Music Discoveries: Peter Gabriel, Real World Records era


In previous posts I’ve examined Peter Gabriel’s origins with the band Genesis, and is increasingly successful output as a solo artist. Never one to follow trends, Gabriel followed up his hit album So by creating a new label called Real World Records, which would release his remaining albums to date as well as the work of non-Western musical artists, helping popularize World Music.  Gabriel’s output has been slight over the past 30 years compared with his earlier career, but there’s still a lot that I missed out on.

Title: Passion
Released: June 5, 1989
Label: Real World

Three years after achieving rock stardom with So, Gabriel returns with a collection of instrumental tunes drawing on Middle Eastern and African influences as a soundtrack to the controversial Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ.  Not at all your typical career move.  I remember not liking the movie all that much, not because it was offensive but because it was weird.  Nevertheless I did play parts of Passion on my college World Music radio show.  I don’t think I appreciated the soundtrack album all that well, though, because listening to it now I find it far more entrancing and engaging.  Perhaps it was ahead of its time?

Rating: ****


Title: Us
Released: September 29, 1992
Label: Real World

After a six year wait, Gabriel returned with an album of new songs and it was a big deal.  I remember listening to this on repeat when it came out my sophomore year of college but not at all since then.  I found it worth revisiting, although ironically, two of the singles from the album are the weakest tracks: “Steam” is derivative of “Sledgehammer while “Kiss That Frog” is a puerile request for a blowjob.  The other hit from this album, “Digging in the Dirt,” is an excellent reflection of relationships which also doubled as my theme song for all the archaeological fieldwork I was doing at the time.  “Washing of the Water” is a song I didn’t recall but really liked upon revisiting.

Rating: ***1/2


Title: Secret World Live
Released: September 13, 1994
Label: Real World

I’m entering into uncharted territory here, as I’m not familiar with really any of Gabriel’s post-Us catalog, albeit it is mostly live albums and soundtracks. This album features live performances of songs from Us plus as smattering of earlier hits. In a very 90s moment, Paula Cole lends her lovely voice as a substitute for Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up.”

Rating: ***1/2


Title: OVO
Released: June 12, 2000
Label: Real World

The soundtrack to the Millenium Dome Show features guest performances by Neneh Cherry, Rasco, Richie Havens, Elizabeth Fraser, and Paul Buchanan, although I can’t find a source that credits which tracks they each appear on.  The songs tell a story of some sort and are a mix of genres.  The opening track features a rap which works surprisingly well with Gabriel’s grooves.  Other tracks have a Celtic sound reminiscent of the Afro-Celt Sound System (who are Real World artists, so maybe not a coincidence).  There are some good moments and some meh moments but nothing stands out as really amazing or terrible.  I am curious to what this show was like, though.

Rating: ***


Title: Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence
Released: April 16, 2002
Label: Real World

Another soundtrack from Peter Gabriel with instrumental, atmospheric, World Music-y, tunes.  It’s fine and good, but I’m realizing that even though I’m listening to these over a few days, Peter Gabriel’s essential sound has remained unchanged for a decade now.  I do need to this movie.

Rating: ***


Title: Up
Released: September 24, 2002
Label: Real World

After a ten year absence, Peter Gabriel returns with a new studio album of original songs (which is also his most recent to date!).  I remember hearing “The Barry Williams Show” when it first came out, felt puzzled about why Gabriel was satirizing the Jerry Springer show a decade after it was trendy, and pretty much shrugged it off.  I may have been too hasty as there are some worthwhile tracks on this album.  He apparently spent the 90s listening to industrial music which is evident in tracks like “Darkness” and “Growing Up.” Ultimately, though, this album seems disappointing after the long wait.

Rating: **1/2


Title: Big Blue Ball
Released: June 24, 2008
Label: Real World, Rykodisc

This is less of a Peter Gabriel album than a collaborative project.  Gabriel is joined by artists from around the world including Wendy Melvoin of Wendy & Lisa, Sinéad O’Connor, Karl Wallinger (of World Party), Natacha Atlas, and Papa Wemba.  Recorded over several sessions in the 1990s, it has that enjoyable, if a bit dated, sound of World Beat fusion, something I’d have enjoyed on an album released by Ellipsis Arts, or Real World Records. I enjoy “Habibe,” “Shadow,” “Forest,” and “Jijy” most.

Rating: ****


Title: Scratch My Back
Released: February 12, 2010
Label: Real World

Maybe Peter Gabriel has had writer’s block for decades, because after another eight-year absence, he released an album entirely of cover songs.  The songs are from Gabriel’s contemporaries like David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Lou Reed as well as newer artists who were influenced by Gabriel such as Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, and Radiohead.  Unfortunately, every single interpretation is slow and maudlin, adding no value to original versions of these songs.  A disappointment piled upon disappointments.

