by Jeff Fleischer(Nude as the News, August 16, 2000)
After spending the early 1980s as a prolific alternative musician, Peter Gabriel achieved mass appeal with 1986’s So. But rather than build on his mainstream audience, Gabriel took a break to focus on world music projects. He made only one studio album in the 1990s – 1992’s Us – one that combines a pop songwriting style with more diverse production.
Us is not the opus one would expect as a followup to So (with only the soundtrack album Passion in-between), but it is a very good thematic album about relationships and sexuality infused with an interesting mix of instruments and styles. Gabriel produced the album and incorporated, in his words, “extra brainstorming” with production guru Brian Eno, whose influence can be clearly heard throughout.
The album opens with “Come Talk to Me,” highlighted by a crescendoing bagpipe opening. In a yearning tone, Gabriel pleads for an open line of communication, “breaking out through the silence / all the things that we both might say.” He relies on Chris Ormston’s bagpiping, sabar drums from the Babacar Faye drummers and backup vocals by Sinead O’Connor to help round out a track that sets up the rest of the album well.
“Love to be Loved” and “Blood of Eden” slow things down, with Gabriel singing in a near-whisper before displaying his range on the choruses. O’Connor joins him again on the latter track, arguably the album’s strongest thanks to its tight vocals and wordplay. “Washing of the Water” opens with a hymn-like verse before blending into the album’s overall sound, taking a more relaxed lyrical approach: “Thought that I could get along / But here in this water / My feet won’t touch the ground.”
While most of the songs on Us take a serious approach to sex and relationships, “Kiss That Frog” is a tongue-in-cheek departure based on a popular fairy tale. “Steam,” which provided most of the album’s radio airplay, features up-tempo vocals and fun lyrics (“What are those dogs doing sniffing at my feet / They’re on to something / Picking up this heat”) over a funk beat.
The album ends with “Secret World,” which provides closure on the theme of love-influenced turmoil: “With no guilt and no shame / No sorrow or blame / Whatever it is, we are all the same.” The track’s title also provided the name for Gabriel’s 1992-93 concert tour and live album, his only other ’90s release. There are rumors that another album is now in the works for 2001, and as Us demonstrates, Gabriel still has plenty to contribute.
RiYL: early Genesis, Brian Eno, Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints,Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, U2’s The Joshua Tree