Peter Gabriel – Ovo

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Peter Gabriel releases come along so rarely that every one is an event. OVO is no exception, even if it’s not an album proper – it was commissioned for the Millennium Experience, for performance inside the Dome. Of course, the choice of Peter Gabriel makes perfect sense – the man has always been ahead of other artists: he was the first to embrace multimedia technology, and he was the first to use the Internet as a truly global medium to bring together sounds from round the world.

While he only sings on about half the tracks, every one has that unmistakable Peter Gabriel feel, that earthy, tribal ambience that evokes Mother Earth at her most primal. The opening “THE STORY OF OVO marries Rasco and Neneh Cherry’s rap duet to pulsating bass, with Peter Gabriel’s smoky voice emerging like wind through the trees.

It is followed by the phenomenally beautiful LOW LIGHT, piano and strings casting ghostly shadows around Afro-Celt Soundsystem’s Iarla O Lionaird’s chilly singing, while THE TIME OF THE TURNING is just as lush, with Richie Havens’ vocals adding a more Celtic feel to the rousing strings. THE MAN WHO LOVED THE EARTH / THE HAND THAT SOLD SHADOWS revisits the low-slung trip-hop beats of the opening track, but with hammering percussion and bizarre noises bubbling to the surface, finishing with squealing electric guitars.

THE TIME OF THE TURNING (Reprise) / THE WEAVERS REEL is another percussive tour de force, this time with hurdy-gurdy and fiddles whipping proceedings into a frenzy. Finally, Peter Gabriel appears to deliver his first solo vocal performance of the album. Be warned though – FATHER, SON is a ballad of such heart-wrenching sadness that you’ll find yourself choking away the odd tear.

THE TOWER THAT ATE PEOPLE (the “industrial” part of the OVO story) is more fun, with Peter Gabriel’s vocals processed into a mesh of dark synths and David Rhodes’ chunky guitar. It fuses into Adzido’s drum fury, REVENGE, before the muted dub of WHITE ASHES.

DOWNSIDE-UP sees the much-heralded arrival of the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser on vocals, alongside Paul Buchanan. The song’s initial glacial majesty gives way to bass-heavy, King Crimson-style bursts of guitar (not surprising as the bass on this and most other tracks is provided by King Crimson bassist and long-time Peter Gabriel collaborator Tony Levin).

Another PG stalwart, violinist Shankar, then gives us THE NEST THAT SAILED THE SKY, a slow motion glide through across darkened skies à la BLADERUNNER, before the ten minute closer MAKE TOMORROW reminds us just how huge Peter Gabriel’s music can sound, with Elizabeth Fraser, Richie Havens and Paul Buchanan all accompanying him on vocals.

There’s no doubt about it, OVO is a monumental piece of work. Just a quick glance through this list of guest artists makes that clear, and I haven’t even mentioned Daniel Lanois, The Dhol Foundation, The Black Dyke Brass Band, Electra Strings or Manu Katche. Nor have I mentioned a list of instruments that includes didgeridoo, bodhran, finger cymbals, flutes, tanpura, mandola, dulcimer, tabla, dufs, crotales, whistles, accordian, surdu, Peruvian drums, sabar and Dhol drums, alongside entire brass and string sections.

I also haven’t mentioned that the CD comes with a multimedia section, with a link to the Peter Gabriel website, the video of the entire THE NEST THAT SAILED THE SKY performance at the Dome, and THE STORY OF OVO told in pictures, words and music.

You have to hand it to Peter Gabriel: this is one official Millennium event that is actually well worth the money.

5 stars