San Jacinto comes to mind as one of the best examples of pure organic sample joy.

When So was released, its sported a very different more solid Gabriel.  A little bit more pop oriented but without his  signature world music sound.   He still used african percussion, a japanese flute called Shakuhachi and other ethnic instruments that made his music much different than other popular artists at the time.   Sledgehammer also debuted on the video screen with some of the most bizarre effects at the time, winning award after award for originality and production.    It was very creative, making use of Peter Gabriel’s signature style of bizarre stuff.    It wasn’t a surprise though, he had been using these kind of bizarre gimmicks ever since the Genesis days.    So is as solid an album as any, lets go to the songs:

Red Rain:  Still a favorite of mine.   It starts out with a very dynamic intro quickly filling the music with Peter’s voice.  Sounding more mature than ever he sings about a dream he had regarding acid rain after a nuclear meltdown.  Pretty deep, and very peculiar way to start the album.   An awesome song, one of his best.

Sledgehammer:  Played a little bit too much, this song is part of the 80′s repertoire in any compilation disc.  It starts out with the Shakuhachi and quickly enters a very rhythmic part with a brass section and jazzy bass line.   Peter sings in his typical form, and brings us a very catchy song that reached the masses as non of his songs had ever had before.

Don’t Give Up:  A beautiful song.  Tony Levin’s bass line is son deep, it moves the rest of the song in a perfect manner that it’s just as masterful as anything previously done by him.   Peter and Kate Bush do a stellar job in bringing the songs lyrics to life.  It’s one of the deepest songs in the album, and one that gives us a positive way of seeing life.

That voice again:  One of the most underrated songs of the album because it didn’t get any radio air time, That Voice Again is another good addition to the album.  It continues the line in which the disc started, it’s almost like a mix of the first two songs.    Very nice song.

Mercy Street:  This is probably the best song in this compilation.   It starts out with a synth pad, using a chord that varies during several seconds en then with a portamento sound the introduction is made.   Percussion and a melodic arpeggio are the background of a deep Peter Gabriel voice telling you an almost hypnotizing story leading us to the wonderful chorus.   It’s one of those songs that demands a second listen.   Top 3 Peter songs of all time.

Big Time:  This is a song that brings joy to my ears.   The rhythm is as catchy as they come, but the highlight must be the lyrics.  It tells you the story of a man that wants to make it big.  He moves out of his looser home town to work in the big city where he becomes a millionaire who has all the parties, girls, food, drinks he can have.  So he suddenly gets, bigger in every way, even his body!  It’s so funny!  Just Peter being Peter.

We do what we are told:  This is one of those bridge songs, one that repeats a loop that just puts you into a trance.  It makes perfect sense because it gets you in this mood to prepare you for the next song.  Very Peter Gabriel like.  This kind of stuff is the kind of things he’s been doing since the Genesis days.

This is the Picture:  Another masterful song.   I love the way it integrates sounds from other songs in the album, sometimes even bringing some of the genius stuff Peter used in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.    It actually reminds me of what kind of things Gabriel would be doing if he was put the same task of doing a double concept album in this frame time.

In your eyes:   I love the tribal ethnic percussive sound in this song.   He uses all his world music influence to create a rare love song.   Remember, Peter almost never talks about Love, at least up to this point in his career, so it was a welcome change to hear him sing about it in his peculiar way.   It worked as you know, this became his biggest song to date, and one date seems to be timeless.  Lovely!

Conclusion:  So may not be the best album he ever released, that title probably belongs to the third self titled album, but it’s certainly the biggest statement he made as a pop artist to the mainstream audience.   Songs like Mercy Street and Red Rain remind us how talented Peter is, and songs like Sledgehammer and In your eyes tell us his potential to create hits.    The rest of the songs are so coherent that the album quickly becomes a classic.    Enduring the test of time is a big challenge, and after 25 years, So  has happened to remind in our hearts as the album that brought Peter Gabriel to the masses.

Score: 8.2 out of 10.0

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