Peter Gabriel, ‘i/o': Album Review
Peter Gabriel has taken a novel approach to his first album of new material in more than two decades. Throughout 2023, he released a song from i/o during each full moon. So, its dozen songs – starting with "Panopticom" in January – were already available to assemble into an LP-length playlist before the album's official release in December.
But that doesn't make Gabriel's first all-original album since 2002's Up any less meaningful. (2010's Scratch My Back and 2011's New Blood were covers records featuring other artists' songs and orchestral re-recordings from Gabriel's solo catalog, respectively.) Taken as a 68-minute total piece, i/o continues the former Genesis frontman's post-So career bloom as an artist inclined to challenge his audience in favor of quick commercial hits.
Anyone paying attention over the past 12 months knows these songs; the attraction here is how they unite as a singular piece. And that's how they will be remembered. (i/o is available in both "Bright-Side" and "Dark-Side" mixes, reflecting the postproduction work of producers-engineers Mark "Spike" Stent and Tchad Blake.) Like Gabriel's latter-day solo recordings, the album is more about mood and flow than fulfilling any sort of pop music mandate.
He's particularly reflective on i/o, musing on mortality and the hope of renewal. The slow burns of "Time" and the apocalyptic "So Much" reveal their textures – both musical and lyrical – over time, finding peace among the inevitable. As he notes in the title track, "I'm just a part of everything / I stand on two legs and I learn to sing / ... When the painting is over and the warmth has run out, love will be flowing, I have no doubt / With the vehicle in neutral and the ground to be faced, I will be all laid to rest in my proper place."
There are more celebratory moments, too, as Gabriel peers into the bright new worlds of "Panopticom" and "Road to Joy." Mostly, though, i/o is about rebirth, which may not be so surprising since fans have waited 21 years for new music by the creatively revived Gabriel. In "Olive Tree," the most commercially accessible song on i/o, he reflects, "I’ve got the water falling on me / It's all waking me up / I’ve got the sunlight bright on my back warming up all my bones / I’ve got thе cool breeze right on my skin bringing every cеll to life, making all connections live." It's easy to pin these thoughts to the pandemic and its aftermath, but initial work on i/o started in 1995. Gabriel, like the world around him, has grown into them with comforting resilience.
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso