PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Peter Gabriel: Us (SACD)

Brian James

Peter Gabriel


Label: SACD
US Release Date: 2003-04-29
UK Release Date: 2003-05-05

Since Peter Gabriel's most recent, decade-in-the-making album, Up,made such a modest splash, he seems like an odd choice for a lavish remastering campaign that includes Super Audio CDs, but because he still has such an air of a missed opportunity about him, he may deserve such an effort anyway. After all, he made his best music in relative obscurity, only knocking at the door of mainstream success with "Solsbury Hill" from his first album and "Biko" from his third. With his fourth, however, the stakes rose with the Top Forty hit, "Shock the Monkey". Everything was set for a big commercial breakthrough, and though it eventually came with 1986's So, it should have struck the trenchant observer that four years is an excessive amount of time to wait before striking a hot iron. This astute person should have also seen that So was, despite its terrific singles, a step backwards for Gabriel.

It was only moderately surprising to see someone who had approached the limelight so tentatively sabotage his chances for staying there. After taking six years to deliver a follow-up (an interminable delay by industry standards), Gabriel dropped Us on the world, a record severely lacking in radio anthems to say the least. By this point, most of the college kids who had waved their lighters to "In Your Eyes" had moved on to Yanni or Hootie or whoever ex-Peter Gabriel fans listen to, so the only ones left were those who had been paying attention from the start, or those smart enough to pick up the stellar back catalogue when "Sledgehammer" caught their ear. This elite crowd could've been forgiven for feeling like Us was a chore rather than a treat, although it's a safe guess that few among that group would ever admit to it. With its crawling tempos and unapologetic introversion, this extended rumination on Gabriel's divorce might have been dismissed as solipsistic if it hadn't been for the presence of -- gasp! -- world beat. History has shown that having some non-Western influences floating around in the stew shames earnest liberals into a state of critical paralysis (if they don't attack the subject for cultural misappropriation), and while this may be a regrettable state of affairs, it just might have provided enough of a window for Us to receive the credit it deserves.

But deserving credit is not the same thing as being great. Us is a tired, old man album, through and through. Gabriel expresses little but quiet pain, a throbbing regret that overwhelms the record. On a few tracks, "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog", he breaks out of his rut and injects some measurable energy into the proceedings, but they're only qualified successes. Are they fun? Sure. Do they belong? Not at all. They serve as changes of pace; perhaps badly needed ones, but changing the pace at the expense of thematic unity is frequently an ill-advised gambit. Here, it's a necessary evil, surrounded as it is by such fatigued material. It's quite easy to wish that Gabriel had combined his impulses rather than segregating them into unsmiling substance and energetic fluff.

"Secret World" and "Digging in the Dirt", on the other hand, prove that he knew how to take the best of both. The former, with its repeated chant of "What was it we were thinking of?", cuts to the heart of rifts between couples, ones so layered with small arguments and concealed resentments that it leaves nothing but a feeling at once inexplicable and strong enough to break marriages apart. That feeling is given even more overt expression in "Digging in the Dirt", the one moment on Us where real anger bubbles to the surface. The memorable mantra on this cut is "This time you've gone too far" repeated three times, followed by "I told you" four times. Elsewhere, he gets into more detail, but these lines combined with the chorus capture the sensation of being in the hands of someone capable of healing or hurting at her whim. It's an admirable achievement lyrically, but that's hardly the point. The lyrics are heartfelt and moving throughout, but these two tracks have great beats and some visceral punch to complement their oblique observations. When Gabriel gets it right like he does here, few can match him. It's just a shame for us (and Us) that he doesn't do it more often.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.