Peter Gabriel

1992: Geffen GEFD 24473

  1. Come Talk to Me
  2. Love to be Loved
  3. Blood of Eden
  4. Steam
  5. Only Us
  6. Washing of the Water
  7. Digging in the Dirt
  8. Fourteen Black Paintings
  9. Kiss That Frog
  10. Secret World

This album sits somewhat uneasily on my library’s metaphorical shelves. I had mixed reactions to it when it first came out, generally positive (and *loving* the cover art) but finding some tracks and even some parts of other tracks landed oddly within me or perhaps didn’t even land at all. I came around to most of the tracks eventually, on an individual basis, but some still still don’t connect with me.

“Come Talk to Me” surprises me still, but not in an impressed way, because it may be the most straightforward and unambiguous thing I’d heard from Peter Gabriel when it came out: it does appear to be What You Hear Is What You Get territory in its lyrics—just relationship/communication issues given voice—and nothing special as to the musical side of things except for world-music elements being included because it’s Peter Gabriel, founder of Real World (on which this was released in the UK).

Rather than address every track individually, for now, I’ll just note those that grab me most. “Digging in the Dirt” is the big one, justly chosen as the debut single, because its brooding/explosive introspection is an excellent cocktail of both depth and flash, the lyrics sustaining that as a contiguous thread right to the end with the repeated “Digging in the dirt / to find the places we got hurt.” “Steam” and “Kiss That Frog” initially struck me as both being attempts to match Gabriel’s archly hilarious “Big Time” on his previous album, So, that didn’t quite even reach that beauty’s outskirts; years later, “Steam” still leaves me unimpressed (its video perhaps contributing to that situation), but “Kiss That Frog” both does delight me but unfortunately also now has secondhand personal baggage attached that makes me avoid it (plus there’s the issue of all the sexual innuendo of the lyrics; I don’t mind sexual innuendo, but having it hang over lyrics kinda soils them a little).

It took me a little while to get into “Only Us,” but wow am I glad I got there; it’s the purest peace we get in this territory, and it seems to me that it’s the calm, accepting voicing of what’s violently addressed in “Digging in the Dirt” and finally cherishingly embraced in “Secret World.” I love its gently plodding path to and through the relationship issues it’s trying to own up to and better appreciate. It could easily have been the album’s closing track, but I appreciate the superb result of flipping things around to let this close the first half (on the vinyl, this was a two-disc release of four sides) and have “Secret World” be the shimmering culmination.

And oh what a culmination that track is. The lyric that arrests me here is “the wheel keeps turning, spinning round and round / and the houses crumble, but the stairways stand,” because the latter half’s use as a metaphor as to relationship issues is both profound and provocative, coming how and when it does in not just this song but at the end of this album. (My second-favorite lyric on this track is, emphatically, the very last line of the album: “Sh—listen.”)

I also gained an appreciation for “Secret World” after hearing it on the tour album Secret World, where it gets a more glorious extension of the whole experience.