Peter Gabriel: So (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Posted November 3, 2012 by in



4.5/ 5


Genre: Pop, art-rock
Producer: Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel
Label: Geffen, Virgin
Original Release Year: 1986
Release Date: 23 October 2012
Spin This: Shock the Monkey (Live), No Self Control (Live), Courage, Sagrada


Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, three reissue versions focus on the budget of different wallets: The Immersion box set is a bit massive, but also celebrates the disc visually with remastered 'Live in Athens' DVD and Classic Albums documentary


Few new tracks and 12" mixes from the original So sessions

Say it ain’t so: 25th anniversary of Gabriel’s 1986 masterpiece gets the big box treatment

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Say it ain’t so: 25th anniversary of Gabriel’s 1986 masterpiece gets the big box treatment

It’s hard to believe that SoPeter Gabriel’s fifth solo album, is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. It’s also hard to believe that So remains the chef d’oeuvre of his outstanding career. When originally released in middle of May 1986, people were mostly surprised to see a dapper Gabriel now showing his face without the artsy exaggerations and blemishes of his self-titled solo discs. Up to this point, Gabriel proved to be a man of unexpected surprises. By the late Seventies, the art-rock multi-instrumentalist walked away from the extravagant flamboyance he proudly uncorked while serving as the frontman of prog-rock band Genesis in the early Seventies. By 1980, he had become a musical enigma showcasing otherworldly artistic expressionism. But So surprised us all. First of all, Gabe put a halt to the nameless self-titled albums and finally settled with So. So why So and what does So mean? Well, it has no meaning, according to Gabriel. In the Classic Albums doc series, where Gabriel talked about the iconic album, he mentioned that he favored a short word title as the title because usually the graphic would be bigger and impactful for marketing purposes (The Classic Albums documentary comes with the colossal So Immersion box set). But the biggest surprise aboard So was Gabriel’s immersion into world music, ethnic fusion and his unorthodox discovery of pop. He briefly tapped on that epiphany on 1982’s “Shock the Money,” his first Top 40 hit, which played with New Wave’s sensibilities, but possibly avoided digestible pop hoping he would never be defined as being a chaser of present-day fads. Many of the elements aboard So are pop-chiseled and quite accessible to the taste buds of the mainstream – like the dancey “Big Time” and “That Voice Again,” but Gabriel separates those events with artful provocations that are simply too hard to resist. With “Red Rain” opening the set, the emotions inside Gabriel’s vocal seem to mesh well with the broody piece of musicianship surrounding him. Its Miami Vice coolness (and possibly the musical inspiration behind Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is”) bears all the cosmic elements of signature ‘80’s riffs. The hi-hat drumming of the Police’s Stewart Copeland is also part of that equation. Both “Red Rain” and the ethereal duet with Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up” bookends Gabriel’s vibrant nod to Stax/Volt culture: “Sledgehammer.” Although it lyrically spills over with sexual innuendos, “Sledgehammer” is decked out with sassy horns, loud drums, bubbling funk and a finale that transforms him into a cooler Dan Hartman. In 2011, Gabriel told Uncut magazine that it was his opportunity to sing like Otis Redding. As hard as it seems on paper, he succeeds in his endeavor.

Although nothing else aboard So sounded like it could’ve been marketed as a r&b record except for “Sledgehammer,” Gabriel had masterfully tooled the album into a versatile piece of ‘80’s art-rock. “Mercy Street” plays like a Bono slow jam, “We Do What We’re Told” gives off Big Brother sci-fi vibes, while “In Your Eyes” blends rock balladry with African beats. As the latter song starts to fades,Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali-Kahn lets a set of loose tribal chants, giving the song an anointed gloss of global celebration. Thankfully, the sequence has been restored to Gabriel’s original template, putting “In Your Eyes” as the back of the disc. Originally it opened the second side of So on vinyl, but in the digital realm “In Your Eyes” caps the entire set.

The collection also allowed industry heavyweights to stretch past their comfort zones, putting them in some of the oddest spots. There’s Richard Tee playing a gospel piano around the heavenly synths of “Don’t Give Up” and Nile Rodgers playing guitar on something experimental like “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds).”

Just as important to this reissue as the remastered quality of the classic album is its inclusion of a rare analog-to-digital conversion of an Athens outdoor concert showcasing a confident Gabriel at the top of his career. Taped and archived by Society of Sound Music and Gabriel’s own Real World Music, this live set featured Gabriel’s finest band assembled with keyboardist David Sancious, guitarist David Rhodes, bad-ass drummer Manu Katche and bassist Tony Levin. Multi-instrumentalist Gabriel hardly compromised his youth and energy, welding tambourines and keyboards and working the stage using Jim Morrison antics. The show did land on a 90-minute VHS presentation in 1990, but the remastered treatment of the 2012 reissue outshines the dated quality of the original. The sounds are redefined with a 5.1 surround-sound, home theater quality. Audio engineer Ben Findlay helms the dexterous assignment of updating the tapes for the 21st century. Usually live sets only containing fragments of the hit may be problematic for the average purist, but Live in Athens presents the best of Gabriel’s solo career up to this point, while rolling out near-replicas of So’s studio assignments. Gabriel recreates “Sledgehammer” down to the tee. Tempo, synths, horns, the echo of the drums and sassy backing vocals are all in place. “Mercy Street” is stretched into an easy listening nine-minute odyssey, while “Don’t Give Up” is also stretched across an eight-minute palette of interchangeable acoustic vibes and reggae undertones (minus Kate Bush, of course). The other songs are just as complementary to the disc: “Shock the Monkey” sounds like a ‘80’s disco track, presenting Gabriel at his most playful (“Don’t you monkey with the monkey”); “No Self Control” gets the much-needed ‘80’s update; “Biko” manifests into the open air sing-a-long it was intended to be.

Eyes may be fixed on the demo sessions found on the So: DNA disc and the inclusion of previously unreleased tracks of “Courage” and “Sagrada” found on the rare vinyl 12″ disc, but you have to fork our big bucks for the Immersion set, since it’s not included in the 3-CD affair. Only serious fumble about all the box sets is the omission of Sledgehammer 12″ add-ons, like the B-side “Don’t Break This Rhythm,” the ’85 remix of “I Have the Touch” or the delicious dance mix of “Big Time.”

While hovering over all the content aboard the collection, you can easily see how Gabriel’s work helped influenced much of the work from ‘80’s acts, particularly Genesis drummer and eventual frontman Phil Collins. “In the Air Tonight” and “Another Day in Paradise” and the gated reverb drum effect used by Collins on Gabriel’s third solo LP (aka Melt) could’ve easily been Gabriel workouts. But Collins’ solo LPs always appeared as the junior when compared with the senior of So. This box, available in both a long-winded Immersion and 3-CD form, includes all the right mentionables for a worthy retrospective.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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