Virgin / Realworld, 2000
Gabriel took a break from hacking his album "Up" out of granite to do a multimedia show at the Millennium Dome in London. As the soundtrack to that show, it's not considered as a "proper" Gabriel album, which might equally be because it's not that good.
"Professional" is a word that comes to mind when thinking how to describe this album. As a commission for an exhibition on the state of humanity and nature as we look back on the last 1000 years - what the hell are you supposed to write? This was a safe choice - an unchallenging story about cross-cultural love and hope for the future in the form of the curled-up child illustrated in the cover. The plot is largely banal, and sounds like it was tossed off in a few minutes. The opening track is a toe-curlingly cheesy rap which gives a blow-by-blow over-literal narration of the story, "skaaah-boys" and all.
The production is slick, smelling of lots of money and a zillion collaborators. It's got the typical Gabriel worldy sound, with plenty of percussion, Eno-style ambient and even bits of Autechre-like electronic. One thing that can't be faulted is Gabriel's fine taste in guest vocalists. The track that stands out most to me is "Downside Up", for its dream pairing of Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser (who could make any old jingle sound exquisite) and Paul Buchanan from the Blue Nile. And its strong tune. "Time of the Turning" is an acceptable catchy single, but he's capable of much better sensitive piano ballads than "Father and Son". On the whole, there's too much polish and not enough soul. It can maybe be excused by saying it's not a proper album, and closer in spirit to a soundtrack to a big BBC documentary. It's also tempting to make comparisons to the Dome itself - highly polished, but ephemeral and ultimately forgettable.
March 5, 2004