So, by Peter Gabriel
After releasing several albums that featured well-regarded but not particularly popular songs (although, it must be admitted, several of them became classics), this album featured the popular breakthrough for Peter Gabriel onto the mainstream charts. While his later albums were unable to maintain the commercial peak that this album demonstrated, it must be admitted that this album was by no means a sellout. It was not that Peter Gabriel made an album that got rid of his distinctive elements, it was just that he made an album that happened to be immensely accessible to a lot of people who had not known him before, and even more than thirty years after the album, this work remains an interesting and compelling one that deserves attention and respect.
The album begins with “Red Rain,” a gorgeous and melancholy song that features some classic production and Gabriel’s gritty voice. After that comes “Sledgehammer,” a the biggest smash hit of this album and one that was both a powerful song and an amazing vehicle for Gabriel’s creative musical videos, a pattern of his career. “Don’t Give Up” is a gorgeous and reflective song that features the backing vocals of frequent collaborator Kate Bush that seeks to encourage the listener. “This Voice Again” reflects on the longing for love and the struggle with negative self-talk. “Mercy Street” follows with another reflecting song about the desire for mercy from one’s father. “Big Time” looks at the arrogance of cultural and institutional elites in their big words and big cities. “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)” is an ominous mostly instrumental track that focuses on blind obedience. “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)” is an avant-garde track with a somewhat puzzling and intriguing mood about it about watching and being watched. “In Your Eyes” then closes the album with a gorgeous and powerful love song that, even if very familiar, still hits hard in the context of this album.
As far as albums go, this one is a classic that remains and poignant and beautiful today as it was when it was first released. More than half of the songs on this album have endured as classics: “Sledgehammer,” “In Your Eyes,” “Don’t Give Up,” “Big Time,” and “Red Rain.” While many 80’s albums have aged badly because of production that included a great deal of unnecessary and gimmicky elements, this album excels in giving the listener a sense of space that lets the haunting and powerful lyrics and the subtle musical touches have enough room to settle in and allow the listener to think about what is being sung. Gabriel’s song mixes a variety of themes, including love, encouragement, longsuffering, and a critical attitude towards the failings of society and institutions that remains vital today. This is not an album that panders to its audience, but rather presents an honest and deeply poignant look at life, and that resonates long after it ends.