Uh-oh... I'm growing to hate the word "remaster" - it usually tends to mean that the volume has been increased almost to near-distortion levels - and in some cases, "remix" would actually be more appropriate, as the drums have been re-recorded (or more likely, reprogrammed!), the bass has been turned up or vocals auto-tuned.
With this in mind, I'm somewhat delighted to say that "So" suffers from none of the above. In fact, it sounds absolutely V A S T. You probably already know that "So" was Gabriel's most commercial record, spawning a number of hit singles in the mid-80s (including the legendary "Sledgehammer"), so I likely don't need to mention that it includes a duet with Kate Bush or contains the fabulous "Red Rain", "That Voice Again" and "Big Time" - but what I will say is that it sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday - it's fresh, crisp, sonically excellent and rhythmically superb.
The inclusion of the live album on 2 additional CDs makes for interesting listening. The songs from "So" are dispersed throughout the live set, so we are also treated to a snapshot of songs which date from before "So" was released - including "Games Without Frontiers", "Solsbury Hill" and "Biko".
I've played "So" some 20+ times now and I can't believe how well it's stood the test of time. This remaster serves as a reminder that it was a well recorded & produced album in the first place, but also that not all remasters suffer from "the loudness wars". It's a superb album which, when played through decent stereo equipment, sounds simply sensational.
on 17 April 2013
Okay, many of us love the album and not much needs to be said about it here if you're looking at the box set. The content in this set is disappointing and there is much duplication:
We get the main album twice: CD and vinyl. The massive book in the box states that In Your Eyes was moved to the beginning of side 2 originally as it would not cut satisfactorily at the end of a vinyl side, yet here it is cut at the end of a vinyl side in the box. The LP, by the way, was cut half speed and sounds excellent. It is very bassy, and some may prefer the bass lighter, more open sound of the 80s cut. The CD also sounds good, is not compressed to the eyeballs and is not overbright.
We get Live In Athens twice: spread across two CDs and on one DVD. The stereo mix is not great, the 5.1 mix is near pointless as it seems to be mainly ambience sent to the rears and what information is sent is very quiet. Also it appears that there has been some vocal overdubbing on In Your Eyes as the lip sync isn't great, and a note gets held even after PG has closed his mouth at one point.
The So DNA CD: this is of historical interest, but of limited listening pleasure. Each track (possibly aside from This Is The Picture) is a medley of different versions of the same track showing the changes from inception to nearly completion. What is interesting is just how much change there was in many of the tracks, and how much PG seemed to struggle to get the lyrics straight. While this is at times fascinating, I would probably have preferred complete alternative mixes from later on in the recording with parts that didn't make the final mix. We Do What We're Told contains a modern guess by PG at what was an early version, and then goes into a mix from the sessions.
Classic Albums DVD
Double A side 12" with two unreleased tracks (one containing part of what would become In Your Eyes) and a great alternate mix of Don't Give Up with backing vocals and more piano. Kate Bush is still present and it's the highlight of the whole set for me. My vinyl copy appears to be a bit clicky, but aside from that the tone is fantastic. This track should have been on the original 12" of Don't Give Up - it could have been a classic despite a really clunky edit near the beginning.
Hardback book 12" by 12" about half an inch thick - some insights into the making of the album, some contradictions to info in the Classic Albums DVD - and NO LYRICS!!! How can you make this large book, in a deluxe box set and not include the lyrics?!
The download is not for the whole set. Not even close. It is the album plus the tracks on the 12". Registering for the download gives a three month membership to a hi-res music club, and within this PART of the 1987 live in Athens set can be downloaded. The DNA stuff is omitted completely.
Listening to the set there is a palpable sense that better bonuses are missing: the 12" mixes, US mix(es) and the b-sides and other alternate mixes from the vaults.
This box set has the most repetition of material that I've obtained so far. It costs so much and is missing so much, particularly other material released but now out of print. It was so obvious, yet missed off for whatever reasons seemed to make sense to PG et al at the time. It was a bad call Peter.
Check out The Smile Sessions or the Achtung Baby deluxe sets to see how it should be done.
Peter Gabriel's So was the second album I ever bought. I wore the tape out so much it had a constant drumming noise each time I played it. Released 25 years ago it was the first of his albums that wasn't eponymous (at his record company's insistence). It propelled him into the limelight. Before he had a few hits, but this was a real breakthrough, due to the innovative Sledgehammer video and the more mainstream sound of the album.