Rating: **


 

Title: New Blood
Released: October 10, 2011
Label: Real World

Gabriel returns again, this time with orchestral arrangements of his previous work.  It’s kind of like a greatest hits with symphonic accompaniment.  Appropriately the music has a cinematic sound which fits in with all of Gabriel’s soundtrack work. Some tracks profit from the arrangement like “Rhythm of the Heat” and “Red Rain.”  Others, like “In Your Eyes,” lake the urgency of the original recordings and end up sounding dirge-like.  It’s a nice experiment but does make one wonder about Gabriel’s lack of new material.

Rating: ***


 

Title: Growing Up Live
Released: February 8, 2019
Label: Real World

Peter Gabriel’s most recent album release is a live concert recording that’s not all that recent (it was recorded and released as a concert film in 2003).  It is an excellent concert with guest vocals by The Blind Boys of Alabama.  I’d like to attend a Peter Gabriel concert if the opportunity presents itself in the future (and we’re allowed to go to concerts).

Rating: ***1/2

And so concludes my investigation of five decades of the musical creations of Peter Gabriel. Let’s hope he has some more music to add to his catalog before too long!

Music Discoveries: Tom Waits


Tom Waits is a veteran singer-songwriter whose voice is a combination of sidewalk preacher, carnival barker, beat poet, and barstool philosopher. I first heard of Waits in the 80s when he was known as the guy with the crazy, gravely voice.  But then I heard the track “Innocent When You Dream” on a compilation album and fell in love with the heartfelt beauty underneath what sounded like a drunk guy crooning at a bar.  I got the album Franks Wild Years and it remains one of my all time favorites, and I’ve checked in and out on Waits’ career over the years.  This is the first time I’ve listened to all of Waits’ catalog from beginning to most current, and let me tell you it’s not easy to listen to all that Waits’ music back-to-back-to-back, although it is a worthwhile exercise.

Tom Waits’ career can be summed up into three basic eras:

  • 1970s – Waits was a little more eccentric than his contemporaries, but listening to his early recordings and he seems to fit in with the singer-songwriters of the era. You might even imagine an alternate universe where his career followed the paths of the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, or Randy Newman.  His trademark gravely voice didn’t even make its debut until the third album, and in the seventies it was more of an homage to Louis Armstrong or Doctor John as Waits recorded jazz and blues tinged tunes.
  • 1980s – This decade marked the emergence of the iconic Waits’ style, verging between lost recordings of American and avant guarde music with unusual instrumentation and tunings.  The decade is marked by the trilogy of albums he’s most remembered for: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987).
  • 1992 to present – While Waits’ music in this period remains experimental by the standards of contemporary popular music, and inspiration for “alternative music,”  it doesn’t vary much from the template he established in the 1980s.  Similarly, while 1990s and 2000s recordings include numerous gems and good albums overall, Waits is own worst enemy as a producer in that he allows the albums to be bloated with excess tracks that should be judiciously trimmed.  In short, don’t do what I did and listen to everything, but definitely seek out the good stuff.

Tom Waits hasn’t released anything new since 2011 or toured since 2008, but hopefully he has some songs left in him and there will be another Tom Waits era to look back on in the future.

Five Favorite Albums

  • Closing Time (1973) – definitely one of the great all-time debut albums, and the first three tracks are a strong start to any album.
  • Rain Dogs (1985) – Waits’ masterpiece and one of the great albums of the 1980s.
  • Franks Wild Years (1987) – the soundtrack to a play I’ve never seen, it remains a sentimental favorite
  • Bone Machine (1992) – Waits charges into the 1990s showing the alt-rockers how things are done with haunting lyrics and aural soundscape
  • Blood Money (2002) – these are songs from another play, but also reflect the misanthropy and pessimism of the post-Sept. 11th world under George W. Bush

Twenty-Five Favorite Songs

 

1. “Ol’ 55”

2. “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

3. “Virginia Avenue”

4. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)”

5. “Jersey Girl”

6. “16 Shells from A Thirty-Ought-Six”

7. “In the Neighbourhood”

8. “Jockey Full of Bourbon”

9. “Hang Down Your Head”

10. “Downtown Train”

11. “Hang on St. Christopher”

12. “Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)”

13. “Yesterday is Here”

14. “Way Down in the Hole”

15. “Cold Cold Ground”

16. “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

17. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

18. “T’ Ain’t No Sin”

19. “Hold On”

20. “House Where Nobody Lives”

21. “Misery is the River of the World”

22. “God’s Away on Business”

23. “Flowers Grave”

24. “Hoist That Rag”

25. “Chicago”