Peter Gabriel - i/o artwork

Peter Gabriel – i/o (Album Review)

Peter Gabriel 2023 photo

Peter Gabriel is unequivocally one of the most unique singer-songwriters of the last 50 years. First leading Progressive Rock band Genesis from 1967 to 1975, it is honestly Gabriel’s solo career that developed thereafter which truly defines him. First putting out his first solo album in 1977, it became apparent that Gabriel’s personal style was vastly different from his work with Genesis. Following up with albums in 1978, 1980, and 1982, perhaps his biggest commercial success came with 1986’s So.

So, an acclaimed, innovative Pop album, featured such memorable songs as “Red Rain,” “Sledgehammer,” “Don’t Give Up,” “In Your Eyes,” as well as “Big Time.” From here Gabriel continued to push boundaries between Pop, Rock, and experimental styles with subsequent releases such as Us in 1992, before returning a decade later with Up in 2002. A large gap between albums for Gabriel, the time in between was not without intrigue; as he worked on some other projects in between. Now 46 years after his solo debut, Gabriel makes a grand return with his new album i/o.

Standing for input/out, but also the name of a moon of Jupiter, it is a significant release for numerous reasons. The largest reason is that it is Gabriel’s first album of all new original material in 21 years. A very long time, the story goes that the material that makes up i/o is something he has been working on for 30 years. Difficult to imagine, allegedly the initial production began back in 1995 just around the same time as Up. So, why has there been this extensive period of time letting the material lay dormant? Well, the easy answer is that time just slipped away and a portion of the material was reworked, re-recorded, and as a result delayed.

That in mind, the finishing touches on i/o were at least done in 2022, and it was officially announced in November of that same year that the album would be released. Also announcing a European/ North American tour throughout 2023, the tour began back in May, concluded in October, and saw Gabriel perform each track from i/o, as well as his extensive catalogue of music. Adding even more intrigue to the promotion behind i/o, new music was released digitally on the full moon of each month; with the final release, “Live and Let Live,” on the Beaver Moon, November 27th. Does it get any more intricately planned out than this?

Now, over a year following the tour announcement, plus the slow trickling out of music, i/o as a complete entity emerges from the darkness on December 1, 2023. Twelve songs in total, it lasts over an hour and tops out as the longest studio album Gabriel has ever released. Completely written by him, the production (which is always a key part of one of his records), was handled by himself, Brian Eno, and Richard Russell. Truly an all-star cast, what transpires in-between the 68 plus minutes of i/o is nothing less than compelling.

A statement that goes without saying, considering Gabriel’s rather distinctive approach to song presentations, i/o’s approach lines within Pop, but also includes the signature Gabriel avant-garde style. A rather smooth listening session, the various intricate textures makes it extremely challenging to point to a few standout tracks. However, “Panopticon” is the perfect opening that includes a haunting synth, leading into perfectly placed guitars and drums as it picks up the tempo. From here “The Court” sticks out thanks to the vocals and observational lyrics about society and our foolish behaviors. This is while the delicate moments heard within “Playing for Time,” “Love Can Heal,” “So Much,” along with “And Still” offer atmospheric odysseys that soothe your soul.

Looking into the content of i/o a bit further, “Four Kind of Horses” is an addictive synthesizer soundscape, “Road to Joy” is an upbeat Pop entry, and “Live and Let Live” ultimately send a powerful message. Speaking of messaging, it is clear that Gabriel’s words are coated with sorrow. That being said, i/o’s theme is by and large one of observation; think of a spectator sitting in outer space with a magnifying glass looking down on planet earth, watching it slowly come apart at the seams. Feeling as if perhaps it is too late to change the course of humanity, ultimately there is a sense of hope amidst i/o that reminds us that hate is baggage and that if we truly want happiness, we must let it go.

Overall, while i/o may have taken ages to finally come out, if you listen intently, you will find the wait was worth it. That in mind, there is still so much more to discuss with this album. Beyond all other details laid out, both renowned Engineers Mark ‘Spike’ Stent and Tchad Blake completed a mix of each song on i/o. Rather than pick one of them, Gabriel opted to release both mixes; Stent’s mixes are released as the Bright-Side Mix, while Blake’s mixes are the Dark-Side Mix. Are separate mixes overkill? No, because if you listen to them in back-to-back sessions, or separately, you will hear the subtle differences that ultimately alter the mood of each track.

 Which leads us to the releasing formats, because after all it is 2023, and there are many options. In short, the physical editions of the album include both the Bright-Side and Dark-Side mixes both on CD and vinyl. The CD format includes 2 CD editions with one mix on each disc, and a 2 CD plus Blu-ray edition that adds the In-Side mix. The vinyl formats come in two separate editions; each one featuring a different mix across two LPs.

In all, i/o is a bold moment in Peter Gabriel’s career that will captivate your senses. That is why Cryptic Rock gives the epic new album 5 out of 5 stars.

Peter Gabriel - i/o album art
Peter Gabriel – i/o / Real World; EMI; Republic (2023)

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