With so many eyes upon him in his illustrious career, Peter Gabriel has learned to paint with broad brush strokes. With simple but profound statements like “Love can heal” and “We’re all playing for time,” his unparalleled voice strikes a deep chord with his listeners on his latest album, I/O. The way that that broad painting starts out on the album is with a “Panopticon,” or “all seeing eye,” a cryptic project that Gabriel has been working on, to use our level of technology and interconnectedness to document war and economic thriving, hurricanes and wonders of nature, culture and crime in all its manifest forms, under a hopefully benevolent and future-building eye.
By starting with this song, he is not only preparing the world for his charitable work, but helping his listeners to think about all the wonders and terrors that they’ve beheld in their relatively short lives. To say that this project is grand in its ambitions is an understatement. Twenty years in the making, every song recorded not just two but three different ways, and released on every full moon throughout the year. And yet there is a beautiful humility to Gabriel’s offerings: “I’m just a part of everything.”
“I/O,” which is computer language for “input/output,” is his at-once detailed and broad-sweeping statement on the nature of life. “Stuff coming out, stuff going in,” he puts it, in as pedestrian language as he can find. The album deals with life’s wonders, like on the album single, “Road To Joy,” which recalls his older 80’s hits. He deals with death, like on the song about his mother’s passing, “And Still,” a beautiful tribute to the warmth of love he felt as a child. He has songs about how there is “So Much” that we can do with this life, but only so much we can do, as well. “Ah, there’s so much to aim for / You can shoot at the sun / But all of it just comes and goes / There’s only so much can be done.”
It is rumored that Peter Gabriel has over one hundred songs written over the last twenty years, and it is a wonder to behold the twelve that he chose for his culminating comeback album (supposedly followed soon by another album). Peter Gabriel has been a force in the world, even apart from his own music, considered to be one of the most politically active artists according to Rolling Stone magazine, with his liberal pursuits and benefit concerts, a founder of his own World Music record label, Real World Records, and a World Music organization, WOMAD. He doesn’t need to release music to make a difference, to be sure. But this album, which hits all the best points of Gabriel’s writing and recording, including the ingenious recording of “bright side” and “dark side” versions—something any artist can relate with, in all of the minor but meaningful choices you have to make in the recording studio—which recall a sort of Buddhist yin and yang, is a rousing success of a comeback, in my opinion.
I think of artists, sometimes, as they will be looked back upon a thousand years later. I think that this is one of those albums that will be remembered (along with many other of his ten studio albums). Perhaps our future, as open ended as it may be, is determined by great men, like Peter Gabriel, and it’ll be a wonder to behold the ripple effects of both his art and humanitarian work, if we ever get to witness something like that. All of this aside, it’s just a good album. The fact that he has set it up, so that we listen to it twice, is a brilliant strategy: you can’t really tell if something is good, often on just a first listen. I’d highly recommend this album, which picks up directly where he left off, but incorporates years of wisdom in between. Peter Gabriel is a fascinating character, and his music hits on many beneficial levels, in his latest record, an attempt to capture the wonders and cure the ills of the world.
order i/o by Peter Gabriel HERE
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