Taking the original album alone this is a five star product (with one minor quibble which I will get to). The songs are as good as ever and have been used for varying reasons since. Don't Give Up is as painful a listen as it was back then. It's a beautiful sound with point and counterpoint of Gabriel and Kate Bush expertly deployed. Sledgehammer is as good as ever and Mercy Street sounds cleaner and more haunting on this remaster. The world sensibilities of Gabriel were always somewhere in the mix and whilst he wasn't as overly political on this offering as previous ones (Biko, Games Without Frontiers) he used the influences well on tracks like In Your Eyes and the mood on Red Rain. Big Time is possibly the only track that has dated. It could only be a product of the 80's and whilst almost certainly a piece about the excesses it isn't the timeless single others are. Don't Give Up has as much to say about our austere times now as the time it was conceived. So to the quibble. In Your Eyes is a beautiful track and used to be the opener to side two (as was on my tape). Here it is the closing track. Quite why the tracks have been reordered I don't know and it could have done without it to be honest.
The extras are what really lets the side down. The booklet on this version contains no information other than lyrics and credits. The concert is the same one as on the POV video that was released. It isn't the strongest concert effort and won't stand the repeated play of other live recordings. The opening track is This Is The Picture and quite frankly it sounds a bit of a mess. Indeed the track starts like its being wound up to the crowd noise. Other tracks don't seem as strong and overall you are better off getting a different live concert than this one. My advice is get the single cd version. This is not worth the extra.
Peter Gabriel followed this with soundtracks, a cd of music for the millennium dome, an album of covers and only three studio albums of original material aside from those. All are worth checking out. However, listening to this makes you wish he were more prolific and his output was more original. As a single disk this is truly worth buying. The extras add nothing.
on 24 February 2015
'So' (1986), Peter Gabriel's 5th studio outing, deservedly merits its reputation as one of the best releases of his lengthy and distinguished career. The 'funk-rock' of 'Sledgehammer' and 'Big Time' sit very happily alongside the likes of the wonderfully anthemic 'Red Rain', the beautifully crafted 'In Your Eyes' and the classy 'Mercy Street'. The song which tends to divide Gabriel fans more than any other on this album is 'Don't Give Up', a duet with Kate Bush - personally, I've always loved the prettiness of this swirling ballad and its message of hope in the face of desperation, but I accept it may not suit all tastes and that's fair enough in my book. Overall though, this is a powerful release and certainly qualifies as one of the best of Gabriel's career - my favourite LP is probably still 'Gabriel 3' but it's a close run thing. Highly recommended.
on 2 December 2008
This is the PG album that all his diehard fans seem to have scoffed at as a sell out to commercialism (as did all the diehard Pink Floyd fans at DSOM when that came out). For me, though, as someone who finds much of his other work somewhat indigestible or simply inferior, none of that matters at all. This is, without question, a great album in just about every respect, not just the songs but the recording and the performances (from a host of notable studio musicians) and the way it all hangs together quite superbly. So what if Sledgehammer is a bit on the commercial side? It rocks! Apparently, it took a year to record (at his own studio in Box, a few miles east of Bath) and to finalise the mixing and mastering.
The digitally remastered edition improves just a bit on the original CD issue, which was pretty good to begin with, though the track order has been (slightly) rearranged, as compromises had to be made to the original track order due to the limitations of vinyl. If you want to hear the album as issued originally, the track order is 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 5, 6 and 7. Track 8 is a bonus cut, not on the vinyl, so stick it where you like (my preference is at the end).
