The master of reinvention, the sonic evolution of Peter Gabriel over the last five decades has been nothing short of extraordinary. From pioneering prog rock to spectacular art-rock, it’s clear to see why he could be described as the trailblazing musical incarnation of Doctor Who.
Adopting a unique approach to ‘i/o’, his tenth studio album, Peter has released each song from ‘i/o’ to coincide with the full moon with cover art from renowned artists like Nick Cave, Ai Weiwei, and Cornelia Parker. His first full-length studio album since 2002’s ‘Up’, ‘i/o’ has been a musical project for almost three decades, with its initial production dating back to 1995 and it marks the longest gap between two studio albums in his solo career, but as always with Gabriel, ‘i/o’ is infinitely worth the wait.
Tackling themes as varied as renewal, nature, time, rebirth and injustice in the shape of the sublime The Court, Peter has released two versions of ‘i/o’ – a Bright side and Dark side, both of which have the same songs, but with the two versions reflecting the post production work of Mark ‘Spike’ Stent with the vibrant Bright side edition and Tchad Blake who serves up a more sculpted approach. There’s also The Dolby Atmos In-Side mix released on Blu-ray courtesy of Hans-Martin Buff.
Whilst each track can be listened to in isolation, the album effortlessly links this impressive collection of tracks that encompass the fragility of life, mortality and rebirth.
Opening track ‘Panopticom’ with its lush production values envisions surveillance culture in an AI-enabled world “While we watch the world around us / We got witness on the ground / Takin’ in the evidence”, is accompanied by a fusion of acoustic guitar and sinister driving electronica beats.
Each track has received intricate arrangements and is the perfect accompaniment to Peter Gabriel’s sumptuous rich tones which is at its best with the emotive ‘Playing For Time’ which explores mortality, both individually and the mortality to our planet.
This track has been in fruition as an instrumental track since the ‘90’s and has performed live without lyrics. Brilliant as a composition, but extraordinary as a full finished piece, Peter’s lyrics explore whether we are prisoners of time and if we can ever be free from the concept of time. Tender and vulnerable, Peter’s vocals bring elegance and a beautiful subtlety to lyrics like: “The future shines a sunny day / Unpacked memories stored away / All the while, the clock keeps ticking / You and I still playing for time.”
Grief is a key part of ‘And Still’ which is a tribute to Peter’s recently departed mother, and sees him adjusting to life without his mum. One of his most personal and revealing songs to date, ‘And Still’ sees him wandering through her house with memories being triggered at every corner. Feeling her “presence everywhere”, Peter compares his mother to the sun saying how “…every morning, you’d be there / Now you’re gone / And you warmed me like the sun”.
Revelatory and haunting, ‘And Still’ show how memories can ground us and offer us comfort in our darkest hours. The titular track ‘I/o’ accentuates mutual dependency and how we are ‘part of everything’, even if on face value we don’t realise it.
‘Road To Joy’ is a radiant triumph with its rousing electro-funk beats that does exactly what it says on the tin, it evokes joy from start to finish, examining the importance of reawakening your senses and coming back to life after a near death experience. It gives something reminiscent of a ‘Sledgehammer’ vibe and features Soweto Gospel Choir, and musicians from Gabriel’s current touring band, including longtime collaborators such as bass player Tony Levin.
‘i/o’ takes us on a journey… of life and all of its experiences and is set to be one of Peter Gabriel’s greatest solo albums to date.
Words: Emma Harrison