Peter Gabriel | Up – Lost Gem

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Ten years between albums for most any artist would instantly eliminate him or her from the chart of relevance, much less illicit further interest from anyone who ever cared. But when you’re operating in the secret world of Peter Gabriel, you can afford to take your time. And it’s not like he wasn’t busy — running a record company and trying to save the world is a full time job. Up, Gabriel’s 2002 follow up to 1992’s Us carries on the 14-year tradition of two letter titles with visceral dignity and passionate implication.

As a whole, Up traverses the blurry line of life and death — lyrically infused with deep-seated introspection and sorrow swimming in a sonic sea of salient harmonies, buoyant texturing and consummate profundity. This is the kind of stuff that has kept Gabriel at the vanguard, even during his long periods of supposed inactivity.

Gabriel’s long-term investment into Up was a glowing testament to the singer’s therapeutic approach to his recording career — aligning personal fulfillment with fluent precision. The former front man of Genesis has always had this way of tugging at the heartstrings, in a somewhat unorthodox fashion, perpetuated by a wave of ethereal effects — but never forced, rarely contrived (“Sledgehammer” came dangerously close) and in your face enough to grab your attention. “Darkness” introduces the disc by creeping up slowly, suddenly leaping forward with all the velocity of a wild beast.

Here, Gabriel lets down his guard and blatantly intones the conflicts of his childhood fears and anxieties (“I’m afraid I can be devil man/and I’m scared to be divine…”) “Growing Up” pushes forward in the evolution, a cautious build that ascends into a rhythmic lilt sustained by an elephant roar and a flurry of buzzes, bleeps and stings. “I Grieve” is the singer’s direct statement on mortality and its effects upon the living while “Sky Blue” furthers the notion and features some alluring harmonizations from the Blind Boys of Alabama and chilling guitar work courtesy of both Daniel Lanois (who did not produce the album) and Fleetwood Mac’s legendary nowhere man, Peter Green.

The single “The Barry Williams Show” boasts the vaudevillian antics of So’s “Big Time,” but its message — a departure from the album’s running theme — is a sad commentary on Jerry Springer-type reality programming that borders on cheap and sensationalistic entertainment. Spewing forth lines like, “Dysfunctional excess/Is all it took for my success/The greater pain that they endure/The more you know the show has scored? It’s Showtime,” Gabriel’s sardonic and venomous delivery makes the track worth a spin. From there, things take a turn for the better. “My Head Sounds Like That” brandishes an edgy Lennonesque veneer, revealing Gabriel’s penchant for economical and stark melodies.

On “Signal To Noise,” a mounting orchestra sounds the empathetic alarm amidst the additional warm vocalizations flowing from the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Up ends on the last barren notes emoted with the simple piano line and isolated vocal of “The Drop.” When you delve into a dark album with an optimistic edge, it’s reassuring to know there are artists over the half-century mark that still take chances and have something significant to say.

~ Shawn Perry

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