Let us begin accentuating the positives since having "So" all polished and spruced up in a remaster after 25 years is like seeing an old friend in a new light and a smart suit. It is the case that the album has something quintessentially eighties about it and if you examine the "visual look" of the band in the accompanying live concerts its all high turned up collars, rolled up sleeves and those ridiculous long coats that passed for high fashion at the time. And yet unlike much of the music of that period it does transcend the decades and is a five star product. Everyone of course remembers "Sledgehammer" and its ubiquitous music video not least Gabriel' s "plastic" face distortions and two oven-ready chickens, headless and featherless, dancing along to the synthesized flute solo in the middle of the song. It was one of the most played videos on MTV of all time and the song remains a pop classic. Equally the cynicism of "Big Time" with its allusions to the eighties greed and corporations perfectly captured a cultural mood of avarice not least the great verse "my parties all have big names/and I greet them with the widest smile/tell them how my life is one big adventure/and always they're amazed". Opener "Red Rain" is packed full of drama and a brilliant husky Gabriel vocal which has made it such a staple of his live shows. While you can still see John Cusack holding that huge beat box above his head in the Cameron Crowe film "Say Anything" outside of Iona Skye's bedroom and blaring out the stirring "In your eyes". It was completely soppy but very endearing all the same. There is not much more to say about the duet with Kate Bush "Dont give up" which now seems to soundtrack every heroes video although with the passage of time it is the slightly less popular songs on the album like the superb "Mercy Street" possibly his finest moment and wonderfully quirky "This is the picture" with Laurie Anderson which probably stand up best for a new audience. Add to that the supporting cast list of premier musicians including bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Rhodes, and drummer Manu Katche, an A-list of collaborators Kate Bush, Nile Rodgers, Stewart Copeland, Youssou N'Dour, Laurie Anderson and others. In addition "So" sees the some of the early work of rocks greatest and most innovative producers Daniel Lanois who later added the mixing desk gold dust to artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris and the Neville Brothers. As for the sound its an album that because of its great production values sounded pristine, crisp and well ahead of its time in 1986. Today it sounds even better. But, and its a very large BUT, this is now the fourth remaster of "So" that this reviewer is aware of and do you really want to fork out more money if you already have a previous iteration? Indeed Gabriel's engineer Richard Chappell admits on his website that "In planning the 25th anniversary release of `So' Peter was very keen to go back to original sonic `vision' for the album".....(the) 2012 version is as true to the original as possible, but with the use of improved technology of today's converters, it is a genuinely superior sound". Who are we as mere non studio mortals to question this yet one would hope that "So" which has been subject to so much tinkering over the years is now the finished product?
The 3 discs set out here are good value for money in download terms including an unreleased live album taken from a 1997 stadium performance in Athens, Greece, at the conclusion of the "So" tour. If you don't own a live Gabriel set its all fine and dandy, but if you already own 1994's glorious double concert album "Secret World Live" then what you get are different takes on songs such as "Solsbury Hill", "Dont give up" etc". Again nothing wrong with this but aren't there some hidden gems unreleased in the "So" vaults to be unearthed, some re-mixes to be constructed or alternate takes hanging around on dusty tapes which can highlight the evolution of these great songs? In the last analysis with this 25th anniversary edition of "So" we can but hope that Gabriel has finally reached a conclusion in the endless reinventing of his back catalogue which has tended to dominate his recording output over recent years. Frankly it would be very nice to hear some new material. Let us remember that his last album was 2011's "New Blood" which gave some of the songs on "So" a lush and stirring orchestral re-rub which was followed by a live version of many of the same songs in this years "Live Blood". Prior to that was "Scratch my back" an album of cover versions. Peter Gabriel is one of the most intriguing and heavyweight British musicians of the past decades but he needs to turn his gaze firmly to the future and re-examine the meaning of the word "original". If you don't own "So" then get this since its essential, the concert alternatively is a luxury.
on 28 August 2015
Just to make clear out the outset, this is a review for the single-disc, remastered recent edition of this CD, with no frills, no bonus DVDs or whatever. I like this album enough to update to a CD but (whisper it) not enough to go the whole hog.
So...so, I followed Peter Gabriel from his solo debut onwards, enchanted by his quirky, edgy and eclectic songwriting, his chameleon-like personality and the sheer energy with which he sought out new sounds and forged them into very personal testaments.
Well, the good news with "So" is the eclecticism is still in place. The bad news is that it's the Eighties, and that the quirk and edge have been smooooothed down to present something accessible and mass-marketable and thoroughly entertaining. If you like that kind of stuff. I mean, just take a look at that cover - whereas before Gabriel would fearlessly obscure or manipulate his own image on his covers, here he is in full Eighties glossy mode, staring moodily out at you. It could be Paul Young, Robert Palmer or even Phil Collins. This introverted outsider who found his voice and vented his spleen in his music is suddenly....swoonsome!
