Peter Gabriel
i/o


4.0
excellent

Review

by Brendan Schroer CONTRIBUTOR (261 Reviews)
December 8th, 2023 | 148 replies


Release Date: 12/01/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It ain't no Chinese Democracy, that's for sure

At what point does “development hell” completely taint a product for consumers? When discussing infamous delayed media – Duke Nukem Forever, Chinese Democracy, etc. – you’ll often hear some variation of this: “it’s been pushed back for so long that it’ll never live up to the hype”. But Peter Gabriel’s long-awaited tenth album i/o is a bit of a unique case, due to the singer-songwriter releasing plenty of other records in the interim. Granted, they were mostly cover albums and compilations, but hey… gotta take what we can get, right? So here we are at the tail-end of 2023, greeted with the first proper Gabriel album in… drumroll please… 21 years! Now that’s one hell of a gap. The question is: what could the legendary art rocker bring to the table after all this time?

Well, if there’s one thing I can immediately applaud Gabriel for, it’s his commitment to the album’s rollout. The name “i/o” refers to one of Jupiter’s moons (as well as “input/output”), and as such, Gabriel decided to release every song individually to coincide with each full moon. Not only that, but we even get two different stereo mixes of each track! i/o was released with both a “bright-side” and “dark-side” mix, each giving us a different interpretation of the 12 tracks on offer. Say what you want about the record’s quality (we’ll get to that, don’t worry), but the level of effort that went into the presentation of i/o is undeniable.

But now that we’ve gotten those details and factoids out of the way, I think it’s time to dive right into the musical macrocosm of i/o. Despite the fact that the record took two decades of reworking and rewrites, the whole experience is shockingly unified and focused; Gabriel delivers much of the same art pop/rock that’s marked the majority of his career, though with a certain world-weariness that comes from his current age. The result is an album that – even in the (slightly) bouncier bright-side mix – comes off as quite subdued and lowkey. This is not a bad thing, mind you, as evidenced by our two first cuts “Panopticom” and “The Court”; Gabriel still manages to expertly juggle pop sensibilities with atmospheric worldbuilding, as these tracks merge unorthodox chord progressions and subtle world influences with catchy melodies and strong vocal performances.

Of course, as we delve deeper into this tracklist, Gabriel gradually expands his sonic and stylistic palette. Some of the best moments on i/o are the ones that just let the atmosphere speak for itself; just take “Love Can Heal” as an example. Before we even get a chance to hear the first verse, a euphoric wave of synths and violins washes over the listener – as the pulsing bass acts as a heartbeat underneath. When Gabriel does join in, he does so in such a natural way that the singing just seeps right into the instrumentals. For some more minimalist, stripped-down worldbuilding exercises, “Playing for Time” and the title track pair Gabriel’s vulnerable vocals with tender piano lines; a few horns and strings help to color the sound, but not to the point that they overpower Gabriel’s dramatic, passionate delivery.

But ok, ok… let’s get to the real question that’s on your minds. What’s better: the bright-side mix or the dark-side mix? Frankly, I think it varies on a song-by-song basis. As alluded to earlier, bright-side puts a focus on the poppy elements of the record; the production comes off as a bit glossier, and Gabriel’s voice is more loud and pronounced. Meanwhile, dark-side is somewhat murkier and more bass-heavy, which makes the slower and electronically-inclined tracks all that much more striking. However, as contradictory as it may sound, I actually prefer the bright-side mixes for the slower tracks, and the dark-side mix for the bouncier, poppier ones. That way, the slow tunes are given additional dynamic range, while the more jaunty tunes are imbued with a more organic touch. Still, I don’t really have an overall preference for either mix, as both bring their own unique sound to the record.

i/o certainly isn’t perfect by any means, though, and that largely comes from two problems: runtime and homogeneity. I previously touched on the album’s “world-weariness”, and that vibe often proves to be a double-edged sword. The same quality that lends a sense of atmosphere and moodiness to the record also makes it somewhat of a slog – especially in the second half. In other words, it really could have benefitted from a few more spry cuts like the title track or “Olive Tree”. Still, these little roadblocks don’t detract much from what is otherwise an impressive achievement. Decades after his previous album of original material, Gabriel has proven that he can still harness the same artistry and grace that he brought to his heyday. i/o is fresh, vital, and (for the most part) engaging; more importantly, it proves that Gabriel still has plenty left to say.



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user ratings (103)
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

And it's finally out! This one took a bit longer to write, but I'm glad I put in the extra time to get it just right. Enjoy :]

onionbubs
December 8th 2023


19875 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

lfg great album. think it could lose a lil bit in the 2nd half but cant blame him for making it as long as it is given its been so long

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2023


9317 Comments


Really solid write man! Curious to see what's up with this

Are the 2 sides literally just mixed differently or are there differences in the arrangements too

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks, I appreciate it!



As for the mixes... no, there aren't any arrangement differences. Just different mixes, and that's it

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2023


9317 Comments


Lol odd, guess Gabriel fans are the sort to care about that kinda thing tho I ain't mad at it

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah lol. At least it's not as egregious as when Steven Wilson puts out some "triple deluxe rare limited-time collector's edition alternate mix" version of his past records

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2023


9317 Comments


That's the most Steven Wilson thing I've ever heard of lmfao

Checking bright side now. You've checked Gotye Like Drawing Blood right? Love the Gabriel worship all over that one

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oh yeah, Gotye's awesome! I really wish he put out more albums after his breakout success, he definitely brought a more artsy take on the pop scene at the time

Sinternet
December 8th 2023


26511 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review, crazy take on the title track though thats one of the very best here. top 3 for me along with panopticom and live and let live. all in all an excellent album though. i learn more towards the bright side mixes for the majority of songs tbh, they're a bit more airy and fragile emotionally which to me works better than the more broody, dark aesthetic of the dark side mixes

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks sint! I think you may have misread my take on the t/t though; I was actually saying I wanted more songs like the t/t on the album, lol. Great song for sure

Sinternet
December 8th 2023


26511 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ah yeah im dumb and its 2am lol, good take then

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2023


9317 Comments


Not huge on some of the more upbeat stuff here first listen, feels just like half a shade too hey-guys-remember-sledgehammer, but overall this is nice, "Playing for Time" especially is quite lovely

bellovddd
December 8th 2023


5197 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

nice write up Koris!

SomeCallMeTim
December 8th 2023


3792 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this album has been in the works for so long that the hype has entirely worn off for me. will surely check in the coming weeks. maybe

hel9000
December 8th 2023


1513 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Glad this got a review, nice work Koris. Hard to pick one mix over the other but have been enjoying both of them a lot. Don't love every song but the majority of the album is really good and I tend to come out of each listen with a new favorite. Currently digging Road to Joy a lot, reminds me of the kind of stuff he was doing on Security.

sonictheplumber
December 8th 2023


17533 Comments


ah gotta jam this soon

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


9649 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review I've only heard most of this live, will have to engage with the record at some point

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2023


31825 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Happy to see this reviewed, nicely done Brendan. I didn't like the slow tracks but the rest is very good. I really like Panopticon.

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


20805 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks everyone :]

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2023


25672 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

so glad this got coverage here, was raised on this man's solo career lol

great review, cheers koris!!



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