In 1992 Peter Gabriel was the last word in mature pop artists. Having achieved immense success after leaving Genesis in the mid-70s, his solo career had seen plough a compelling art-rock path which found him develop a deep interest in world music that continues to colour his music to this day. He complimented his worthy albums with a string of intelligent yet successful hit singles, an approach which apexed with 1986’s So, the album which saw Gabriel become a mega-star on a global scale, thanks in no small part to the iconic video for “Sledgehammer”, the closest Gabriel had come to a pure pop single at that point. Gabriel celebrated reaching the next level of his career by penning the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ and releasing the well received Shaking the Tree compilation.
It wasn’t until 1992 that Gabriel finally released Us, the studio album follow up to the phenomenally successful So, but where So, for all it’s positives, could sound a little detached, forced and cold, Us provided a much more warm, honest and intimate listening experience. It’s no accident that Gabriel views it very much as his ‘relationship album’, as at the time he released it he gave interviews to suggest that this was his way of purging what he called ‘the bastard within’. This anger is most notable in “Digging In The Dirt”, where Gabriel really does sound legitimately angry with whoever he’s singing the song about.
This is by no means the only highlight though, opener ”Come Talk To Me” is a plea for honest communication in a relationship which has seen better days, “Steam” is a funk-pop song cut from similar cloth as “Sledgehammer”, but a dozen times better, and “Kiss That Frog” is another fun pop song. The rest of the tracks are largely more mellow and reflective, betraying Gabriel’s world-music influences yet again, though for once they consistently remain on the right side of over bearing and pretentious. After over a decade of trying, Gabriel had finally managed to use these influences to their best effect within his work.
Us did brisk business for Peter Gabriel, saw him go out on one of the sumptuously produced tours of all time, release the inevitable live album / video. He then spent the rest of the 90s involved in multi-media projects that were too far ahead of their time to be truly successful, while fans of his music had to endure the interminable wait for a new studio album, which only came to an end with the release with 2002’s Up, an album which possessed only a tiny fraction of the charm of its predecessors. Since then Gabriel has recorded a patchy covers album, released at least one entire tour as a series of live albums and has seemingly lost all interest in writing music that might gain him new fans.
In retrospect, Us was the apex of Peter Gabriel’s pop career. In bearing his soul, Gabriel gave us his most honest and generous album by some considerable distance. Sometimes this soul-bearing can lead to Us sounding a little too intimate, leaving the listener feeling like an unwelcome voyeur, but it’s a compelling listen nonetheless, and you are left hoping that one day he might decide that he wants to be a pop star again.