But, okay, the music: it's fun, really. It's highly polished, sophisticated stuff that, even while listening to it, summons up any one of a hundred images from a hundred MTV videos of the time. I have no idea if "Red Rain" had a video, but I can picture one in my head when I listen to it. You know the one: singer wearing a long raincoat, sleeves rolled up, arms outstretched, wind machine going and rain pouring onto a studio floor somewhere. It's a nice, epic start to the album with lyrics that undercut the uplifting tone of the music. It's then followed by a tune that needs no introduction, the unavoidable and thoroughly irritating "Sledgehammer". This, despite the global trappings (bamboo flute, Manu Katche drumming) is an unashamed poptastic chart-grab, with funky horns, stupid lyrics and a simple, infectious beat. Oh, and an inventive and goofy video which endeared Gabriel to millions. The man who gave us "Mother of Violence" "Here Comes the Flood" "On the Air" "Not One of Us" and "San Jacinto" here sings "I kicked the habit/I shed my skin/This is the new stuff/I come dancing in" . Essentially: "The hell with you, you old hippies, I want my MTV!" You get the feeling, listening to this, even as you tap your toes and nod your head, that Gabriel took a look at what Phil Collins was doing and thought "Yeah, I've done my time: I could do with a piece of that action".
Fortunately, after this the album improves tenfold, with the heartbreaking and heartfelt "Don't Give Up", his duet with Kate Bush, while "That Voice Again" echoes "Red Rain"'s sweeping rhythm and will have you dancing across the room despite the seriousness of the lyrical content (I thought it was about the breakdown of a relationship, but apparently not). "Mercy Street" creates an eerie, thoughtful atmosphere and is one of the most haunting - and subsequently best - tracks here. Unfortunately, it's followed by the stonking, obnoxious beat of "Big Time" (or Sledgehammer Pt II as I think of it) which takes cheap and obvious shots at materialism, success and all the things that this album was to ultimately reap Gabriel. The mood swings wildly again for "Milgram's 37", an uncompromising dirge (and I mean that in a good way) referring to the notorious psychological experiment, to be followed by another piece of esoterica, a collaboration with Laurie Anderson. This wasn't on my original copy, so I'm not as familiar with it as the rest of the album, which actually counts in its favour. The CD version finishes off with the gloriously upbeat, happy, danceable, straight-out love song "In Your Eyes", which throws in Youssou N'Dour's soaring vocals. The original vinyl release ended with "Milgram's 37" but at some point somebody obviously thought "Hey, we can't end on such a bummer! Everybody dance! Happy happy!".
So....that's the album. It sold by the truckload, by the millions of truckloads. Along with "Graceland" it was the album every household seemed to have, and every radio station and department store seemed to play. It became one of THE albums of the Eighties: An enjoyable, slickly produced collection of fairly diverse tunes with a glossy overcoat and, to quote one music critic about a different album entirely, "the whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost" . It's fun, it really is, if you like that sort of thing. But at the same time, I can't help but feel: "Wait, what have you done with the real Peter Gabriel?" Sure, every artist needs to evolve, but it's as if the bold, angry and emotionally raw artist of only a couple of years earlier had been replaced with a globally successful artist whose music could sit comfortably at a wine and cheese evening somewhere in the home counties ("Oh, 'Big Time', yah, I love this song - turn up the Bang & Olufson, Jocasta, yah?").
Sometimes, growing up sucks.
on 12 August 2005
Work on this album began in 1984 and at the same time Gabriel had just got back with his wife Jill, his landlord at the time was pressing him to move out of their home "Ashcombe House" this is where the first incarnation of the Real World Studio had been housed (90% of So was recorded there) at the same time he was trying to establish the new complex at Box in Wiltshire and if that wasn't keeping him busy enough he also accepted film director Alan Parker's invitation to record a soundtrack for his film Birdy.
Deadlines to finish his album where ignored because he took 3 months to complete the soundtrack so by the end of the year with the soundtrack complete he re-started the recording of his own album, the positive outcome from the soundtrack work was that his co-producer Daniel Lanois joined him for the recording of his own album.
Before a single lyric was written there was the process of constructing the percussion tracks, Gabriel's is quoted as saying that "as a failed drummer, I focus heavily on the grooves" and as if to prove the point he recorded different versions of several tracks with 3 of the world's top drummers, Gabriel band regular Jerry Marrotta, Stewart Copeland from The Police and Afro-Frenchman Manu Katche he then chose which one he liked best very time consuming.
