THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “i/o is 12 tracks of grace, gravity and great beauty that provide welcome confirmation of not only Peter Gabriel’s ongoing ability to write stop-you-in-your-tracks songs but also of that thrilling voice, still perfectly, delightfully intact.
Throughout the album, the intelligent and thoughtful — and often thought-provoking — songs tackle life and the universe. Our connection to the world around us — ‘I’m just a part of everything’ Peter sings on the title track — is a recurring motif, but so too are the passing of time, mortality and grief, alongside injustice, surveillance and the roots of terrorism. This is not a solemn record, though. While reflective, the mood is never despondent; i/o is musically adventurous, often joyous and ultimately full of hope, topped off as it is, by the rousingly optimistic closing song, Live and Let Live.
Recorded mostly at Real World Studios and Peter’s home studio, the lengthy gestation of i/o means it has a sizeable cast list. Peter has kept his trusty inner circle of musicians close to hand, which means guitarist David Rhodes, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Manu Katché are sterling presences throughout. Several songs bear the fingerprints of long-time associate Brian Eno, whilst there are notable contributions from Richard Russell, pianist Tom Cawley, trumpeters Josh Shpak and Paolo Fresu, and cellist Linnea Olsson. Keyboard player Don E. Peter’s daughter Melanie contributes warm backing vocals, as does Ríoghnach Connolly of The Breath, while Real World regulars Richard Chappell, Oli Jacobs, Katie May and Richard Evans collectively provide programming and play various instruments. The Soweto Gospel Choir and Swedish all-male choir Oprhei Drängar lend their magnificent harmonies to a selection of tracks, and the mass strings of the New Blood Orchestra, led by John Metcalfe, both soothe and soar.
Unsurprising from a man renowned for being a boundary-pushing artist, i/o is not simply a collection of a dozen songs. All 12 tracks are subject to two stereo mixes: A Bright-Side Mix, handled by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, and a Dark-Side Mix, as reshaped by Tchad Blake. “We have two of the greatest mixers in the world in Tchad and Spike and they definitely bring different characters to the songs,” says Gabriel. “Tchad is very much a sculptor building a journey with sound and drama, Spike loves sound and assembling these pictures, so he’s more of a painter.” Both versions are included on the double-CD package, and are also available separately as double vinyl albums. And that’s not all. A third version — the In-Side Mix, in Dolby Atmos, comes courtesy of Hans-Martin Buff, “doing a wonderful job generating these much more three-dimensional mixes.” These are included in the three-disc set which includes a Blu-ray disc.
Continuing the idea developed for Peter’s Us and Up albums, he has again invited a range of visual artists to contribute a piece of art to accompany the music. Each of i/o’s 12 songs were handed to a world-renowned artist to create an accompanying work, whether paint, photography, sculpture or even Plasticine. The dozen artists make an exceedingly impressive team of collaborators: Ai Weiwei, Nick Cave, Olafur Eliasson, Henry Hudson, Annette Messager, Antony Micallef, David Moreno, Cornelia Parker, Megan Rooney, Tim Shaw, David Spriggs and Barthélémy Toguo. Another visual link with Peter’s past work is the cover shot. Taken by photographer Nadav Kander, it echoes with the covers of his earlier albums, always present but, with the exception of So, intriguingly obscured or manipulated.
These echoes of the past might resonate, but i/o is fundamentally an album of — and for — the here and now. Many of its themes may be timeless, but they’re also warnings that we’re living on borrowed time, both as a planet and as individuals. As Peter sings on the divine So Much, “this edition is limited.”