Peter Gabriel’s career has always been a battle between the head and the heart. He is the egg-headed boffin, one of rock’s most intimidating intellectuals who likes to tinker endlessly in the studio and who cloaks his work in artiness. And he’s an emotional, impulsive man who knows the value of spontaneity and the importance of following his instincts. When the two are captured in perfectly balanced creative tension, he’s capable of breathtakingly taut and powerfully moving music.
Hit is not the first compilation of Gabriel’s solo material. Shaking The Tree appeared in 1990 and most of the big tracks from that collection are reprised here?”Solsbury Hill”, which allegorically described his exit from Genesis; “Biko”, which remains a model of how to combine pop and politics with dignity and passion; the glorious duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up”, and the mysterious “Red Rain” (both of which are enhanced by Daniel Lanois’ ethereal co-production); and the flowering of his world music interests on the duet with Youssou N’Dour which gave its title to that earlier compilation. Then, of course, there’s the MTV staple anthem “Sledgehammer”, which probably best captures the Gabriel dialectic?cultured and sophisticated but with a slamming beat, a white soul vocal and wonderfully libidinous lyric.
Yet 1990 was only halfway through Gabriel’s solo career. Although there have only been two regular studio albums since then, Us in 1992 and Up last year, he has hardly been idle, and exactly half of the tracks come from the period after 1990.
There are four apiece from those two studio albums. But then there are the tracks that only the collectors will have?”Lovetown” from the film Philadelphia, the heart-rending “Father Son” plus “The Town That Ate People” and “Downside Up” from the Millennium Dome show, the evocative “Cloudless” from his soundtrack to Phillip Noyce’s film Rabbit-Proof Fence, and the brilliant “Burn You Up Burn You Down”, included on the earliest promo copies of Up but inexplicably omitted from the final version.
Head and heart taken together make for a collection that not only confirms him as a unique voice in British popular music, but should also convince you that he’s blessed with genius.