. . .
After putting out four albums in five years — Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel, cos this is the last time I get to make this joke — Peter Gabriel slowed it down a bit, and his next studio album didn’t come out until 1986.
Of course, he didn’t disappear: a lot of folks loved his 1983 double live album as well as his all-instrumental soundtrack for the film Birdy, but I’m sure people wondered if he was going to keep the momentum he’d built up in the U.S. when “Shock The Monkey” — driven by massive MTV play — became a top 30 hit, because back then, four years between albums was a long time.
As you well know, because if you only own one Peter Gabriel album, this is likely the one, So was the album that made Gabriel a huge star. Driven by four singles: the blue-eyed funk workouts “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer” balanced by the sincere ballads “In Your Eyes” and the Kate Bush duet “Don’t Give Up.” All of these songs were huge hits in either the U.S. or U.K. and, of course “Sledgehammer” was a top ten single around the world, because of the happy, infectious vibe (and clever stop-motion video).
And while I still think Cameron Crowe should used “Within Your Reach” instead of “In Your Eyes” for the Lloyd Dobler boombox scene in Say Anything, I could tell that these were all really good songs, but none of them rose to the level of the only single from that album that totally stiffed, the opening track, “Red Rain,” which isn’t just my favorite song on the album, but my favorite Peter Gabriel song, full stop.
Red rain is coming down
Red rain is pouring down
Pouring down all over me
Of course, unlike the aforementioned singles, where the moods ranged from goofy to goopy, “Red Rain” is somewhat grim and apocalyptic, his regular drummer Jerry Marotta augmented by a hi-hat played by Stewart Copeland (about whose awesomeness we’ll get to soon enough), Tony Levin’s massive massive bass and synths that crash and roar like nuclear winter.
I am standing up at the water’s edge in my dream
I cannot make a single sound as you scream
It can’t be that cold, the ground is still warm to touch
Hey, we touch
This place is so quiet, sensing that storm
It’s the ache in Gabriel’s voice each and every time he sings “reeeeeeeed raaaiiin” that utterly kills me. It’s utterly majestic and completely terrifying, like he’s seen things in the rain that he can’t ever forget, and he’s on the verge of falling apart at any moment and only singing the song is keeping him together.
And hell, maybe we’re not even seeing the red rain. It might just be a nightmare or a hallucination. Maybe that’s why, near the end of the song, almost apologetically, he breaks down just for a second, looking for respite:
I come to you, defences down
With the trust of a child
But of course, any respite is brief. Like maybe a beat. Maybe two, and then the nightmare starts back up, drums pounding without forgiveness, synths continuing to thunder and lightning until the very very end when all of the noise fades away, but Gabriel is left all by himself, still obsessing about the red rain pouring down all over him.
“Red Rain” official video
“Red Rain” performed live in 2003
“Red Rain” live on Late Show w/ David Letterman, 2011
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