When the legendary frontman Peter Gabriel made his decision to depart Genesis in 1975, the world's Progressive rock audience was astonished. The singer's interesting lyrics, and enigmatic live act was at the center of what had propelled Genesis into the spotlight. Though Genesis faired well at first, churning out two good Prog records, the band would soon divulge into the realms of synth pop. Gabriel on the other hand, would embark on a solo career which would both manage the trappings of pop far better than his original band, and still maintain the cult following his early music had garnered far after his blockbuster hits had receded from the airwaves. And it was So that catapulted the singer from prog hero and college radio favorite into a bona fide success.
But make no mistakes about this album, because it makes to attempt at hiding the fact that it is a genuine pop record. But its refreshing, thought provoking, and well done pop which doesn't loose its appeal once its fallen from the publics eye, because Gabriel's musical approach is unlike anybody else's. There's no denying that he carries a certain amount progressive-ness in his music. Not progressive in the sense of fifteen minute songs with Moog synthesizers, but progressive in the sense that the music really did progress. Gabriel's incorporation of world music, and tribal African beats into his music would work remarkable well.
When So was released, Gabriel was on the verge of international fame. Singles such as Sollsbury Hill, Games Without Frontiers, and Shock the Monkey had created ripples, the latter of which even cracked the top forties. His sharp lyrical diction had been honed on such songs as the sharply original Biko, a song about a murdered anti-Apertheid activist. He'd founded the annual World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival, which helped bring tribal culture into the western eye. So would be the final piece in bringing Gabriel firmly into the spotlight, with its massively successful singles, and of course their jaw dropping videos. Gabriel also owes quite a bit to his long standing backing band, including bass god Tony Levin (of King Crimson, and countless session work.) Gabriel draws upon a plethora of musicians, however, and seamlessly patches their work together.
The record opens with all banners flying in Red Rain
, a stately, artsy rocker with wonderfully thought out instrumentation, simple sing-a-long choruses, and vivid lyrics depicting dreamy landscapes.
But the record's sound is dramatically changed, when Gabriel bounces into Sledgehammer
. It might be odd that, in the year of thrash, one of the biggest hits was an otis redding inspired, jangly tune propelled by saxophones with flute parts to boot. But the song rode the success of its awesomely chaotic video which has won more awards than any other music video ever (more than Thriller, in fact.) The song honestly deserves the attention it received, with his bouncy playing, and Gabriels fantastic vocals.
Then next track, Don't Give Up
was also a major hit, propelled by Gabriel's duet with Kate Bush on it. The song's moody, bass led introduction sets the mood perfectly, and though the chorus (delivered by Kate) is borderline cheesy, Gabriel's reflection on the thought of self-immortality and the sudden and vicious pain of loss are timeless.
That Voice Again
is a much more upbeat tune, but also a more forgettable tune then its predecessors. The song rides catchy piano and guitar arrangements, with Gabriel's usual hint of African drumming.
But the record turns out another of Gabriel's all time best next, with In Your Eyes
, a rare straight up love song. Gabriel avoids all the pratfalls of those songs, and creates an emotionally charged output. And the songs outro, featuring the chants of Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour is breathtaking.
But the mood that Mercy Street
creates is by far one of the greatest a song can call into being. The atmospheric instrumentation sets the stage for Gabriel's heart wrenching lyrics about suicidal poet Anne Sexton. Gabriel's voice presents is dark message wonderfully, creating a haunting masterpiece of a song.
The dark mood is shed, however, with addictive danceable number Big Time
, another of the albums many hits. The instrumentation is undeniably new wave, and its home is most definitely on the dance floor. But Gabriel pulls of this style just as well as he does all his others.
The album original closed with an instrumental, We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)
, which shows off Gabriel's compositional skill very well. It creates a mood akin to much of the music on this record. However, the remastered edition comes complete with another track, This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)
which sounds like it could've easily been included on the original vinyl pressing.
In the end, So really does stand out as a superb record. The instruments Gabriel calls upon are artfully placed, and fantastically composed. The man's voice was rarely in this fine a form, and his original style is ever present. I'd recommend to both fans of Genesis, and those who don't adhere to the groups pretentious sound, because this album is honestly Gabriel's beast, and he's certainly not rehashing his past.