When Peter Gabriel's first album in 10 years lit up the charts around the world, no one was more surprised than the cerebral pop veteran himself.

When Peter Gabriel's first album in 10 years lit up the charts around the world, no one was more surprised than the cerebral pop veteran himself. After all, "Up" is a downbeat affair with no catchy tunes. Musical fashions came and went in the last decade, and Gabriel's hairline just went. But it seems enough music fans still care about the man behind such groundbreaking tunes as "Sledgehammer," "Biko," and "Shock the Monkey."

After its late-September release by Geffen, "Up" debuted at No. 9 on The Billboard 200 and was top-five in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, and Belgium. It then slid down the charts in many territories.

Gabriel recalls playing the just-completed album to U.S. label executives a few months ago. They enjoyed the "musicality" of it, but knew they had a challenge on their hands. "I think people, when they listen, will always be looking to see what might go on the radio, but it's quite hard for an old fart to get on the radio these days," he says. "So they have to think of other means to try and get your music out."

In Gabriel's case, that has meant a round of TV appearances and European club gigs, and a big arena tour for which he rehearsed in a hangar on a Royal Air Force base. As previously reported, the North American leg of the Growing Up tour kicks off on Tuesday in Chicago. He hopes to play Europe next year.

As with his previous road show, the Secret World tour of 1993, Gabriel will put on a costly extravaganza. During that tour, he disappeared into a suitcase and used a video camera to distort his face. This time, deliberately keeping the details vague, he says the stage will be split into "up" and "down" sections, representing the sky and the earth, with some "unusual means of propulsion" getting between the two.

And while much of the attention afforded to "Up," has focused on its death-related songs, Gabriel has no plans to clock out just yet. To keep fit, he plays tennis three times a week at Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason's house down the road from him in Bath.

And luckily, Gabriel's fans will not have to wait another 10 years for his next album. The follow-up is half-finished and he hopes it will come out in 2004. Completed songs include "Animal Nation," which will appear on the soundtrack to the upcoming children's animated feature "The Wild Thornberrys," and "Baby Man." Both are upbeat, but he does not know about the overall tone of the record as it is not "assembled" yet.


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