In this review, Peter Gabriel, Us (Real World, 1992).
I came of age in the early 90s, that silver age of the mix tape. CDs had become ubiquitous, making creating kickin’ mixes easy. But, the internet was on the horizon, with Napster parties and mp3s just about to burst on the stage in a real way. All too soon we were swapping playlists and, eventually, getting into streaming services and all sorts.
That time — about 1992/3 — that I fell in love (properly) for the first time. And, joy!, it was reciprocated. My beloved we shall call Cynthia. She was a complex and brooding soul, vastly intelligent, and very artistic. She also had two older sisters who listened to lots of music, meaning that she really opened my ears to all sorts of sounds that were brand new to me and amazing.
She wove these together into a series of mixes that I still have, nearly 25 years later. One thread that tied them together was Peter Gabriel. ‘Only Us’ became a theme for our relationship and stayed with me in the dark days after our (inevitable) breakup. With a few exceptions, though, I didn’t know much else by him.
When I was in a record store the other day I saw Us, his sixth studio album. I was feeling the pricks of nostalgia, and since ‘Only Us’ doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify, I decided to go for it. It’s a two disc set including other tracks I knew, like ‘Steam’ and ‘Sledgehammer’.
The production value is exactly what you’d expect from Gabriel. Complex orchestrations, rich textures, and Sinead O’Connor doing some backing vocals (??). As an album, though, it does chart an interesting emotional journey. The usual themes are all their, like live and longing and hearbreak. But Gabriel sprinkles hope in there as well, which for me really raises the whole experience.
Sitting here this evening, with a bourbon in my hand and the embers of a hard week dying out around me, this album is coming together like a puzzle. The picture I’m beginning to see is complex, but it does look a lot like needing to think about yourself and your own actions.
Critics of the album found it a little bland, and I can see where they’re coming from. Giving it a chance to unfold at its own pace, however, and allowing it to open itself up under its own terms is very positive. It undulates beautifully, like watching a fire when there are no other lights on in the room.
A few of the places I’ve been hurt open up, but just enough to give me the chance to reflect on choices that have been made. I wonder if it does the same for Cynthia.