Us by Peter Gabriel is one of the most emotionally stirring albums I have ever heard, and my favorite of Gabriel’s. Us is an entire album of human emotions, held together by a common theme- that of relationships, be it those between two people (the most common variation of this theme on the album) or larger ones.
The main songs on Us that really grab me and exemplify the theme of relationships are Come Talk To Me, Love To Be Loved, Washing of the Water, and Secret World. Come Talk To Me is undoubtedly my favorite track on the album. It begins quietly, and then the drums and pipes kick in loudly, creating a raw sonic landscape. The song is supposedly about a father-daughter relationship, written in response to the growing distance between Peter Gabriel and one of his daughters. The lyrics struck a painful chord with me. “Won’t you please talk to me? If you’d just come talk to me? We can unlock this misery, if you’ll only talk to me.
” Come Talk To Me is a glorious opening track, a “swirling, curling storm of” desperation and emotion. I can feel the loneliness in every word, a raw plea for connection through this “wretched desert.” The African-influenced instruments are also and the chorus features Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, whose voice I adore and admire.
The next song, Love To Be Loved, is much calmer and softer, almost easy-listening. It describes a craving to be needed, liked, wanted, and loved- a longing to fit in somewhere. The middle section of the song changes drastically, taking my breath away and breaking my heart with the first of many tearjerking lines on Us: “This old familar craving. I’ve been here before, this way of behaving. Don’t know who the hell I’m saving anymore. Let it pass, let it go, let it leave! From the deepest place I grieve. This time I believe. And I let go… I can let go of it. Though it takes all the strength in me, and all the world can see, I’m losing such a central part of me. I can let go of it.” Those last two lines in particular really get me- “I’m losing such a central part of me,” especially in the way that Gabriel sings it. He sounds truly regretful, torn between what he wants and what is best for him. This bridge section cuts straight to the core.
Washing of the Water has a similar heartbreaking effect. It begins softly, fooling the listener into thinking it’s nothing more than a contemplative piano-based lullaby… which it is, at least in the beginning. The lyrics are about a river, asking it to carry the narrator away, and the gentle rhythm lulls the listener into a false sense of calm. Then suddenly, triggered by the line “Let your waters reach me like she reached me tonight,” the floodgates open. The middle section explodes from there, pouring out sheer pain. “Letting go, it’s so hard, the way it’s hurting now to get this love untied. But I’ll have to stay with this thing, cause if I follow through, I face what I denied. I’ll get those hooks out of me, and I’ll take out the hooks that I sunk deep in your side. Kill that fear with emptiness, loneliness I hide.” The entire bridge section makes me want to cry. It’s one of the saddest breakup songs I’ve ever heard.
The last track on Us is much more uplifting- Secret World. It is quiet and dreamy, with atmospheric synths. It’s also my second favorite song on the album. In my opinion, the lyrics tell of a couple who have been together for a long time and are momentarily separated- “In this house of make believe, divided in two like Adam and Eve. You put out and I receive.” The lyrics are rich with moments of brilliance, such as “So I watch you wash your hair, underwater, unaware. And the plane flies through the air,” which may sound mundane but makes so much sense in the context of the song One line I particularly admire the use of is “What was it we were thinking of?”. Towards the end, the song bubbles into a more upbeat synth solo. I love to listen to this song as I fall asleep. When I leave my eyes open, the lights of the cars going by outside my window seem to stream down my wall in perfectly orchestrated movements, and when I close my eyes, my mind and the music melt into each other, creating a bridge between me and the song.
The songs in between the tracks I’ve highlighted are not quite as good as the above, but all have their own merit. The two most rocking songs are Steam, a watered down version of Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel’s biggest hit) and Kiss That Frog, a fun song with excellent sexual innuendo. Blood of Eden is another calming, beautiful track in the vein of Love To Be Loved, and Only Us is enjoyable, albeit with some lyrical dissonance. Fourteen Black Paintings is the only song on the album that doesn’t have to do with the relationship between two people; it is more of a mood piece about the relationship between the government and its people (in my opinion). Digging In The Dirt is a dark, angry song about therapy that comes directly after Washing of the Water, moving fluidly from grief to anger.
All of the songs on Us are lovely, and the album should be listened to as a whole. It’s a cohesive, painful album with true moments of greatness, and it is emotional cleansing and therapeutic, healing from the inside.
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