©Nadav Kander

This latest Peter Gabriel album, i/o may be his best solo album yet

I have been a fan of Peter Gabriel since 1973, and have seen him live four times during the Selling England Tour and once during The Lamb Tour. This is a review of i/o that I wrote for Tower Records’ magazine in Japan.

The following is a translation of my article in English:

PETER GABRIEL i/o Real World/Universal(2023)


This latest Peter Gabriel album may be his best solo album yet.

He is the number one artist who influenced me. First as a lyricist and storyteller. His work on Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway makes it one of the greatest musical theater works of the 20th century. I believe it will go down in history along with Alban Berg’s Lulu and Debussy’s opera. He intended to have the story adapted for the screen by Jodorowsky, best known for El Topo, but the budget never came through. Commercial success seemed unlikely for the film. With his first solo album, he began to release narrative songs based on Jung’s theories of psychology; his fourth solo album was his most experimental album. Around this time, he started the world music festival called WOMAD. His fifth solo, So, included a song that reached #1 on the U.S. charts, and after that, he became a major pop star. I worried that he would no longer make artistic albums as he had in the past.

i/o is his first solo album in 21 years, containing 12 songs selected from more than 130 song ideas. “To the melting of the solid world, the change is coming fast” he sings in “Olive Tree.” He sings of how technology may allow us to see the thoughts of the human brain as images and communicate with animals and other living creatures.

The title of the first song, “Panapticom,” is a new word created by referencing Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 invention of a surveillance system called the “Panopticon” and the word COMMUNICATION.

In a recent book by Byung-Chul Han titled Psychopolitics, a philosopher who has been popular in the West, wrote that we are now living in a digital panopticon, but Gabriel sings about the possibility of reversing it by creating new tools that would allow people to monitor the ruling powers, instead of just being monitored by the state. On the theme of the connection between people and the natural world, Gabriel wants to give optimism to those who fear technology. It is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, he says, but an evolving evo-topia.

The 17th-century philosopher Spinoza believed that everything is related to and influenced by everything else. He spoke of everything being part of one big ordered ecosystem, and we can see similarities with this idea in Gabriel’s new work.

He and Brian Eno have always had an eye for new technology and traditional cultures around the world. The CD set includes three mixes: a pop-sounding bright side mix, a more detailed dark side mix, and a Dolby Atmos surround mix. The music and production of Eno’s sound designs sound more vibrant in the Dolby Atmos mix.

In recent years, Gabriel started an artist-in-residence program at the WOMAD festival to introduce artists from around the world. Bartolomei Toguo, born in Cameroon, came to WOMAD through this program and provided one of the paintings for Gabriel’s song, “Olive Tree.”

He had painters from around the world paint one of his songs. When he toured, the artwork for each of the songs was projected on a screen. These artists included the internationally known Chinese contemporary artist / architect Ai Weiwei, a French artist, Annette Messager, a Danish-born artist of Icelandic descent, Olafur Eliasson, and the UK artist Cornelia Parker, as well as younger artists.

Furthermore, this time he had partnered with Stability AI to launch a competition to animate his songs using AI called Diffuse Together. He is also exploring the possibilities of AI, but at the same time, he has signed a petition calling for a moratorium on its development while the ethics and risks of its application are examined. This is evidence that he is using the technology not only for its positive aspects, but also with full consideration of its dangers.

The method of distribution is also new. Every full month since January, one new song has been released on the Bandcamp website. Finally, in December, a CD of 12 songs was completed.

Ai Weiwei provided the painting “Pink Middle Finger” for “Road To Joy”, a song co-produced by Eno and Gabriel. The middle finger is the sign for “Fuck You.” The song is about a person in a coma who comes back to life after a period of total immobility. According to Gabriel, the painting shows a man waking up from a coma and giving the finger to the state of death. It is not only a middle finger to power, but also a metaphor for the possibility of optimism for the future.

Gabriel said during his US tour that his next project may be a new work based on a single story. Next year will be 50 years since The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Will we finally get a new music theater? He still hasn’t completed “Mozo” yet. I’m looking forward to it!