Thursday, July 21, 2005

‘CURTAINS’ TO BE REOPENED

Peter Gabriel’s next album will be called “I/O” and, Rolling Stone says, feature a reworking of “Curtains,” a song that appeared as a B-side on his 1987 “Big Time” single. “Curtains” is strangely touching, considering it is also classic Gabriel paranoia by a classic Gabriel flawed narrator in the midst of surrender, if not complete psychic shutdown. The lyrics:

Oh, draw the blinds
We can shut out the night
Oh, pull up the blankets
Pull the blankets up tight
And there are angels on our curtains
They keep the outside out
And there are lions on our curtains
They lick their wounds
They lick their doubt

The song is beautiful, but the best thing that can be read into the lyrics is a hint of healing. The listener hears the fragility of people who have been through great pain — the description of the curtains suggests the presence, or perhaps the sudden absence, of children — and are receding from the world, replacing their strength with an immature faith. Curtains don’t keep much out, and the designs on them contribute very little to even that; but the collapse is affecting, if not quite sweet.

Gabriel was doing a lot of these at the time, the minimal lyrics and mini-epic structure, at least when not concocting the more straightforward singles of his 1986 “So” album. The denseness and clarity of such songs as “Big Time” were most notably left behind in, aside from “Curtains,” “No More Apartheid” with Shankar and Little Steven Van Zandt and “Across the River,” which has popped up occasionally since the early 1980s. These had scant lyrics and a form that most closely resembled, well, a river: a promising beginning, solid enough musically to hold and launch a listener, a long stretch of song river that may drift melodically, or become violent enough to threaten drowning, and finally an arrival at the other bank, where the song concludes firmly. “No More Apartheid,” honestly, stretches the description of this form, being far more insistent and building far more powerfully than the other songs. It’s a torrent of sound, wailing and electric, that begins almost immediately and doesn’t let up until some seven minutes later, leaving behind the image of some exhausted but exhilarated musicians.

It’s difficult to find lyrics for “No More Apartheid,” odd when compared with the dozens of Web sites offering “Across the River” lyrics that are, in total:
Across the river
Across the river
Across the river I go

“No More Apartheid” features, along with chants of the title phrase and invocations against the South African resort “Sun City,” some hooting, hollering and impossible-to-catch suggestions of sloganeering. (“Another day, no more [unintelligible word],” possibly. “Blog it, blog it,” in an anachronistically unlikely plea to set Internet nerds on the trail of quashing a racist regime.) Of the three, it’s “Curtains” that comes off as nearly Proustian.

While Gabriel always had a healthy respect for pop, back to the widely beloved “Solsbury Hill” on his first solo album, he bid blatantly and brilliantly in the late 1980s to achieve hit singledom with “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.” The B-sides and side projects of the time, though, hint that the bulk of his work remained out of the mainstream.

He’s reputed to sort through a stunningly large number of tracks to put out an album, including an alleged 150 for his 2003 effort, “Up,” so it will be interesting to see what Gabriel makes (or remakes) of “Curtains” and what about it retained his interest and attention nearly two decades after its creation. He’s resurrected “Across the River” live recently and left it largely unchanged in structure or tone, so a new “Curtains” may merely hint that Gabriel thinks the world is catching up, finally, to where he was in the late 1980s.

9 comments:

eric said...

I/O, huh?

Sounds more like a tribute to the place you plugged in your TI-99 in the sixth grade.

Scape7 said...

At least he didn't call it GIGO.

eric said...

:)

3jake said...

I would take a geekier step forward to say that Gabriel has used water or a river as a source of healing through a lot of his post-So songs. I think its one of his more powerful personal images that pulls away from the social protest and focuses on him as the flawed narrater. Not like Waters who is both flawed and incredibly self indulgent, but flawed and striving to heal. This distinction is what makes Gabriel a unique voice among songwriters. And convinces me that he is still worthy of the huge pedestal that I prop him up on.

Scape7 said...

I'm with you. A friend of mine recently sold his "Up" at a yard sale because he thought it was awful, and this mystifies me. I mean, I didn't see any of his Alphaville albums for sale, and pretty much everything after "Forever Young" is a cringe, whereas Gabriel is always interesting and almost always a pleasure (except when he's purposely not being a pleasure, as in "Darkness").

eric said...

Man, you guys did geek it up a notch. Hats off to you.

My latest shocker was than Van Morrison is soon to turn 60.

My latest revelation that I wasn't geeky enough anymore: My five-year-old daughter works the remotes better than I can.

3Jake said...

Alphaville had more than one album?

Like the remote, Peter Gabriel is a complex dude with blinky lights and weird shaped buttons.

Oh, wait til your little cute one hits 10 and looks at you with pity bordering on disgust when you ask her if she is really ok with the darker episodes of Firefly.

Now I know why my parents drink.

Scape7 said...

"Firefly" has darker episodes?

Anyway, I'm sure our geekiness has unimaginable depths.

eric said...

Couldn't agree more, Marc. Just couldn't agree more.