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Peter Gabriel: Up


Peter Gabriel

Album: Up
Label: Geffen

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It's been 10 years since Peter Gabriel released Us, an uneven but subtly outstanding concept album about divorce and decay, but the concept of the new Up doesn't miss a beat: For the most part, it's a bleak, deliberate, decidedly mature meditation on death and grief. Though he occasionally falls prey to Oprah-worthy declarations of self-help ("I have my fears / but they do not have me," declares the alternately jagged and soothing "Darkness"), Gabriel shows he's unafraid to be creatively ambitious—and, most likely, commercially dead to the world. At its best, on the back-to-back epics "No Way Out" and "I Grieve," Up stretches the singer's pleasantly familiar template in the aid of some serious soul-searching, before closing with "The Drop," an elegant three-minute reflection that washes away much of the showiest pomp that precedes it. And then there's "The Barry Williams Show," which, to put it euphemistically, raises more questions than it answers. Dropped in the middle of Up, the song is a jaunty, croaking condemnation of The Jerry Springer Show that for some reason serves as the album's lead single. Whether or not Gabriel meant to name his Springer surrogate after the actor who played Greg Brady, the song sounds preposterously out-of-step and dated (what's next, a track taking greedy televangelists to task?), as if he'd recorded it moments after Us came out, then shelved it when a follow-up wasn't immediately forthcoming. Because "Williams" is so haphazardly pasted into the middle of an otherwise tonally and thematically consistent record, it's easy to blame label demands for a single, even one so unlikely to succeed. It's too bad Up was deemed in need of such desperate measures, but at least the rest of it seems that much more admirable by comparison.