Peter Gabriel is a very special musician to me, for a number of personal reasons. So, I may be a little biased in this review – but his new album i/o (standing for input/output) moved me to tears. This is a truly beautiful, epic piece of work, and could just be his masterpiece. Those looking for an in-depth review with something even resembling a more academic knowledge of music should probably look elsewhere, because I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I know that I loved this album.
Peter Gabriel’s first album of original songs in 21 years actually began sometime in the mid-1990s and has been something of a Holy Grail to Gabriel’s fans over the years. Many thought we’d never see it completed. And yet, here it is, in all its glory. There’s even three different mixes – the Bright-Side mix and Dark-Side mix, alongside the In-Side mix which is included in the CD release package on a Blu-ray disc in Dolby Atmos. Whichever mix you favour – the layman might not even clock a lot of the differences, which are often subtle – this is an expansive, thoughtful feast of music that will take listeners on a poignant journey.
“We have two of the greatest mixers in the world in Tchad Blake and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent and they definitely bring different characters to the songs.”, Gabriel said. “Tchad is very much a sculptor building a journey with sound and drama, Spike loves sound and assembling these pictures, so he’s more of a painter”. Finally, Hans-Martin Buff does “a wonderful job generating these much more three-dimensional mixes” for the Atmos mix.
As mentioned above, I am certainly no expert on music. It’s a huge part of my life, but I’m not someone who can even begin to analyse or offer any sort of insightful critique or commentary. What I can say, though, is that i/o is almost certainly going to be an album that accompanies me through the coming years. I know I will discover more of its secrets, and I know that my favourite track of choice will change regularly. The storied history of the record is felt in each densely produced track; you can tell that every single second has been carefully considered. With that, comes many years for listeners to carefully consider these choices too.
Lyrically, i/o is incredibly powerful. Playing for Time, for example, is a beautiful meditation on ageing and memories, made all the more powerful performed by the 73-year-old musician. Gabriel’s voice has never faltered over the years, and here sounds stronger than ever. His advancing age adds a poignant power to his voice, and by extension, his words. Four Kinds of Horses is also an incredible piece; “ah, you say you’re something differеnt but you do it all again” sung with a genuine urgency and sadness for the conflict between the simultaneous pursuits of religion and terrorism. And yet, the album on the whole feels optimistic – for change, for a better world.
Each track has an accompanying piece of artwork, in the liner booklet and also on the Blu-ray disc. Peter invited a range of visual artists to contribute a piece of art to accompany each track, the idea being that the work would be inspired by, or would act as a reaction to, the song that had been allotted. Each of the 12 songs were handed to a world-renowned artist to create or provide an accompanying work, whether paint, photography, sculpture or even Plasticine. These visuals add an incredible stage to the listening experience and strengthen the journey these tracks take the listener on.
Peter Gabriel’s i/o certainly has something of a swansong feel to it, whether intentional or not. The work is poignant in its reflections on a life lived, while also feeling something like an optimistic cry for change and a better future. With the many years put into the album, it’s uncertain whether Gabriel will do another. But if this is goodbye, it is an incredible way to define the artist, the humanitarian, and the musician in one fell swoop. Either way, i/o is a rich, rewarding masterpiece of music and emotion.
Find a quiet moment. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume. Lose yourself in i/o.