Peter Gabriel – Us (1992)

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by Nick DeRiso

“Us” was a cool blending of Peter Gabriel‘s 1986 hit “So” and “Passion,” his 1989 soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

But even though that is certainly welcome, “Us” was no step backward.

Save for “Fourteen Black Paintings” — the only song here that touches on Gabriel’s penchant for the political — “Us” finds the former Genesis frontman surveying the wreckage of two past relationships. He comes away with few answers.

Throughout, Gabriel’s core band is in rare form, and they are the heart of this album. The big news, however, was everybody else: Many tracks include more than a dozen people — certainly a first for such an introverted, even egocentric, dude. (Gabriel kept naming his albums Peter Gabriel until an American label slapped a sticker with the word “Security” on one of them.)

Even with the crowd, however, “Us” features interior performances that are implausibly taut — very clearly the work of someone who had taken years to sort things out. Credit, too, goes to co-producer Daniel Lanois.

Less pleasing for the drive-by folks who got on board with MTV hits like “Big Time,” however, is this: The melodies often aren’t clearly stated. On the first few listens, many songs come off as anything but taut; they turn tight playing into first-blush confusion. Put it another way: These songs are more than five minutes long. Almost every time.

Accordingly, reviews at the time fell neatly into two categories — those who listened to “Us” once or twice, then starting writing … and those who sat with it a little longer.

With a lyrical directness that’s surprising (in particular for Peter Gabriel), a CD like this just requires more from its musical score. The songs are more complex, anyway. A problem for some people (not me) was that Gabriel had emersed himself in Eastern, atonal music.

So you have tracks that aren’t radio friendly, but are certainly heart-rending … tracks like the terrific “Secret World” (call it this album’s “Red Rain”). The deft mixture of drum loops, dobro and cello was driving and emotional.

That track’s counterbalance was “Love to Be Loved” (this album’s “Mercy Street”), a song that may be obvious but is far from boring. Its arc, as a lyric and as a tune, is huge.

“Blood of Eden” — with soaring vocals by Sinead O’Connor and Lanois — is almost unlistenably beautiful. “Steam” (this album’s “Sledgehammer”) would have sounded better if it had not crash landed so soon afterward.

So, in the end, trying to swallow “Us” whole is not a good idea. After a good bit of chewing, though, I’ve found it to be one of my favorites by this most challenging artist.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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