Gabriel had started to put some important musical milestones behind him, for the song Sledgehammer he flew to New York to record Wayne Jackson the trumpeter he'd seen backing Otis Redding in 1967 at the Ram jam club in Brixton, the experience had made him want to be a soul singer.
For the chorus for the track In your Eyes, he called in the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour who was to play such a key role in the music of Peter Gabriel for years to come.
Then in a stoke of genius he gave Kate Bush the chance to deliver one of the most memorable vocal performances of her life, for when Kate duetted on the song Don't Give Up the lyrics are on the edge of cornball cliché, but the way Kate sang them they came across as believable.
Gabriel had written the song in response to a famous photograph from the American Depression called "This Proud Land" which reflected his feelings about unemployment in Britain.
So was released on May 19th 1986, at the same time the single Sledge Hammer was riding high in the charts, it got to number 4 in the UK charts and was an American number 1.
The big selling tool was the accompanying video which cost £120,000 pounds to make and took 100 hours to film using "claymation" within the year the album So had sold 5 million copies worldwide.
The album opens with "Red Rain" which has the sound of Hi-hat with Levin adding the punch of the track with his stick bass filling the gap between the drums and Gabriel pounding the piano, which gives the opening cry of "Red rain is coming down Red rain is pouring down Pouring all over me".
Sledgehammer which is Gabriel's homage to the sound of "Stax" and "Motown", the song has a quiet fair-light intro, this is then followed by Jackson's trumpet sound which along with the constant stick bass sound of Levin is the backbone of the track which all the other parts are hung on.
As the sound of Stick bass comes into earshot with a little run on the keyboard Gabriel begins, Don't give up which with its accompanying video which has Gabriel and Bush locked in an embrace for the length of the song with the camera panning round, what makes the track work is the arrangement of the song which has at it's heart wonderful vocal performances of the singers who make you believe the lyrics, truly a hairs standing up on the back of the neck song.
The mood is broken with the groove drenched That Voice Again which is another song where simple keyboard riffs are played against several rhythm tracks, hi-hats and the signature stick bass sound of Levin.
Mercy Street begins with a quiet keyboard sound that is then given substance by the sound of bass that along with the sound of a triangle, this simple groove gives the lyrics the perfect foil, "Looking down on Empty streets all she can see are the dreams made solid" Joni Mitchell's ex plays the bass on the track, Larry Klein plays fret-less bass which gives it a slightly different sound to the previous tracks and as quietly it began the song ends with a bass note that fades into the distance.
The following track begins just simply with Gabriel exclaiming "Hi There" crash the sound of snare drum and more of Klein's funky bass sound to herald the start of Big time which is the closest to a simple pop song on the album with it's chorus of Big Time.
The next track is "We do what we are told" is a song build around that one line in the chorus.
The penultimate song, which is another experiment built around a single line just like the previous track.
This is the Pictures (excellent birds) it has Gabriel duetting with performance artist Laurie Anderson.
To close the album is the excellent In your Eyes which is a welcome return to form and just like the better tracks here is a song built around rhythm tracks interlaced with catchy keyboard licks with a superb chorus " In your eyes I see the doorways of a thousand churches In your eyes the resolution, in your eyes, all the fruitless searches Oh I see the light and the heat oh I want to be that complete".
This version of So was re-mastered by Tony Cousins who did a similar renovation to Gabriel's entire solo back catalogue in 2002.
This is Gabriel's most complete album.
on 18 November 2013
I am not an expert on Pete Gabriel, but I do love this old album.
Listened to it recently and rediscovered its depth. There is a real section of music herein, from light rock
as you would expect from the Genesis man- to ballads and even spiritual-type sounding music.
The music is neither masculine nor feminine in nature; but does speak to everyone. And the Kate
Bush contribution is noteworthy as her eclectic best. It is pure emotion, but it will lift you up.
P.S. Sledghammer is just one bit of it. Everyone knows the video and the song.
on 3 April 2016
Only based on the quality of the CD itself not the Artist or the songs etc which are fantastic. The CD skipped from straight out of the sealed packet. Nearly resulted in buying a new very expensive CD player until I tried it in another player and it was the same. Never had this problem before so nearly caught me out. It was sent back to Amazon who very efficiently refunded my money. Bought different album which was fine.