Exploring the depths
Review: Peter Gabriel – I/O
Peter Gabriel, former frontman of Genesis during its 70’s progressive phase (pre-Phil Collins), has taken an interesting route in the leadup to the release of i/o, his tenth studio album since 2002’s Up. If you’re familiar with Gabriel’s work, then you know that it’s rare that you’ll get something that’s a straightforward listen; there’s something there beneath the surface of the album that’s waiting for you to explore its depths.
It’s an album that’s rooted in the themes of inter/connectedness and covers a surprising amount of ground. Beginning by looking at the hopes and fears surrounding the creation of the internet and what that means for our species as a whole, as well as our innate humanity in the album’s opening track Panopticom, to the bombastic egotism of celebrities and the moneyed elite in The Court, and weaving its way through some beautifully tender moments in Love Can Heal.
Released as three different mixes over the course of the lunar cycle, we’re gifted a bright-side mix, a dark-side mix, and a third Dolby Atmos mix, all different in interesting ways to hear how each of three people tasked with mixing the song interpret it through the mixing desk. Is it overkill? I thought so initially, but then when given the proper space, they become their own things. It also tracks with Peter Gabriel’s history for innovation, and if not innovative, then he will find ways of making the most of the platform he’s releasing to.
Four Kinds of Horses explores the dichotomy of religious beliefs and the voices that nudge adherents toward acts of grace or acts of terror, perspectives drawn from the same texts. It’s not so much an indictment on one religion in particular, but a tap on the shoulder that asks us all to reassess our motives and intentions when we go to invoke our religiosity to reprimand others. Where do those intentions lead? How can we pull back from doing harm?
Road To Joy is a curiosity that calls back to an earlier track from Gabriel’s back catalogue in the most curious of ways by casting the dark, near-industrial sounding The Tower That Ate People from Ovo through a prism and finding the spectrum of colour that it could become. “Fun” is a word that doesn’t get used too frequently with an artist like this, but it’s nice to see that he’s able to explore this through his music, and it’s a welcome addition here before swimming into deeper waters again.
i/o as a track would be at home in a seasons of creation service that celebrates nature, and a wonderful meditation on the way we sometimes don’t see the Holy Spirit as that connecting thread between us as people and the world around us in general.
Up to now, the current track in the release schedule is Love Can Heal, a calm and almost-meditative track highlighted by cello played by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Linnea Olsson. Of the track, Gabriel notes that It sounds trite just to say ‘love can heal, but I really believe that it is a key element and that when people feel interaction, warmth, giving, part of something alive and not isolated, that they’re much more likely to do well and be able to offer more themselves.”
But it also touches on more tender moments with So Much, and Playing For Time. Both predominantly piano pieces and invoking the sound as a tool for reflection and contemplation on lives lived, lives touched, being proud, and being grateful for those experiences and opportunities.
This review is intended to leave out commentary on tracks at the time of writing unreleased, and does so as an invitation of sorts to join me on the rest of this journey. It’s a listening experience that lives and breathes, and pulls you along with it down the path it weaves, sometimes playfully (and sometimes not) through its series of tapestries around the themes of connectedness and human experience. So far it has been one of the genuinely beautiful experiences of the year, and I wasn’t expecting to find it in a collection of songs.
i/o is available on Spotify, YouTube, and other music platforms.
Sarah Alice Allcroft