The late 80's seemed to be a time when all the old dad-rockers seemed to be churning out slick, over-produced million-selling records, and playing them at big stadiums in charity rockathon concerts. Think U2, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Sting etc... Peter Gabriel's contribution to this movement was "So", which was definitely on the tasteful side. Most famously this contained the fun innuendo-laden Motown tribute "Sledgehammer", and an accompanying claymation video. "Big Time" is along the same willy-waving, cheeky pop lines. The late 80's production style is very evident on most of this album, particularly "Red Rain" and "That Voice Again". It's a particular electric piano sound, and little keyboard flourishes here and there, that date it, but these are still good tunes. "In Your Eyes" is a simple pop song with happy-clappy world tinges.
The bouncy pop contrasts nicely with two strong mellower songs. The first is the well-known duet with Kate Bush, "Don't Give Up". This has such a beautiful melody, and simple, comforting lyrics, that it needs nothing more than soft percussion and a few bass blips underneath. "Mercy Street" has a similarly simple, evocative tune and subtle production.
The final two tracks are a nod back to the arty, experimental leanings of his early 80's work, but aren't particularly interesting by comparison. "Milgram's 37" is about a notorious psychological experiment which demonstrated, apparently, that "we do what we're told". "This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" is a jerky duet with Laurie Anderson, a version of which is on her album "Mister Heartbreak".
See also solsburyhill.org for a full essay.
October 27, 2003