There are records that grab your attention immediately and never let go. These are the works that just speak to the soul from the very first note. Then there are records that given a listen or two evoke nothing -- at first. Occasionally, though, those records will get a second chance, and sometimes you realize putting it aside the first time was a mistake. Case in point -- Up.
It was my uncle who told me to give Up a chance about two years ago. The man is a big Peter Gabriel fan, so I gave it a shot, but my first impressions were of confusion. There seemed to be something there, but I didn't know what, and the disc lay dormant until recently.
Maybe it's the two years that broke up my listening
to Up, but this time I "got" it. This is a dark, textured,
subtle work that doesn't necessarily emote, but sets a mood that
permeates from every note. Gabriel's haunting lyrics and vocals
unify his vision and keeps the album focused. It does take a while
to grow on you, meaning there's a good chance a lot of people will
never "get" it.
Stylistically, Up never fails to impress, pulling sounds from all sorts of genres and mixing them together in a brilliant fashion. "Darkness" opens with a few rippling sound effect, before twisting into a heavy, pulsating, and messy drumbeat. Almost immediately, the track shifts gears, presenting Gabriel's whispering and piano work. Techno/dance music gets featured prominently on "Growing Up," with the beat anchoring the song while Gabriel piles on electronic flourishes, orchestral arrangements, etc.
The ethereal "Strawberry Fields Forever"-like opening to "Sky Blue" is a picture of understated beauty, sparse guitar chords littering the landscape, before eventually segueing into a full-fledged gospel chorus ending. " I Grieve" takes on shadows of African tribal music, simmering beneath Garbriel's haunting, coarse vocals. "The Barry Williams Show," a blistering satire on the Jerry Springer TV culture, taps into a heavy R&B beat reminiscent of "Sledgehammer."
The U2-like "More Than This" probably displays the most accessible music on the record, but it's more sophisticated than anything one would hear on pop radio. The Middle Eastern vibe of "Signal To Noise" is just as effective as "Kashmir," slowly building to a climatic, explosion of sound. To close things out, Gabriel does a 180, foisting up the listener a gentle, sparse "ballad" clocking in at only 3 minutes, by far the shortest song on Up. One of the best Wilco songs never recorded by the group, "The Drop" sums up the general mood of the album, an album of despair and hopelessness by Gabriel's delivery of "One by one they're going out / You watch them dim / One by one, you watch them fall and wonder where they're falling to."
Up literally blindsided me, coming out of nowhere and hitting me hard. This is certainly not a light and breezy album one would listen to on a sunny day. If you can make it past the first few spins, there is a wealth of treasure waiting to be found.
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