Peter Gabriel’s first new album in nearly 10 years starts with an electronic pulse, calmly inviting as a dip in a sensory deprivation tank. Water drips warmly, pooling to encompass your tired body, then abruptly rears up and smacks your face in a contraction of sound. “Darkness” rocks back and forth between a gentle melody and a sharp industrial reality. Gabriel delivers this cold sonic shower to set the listener for his deeply personal ride of rhythmic sounds and trademark angst-ridden vocals.
Up sustains Gabriel’s mystique and musicality while upgrading his sound to the 21st century. Fans of the introspective Gabriel will appreciate this return to the more intellectual and less-poppy music of Gabriel’s and Genesis’ earlier albums. “Sky Blue” incorporates spiritual singing, a chorus of voices including a bass so deep you’ll feel it in your chest, and “Signal to Noise,” blending Eastern vocals in a powerful piece echoing many people’s sentiments of the world’s current sorry state.
Gabriel also pulls off a “single” he’s already taken on the late-night talk show circuit, “The Barry Williams Show.” Word has it that Geffen tried to get him to change some of the more offensive verses, but Gabriel wouldn’t back down. Think Jerry Springer: “My s & m lover hurt me,/ My girl became a man,/ I love my daughter’s rapist,/ My life’s gone down the pan.”
While Up‘s not Gabriel’s most cohesive piece, the songs in and of themselves are quite good, describing the different phases of a life lived by a human who is too mindful, too thoughtful, and unable to separate himself from the world’s often painful reality.