Peter Gabriel has been very busy. Or so he says - his last studio album, “Us” was released back in 1992, and since then much has changed. Gabriel was approached a couple of years ago and commissioned to write the musical backdrop for the ambitious Millennium Dome show.
Yes, the Millennium Dome - that much maligned so-called attraction. Basically it’s a big tent full of stuff, but that is irrelevant for the moment. The idea behind the music on this CD is basically a story of evolution, charting the progress of a primitive tribe through various stages of existence from pastoral through industrial and out the other side with all sorts of odd things happening. The story centres around the birth of a child from two different cultures, the name Ovo coming from the child’s face (eg - the one-eyebrow look - although less demonic than baby Gerald from the Simpsons). Well, exactly…
Anyway, the music itself is beautifully crafted, with an often cavernous sound. Since he scored the soundtrack for Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ, Peter Gabriel has championed the use of global music styles and ethnic instruments. This album excels in this respect, and includes parts here and there on things as varied as didgeridoos, hurdy gurdys, dulcimers and tampura to name but four. Likewise there are haunting vocal turns from Gabriel himself as well as Richie Havens, Elizabeth Fraser, Paul Buchanan and others.
The feel throughout is both tribal and forward thinking, and much in a consistent mood despite varied themes. There are a couple of exceptions to the general feel, notably the heartfelt “Father, Son” which Gabriel takes the lead vocal on at the piano (with brass band accompaniment) and the imaginative and catchy “Downside Up” which were both showcased on Later with Jools Holland a few months back. However the ‘story of Ovo’ rap on the bonus CD is a bit… weird.
There are some neat chord progressions, and there really isn’t much to compare it to - but then Peter Gabriel’s music never could be compared directly to anybody else (I believe only Ozzy Osbourne was recently brave enough to cover “Shock the Monkey” from his fourth solo album). New age could perhaps describe it, but then there is much to be heard here which would break that mould. Maybe this is why Gabriel set up his RealWorld record label…
Included with the CD (at least with the version I have seen - there seem to be at least two available) is a story book which is part fairy tale, part anime, and while a bit strange (Gabriel co-wrote the story with Bob Baker, who wrote for Wallace & Gromit), it is useful in setting the tracks on the CD into context.
I haven’t seen the actual Millennium show, but with this as a backdrop it could be a bit of a jaw dropper. However, taken out of context, some of the impact is doubtless lost. What we are left with then is an ultimately rather odd but pleasant collection of sounds from inside the head of Mr Gabriel. If you like him, you’ll probably love this. For the more casual listener it may not be quite the cup of tea (hence the mark I have given it), but it’s still worth a look (or listen). It all bodes well for his long awaited ‘proper’ solo album, but as for when that appears, who knows?