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Gabriel's Up



Gabriel, Peter. Santa Monica, CA: Geffen, 2002. UPC: 606949338824.

If 1994's Us was about the will to knowledge, particularly of the self, but also of the other, Up is about the knowledge awaiting us on the other side of realization. The theme of Us, lyrically speaking, was relationships, particularly the loving relationships between men and women, but also the nebulous relationships between family members, lovers, and friends. "Come Talk to Me" and "Secret World" were supplications to emotionality in an attempt to overcome the divisions, usually faulty and predicated upon failures in communication, to bring individuals together. "Love to be Loved" and "Washing of the Water" appealed to self-realization, bringing desire and reflection to the fore. But most importantly, "Blood of Eden" and "Kiss that Frog" were predicated upon the myths of division between the sexes (Adam and Eve and the fairy tale of the frog prince). Gabriel, rather than demystifying these myths of division, ascribed power to them, only working to reify ancient stories of separation for a generation of postmodern romantics. And while Us was rather explosive in its sound -- even in songs that are principally ballads there is a sense of expansion and totalization, as if the music fails to be contained -- Up is decidedly claustrophobic. As if, upon looking inward, gazing into the abyss, Gabriel has realized that the abyss is no bottomless pit, but rather a shallow grave.

"Darkness," the first track on the album, is one of the most interesting. Exchanging rather traditional Gabriel arrangements with bursts of metallic noise, the song provides a difficult entrance into the album. And the lyrics confront this division between Us and Up: Rather than the man-woman duets of the previous album, this is a duet between two Gabriels, one the frustrated self of Us, the other, the new Gabriel. "I have my fears, but they do not have me," one Gabriel -- the new Peter -- sings to his angrier self. Rather than the Hyde-figure that the will to knowledge foretold of, "the monster…lies curled up on the floor…just like a baby boy." In response to this reality, Gabriel can only "cry until [he] laugh[s]." All of the divisions of Us, predicated upon the beast within, are brought to naught. But reduced to this childlike self, "Growing Up" details the process of maturation -- this time done with the wisdom acquired through the pains and trials of Us.

The other rather interesting tracks are "Sky Blue" and "Signal to Noise." The former is a more developed version of a number of themes that appear on 2002's instrumental album, Long Walk Home. While the earlier versions of the theme are all rather interesting, "Sky Blue" develops them into a cohesive, and powerful whole. It is easily the most expansive of the album's songs, in strange counterpoint to "Signal to Noise," which appears towards the end of the album. The late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan appears on the track in sampled (presumably) vocals, itself providing a foil for Gabriel's more Western lyrical approach. Between the two men (another strange duet), they work to make the album implode upon itself. If "Sky Blue" and "Growing Up" provide ways out of the introspective reality that Gabriel has achieved (the third and second tracks on the album, respectively), "Signal to Noise" works to limit these ways out. Followed as it is by the minimalist "The Drop," "Signal to Noise" collapses to album into an unresolved melancholy very different from Us's rather bombastic album-closer "Secret World." As such, the album begs to be played over and over again in an attempt to resolve itself. But this resolution can never really come -- like the process of self-realization, there is always another layer to peel away, another "baby boy" lying on the floor to be confronted.

The sound of the album is roughly analogous to Us -- the same musicians, Tony Levin, David Rhodes, Manu Katche, et al., return to work with Gabriel on this album -- but, if anything, the sound has become more electronic in nature, more processed (a sonic quality that arose on 1999's Ovo). But rather than producing a sound that immediately dates itself (like David Bowie's Earthling in 1996), because Gabriel depends on simple rhythms and a variety of "ethnic" instruments, the electronic quality of the album lays a foundation that these more human qualities can play; it helps to bring an intensity to the passion.

Like all of Gabriel's work, there is something intensely personal about this album, as if the listener is welcomed into a living diary of sorts. There's something infinitely rich to the album for this reason as well. Unlike the rather sentimental lyrics of 1984's So (particularly "Don't Give Up"), these lyrics are romantic in the traditional sense of being concerned with ideals, and with the possibilities of living. The high romance of Us has given way to a more human, and more tragic, everyday romance. And so the title of the album may seem a little ironic in this sense: It is, if anything, a "down" album. Many people won't like it, simply because it fails to offer the same sort of sentimental expanse that earlier albums have. But it is a powerful album; in many ways it is the successor of 1989's Passion than of any of the more traditional albums. And for those who listen to music, Up is a profoundly rewarding experience.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer