So (25th Anniversary Edition)
Nov 21, 2012 Issue #43 - Animal Collective
What was it about the 1980s that made it so viable for artists in their mid-30s to mid-40s to become hit-makers? Peter Gabriel, who in the late '60s founded the progressive rock band Genesis, was 36 in the summer of 1986, when "Sledgehammer," the lead single from his fifth solo album, So, reached Number One on Billboard's Hot 100. Somehow, amid a wave of younger artists (Duran Duran, Madonna, Wham!, etc.) setting fashion trends for the MTV Generation, Gabriel was no anomaly. Springsteen, Bowie, Tina Turner, and Mark Knopfler (with Dire Straits) also enjoyed commercial explosions in the '80s, to a degree unimaginable in the prior decades from which they emerged. The story behind each success was different. In the case of Dire Straits, the video for the lead single ("Money for Nothing") was groundbreaking. For Springsteen, the album (Born in the U.S.A.) was a tour de force. For Gabriel, it was both.
Twenty-five years later, the legacy of So is somewhat nebulous. You might hear a late-night talk show band kick into the walloping, Motown-inspired horn riff from "Sledgehammer," but do younger bands ever cover these songs? Is the lingering association with the album still the painstakingly produced stop-motion video for "Sledgehammer," reportedly the most frequently aired video in MTV's history? Is it John Cusack, in Say Anything, hoisting a boom box over his head while blaring the album's second single, "In Your Eyes"? If so, that's a shame, because the album is stacked with mesmerizing tracks. Dream-like imagery abounds on the rapturous opener, "Red Rain." There's somber, forlorn beauty in the ballads: the ghostly "Mercy Street" and the soul-lifting "Don't Give Up," featuring Kate Bush as a co-vocalist. Co-producer Daniel Lanois, sharing duties with Gabriel, achieves an elegant balance between the synth and world music instrumentation that complements the songs, while Gabriel's soul and gospel influences jibe splendidly with his avant-garde proclivities.
Author rating: 10/10
Average reader rating: 9/10