Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Peter Gabriel laughs heartily when he ponders the intensely dark tone of "Up," his first studio effort in a decade, due Sept. 24 via Geffen.
"I'm just a happy-go-lucky fellow, aren't I?" he says, smiling. "Seriously, this wasn't intended to be such a heavy piece of work. It just turned out that way. At the same time, I wouldn't portray these songs as morose or depressing."
That's debatable, given the themes of loss and loneliness that run through the ironically titled "Up." Perhaps most dominant, though, is the recurring exploration of death in songs like "I Grieve" and "Don't Leave."
"Now, here's an interesting point to consider," Gabriel offers. "Death is instantly perceived as a depressive subject. But it doesn't have to be. Take, for example, if you live in a dominant youth culture that pretends death doesn't exist, you end up going directly toward it. But if you face it head-on and accept death as a part of the life cycle -- which so many other cultures do -- then you live life more fully."
Gabriel supports his theory by dressing a song like "I Grieve" in the world beat-spiced rhythms that have become his signature. In such a vibrant instrumental environment, he honors the passage of life while also celebrating what he describes as the everlasting soul in a mantra-like refrain, "They say that life carries on."
"As you get older, you have to put physical life and its eventual end into perspective," he says. "Fearing death doesn't enhance life; it feeds into feelings of dread."
All of this noted, "Up" is not consumed with one or two topics. The set's first single, "The Barry Williams Show," offers an acerbic take on the current spate of reality TV programs and their eroding effect on humanity. Gabriel says, "It's remarkable to witness what people will do for a slice of fame."
He admits, though, that he does occasionally tune in to reality TV. "It's like eating a ton of junk food," he says. "You feel good while you're consuming it. But afterward, you feel like crap -- and you vow to never go back again."
"The Barry Williams Show" is accompanied by a sharp, often darkly amusing videoclip directed by actor Sean Penn, and features a cameo by actor Barry Williams, who portrayed Greg on "The Brady Bunch."
This week, Gabriel will appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" to perform "I Grieve" in tribute to those lost following last year's attack on the U.S. Also planned are appearances on "Charlie Rose" (Sept. 25), "Today," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (Sept. 27), and "Last Call With Carson Daly" (Sept. 30).
Gabriel is preparing for an extensive world tour in the fall. Though dates are still to be locked in, the artist is formulating two decidedly different shows for the trek. One will be an elaborate, theatrical piece, while the other will follow a more traditional concert format.
"It's a wonderful way of exploring two different methods of performance," Gabriel says, "both of which I thoroughly enjoy."
Excerpted from the Sept.14, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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