It's been twenty-one years since Peter Gabriel released an album of new material and, if truth be told, thirty-seven years since his last truly great long player. 'So' (1986) was the last time he successfully mixed his art-rock leanings with pop sensibilities, cerebral concerns with open-hearted emotions to any great effect.
The good news is that 'i/o' is the most cohesive and accessible album Gabriel has released since 'So'. In the energised 'Road To Joy', the protagonist is waking from a coma and gloriously re-engaging with the world, he is 'back in the world' and, if you want to see that as a metaphor for Gabriel's re-energised state, be my guest. 'Panopticom' may be the unlikeliest of sing-alongs and the delicate, and orchestrated 'Playing For Time' will have you reaching back to 'Here Comes The Flood'.
However, despite this reinvigorated sense of creativity, despite all of the musical inventiveness, despite the presence of the blessed Brian Eno, there are still shortcomings to contend with. For all of its good intentions (songs tackle technology, law, democracy and - most frequently - mortality), the lyrics sometimes feel overworked and even clumsy ( '...it's William Blake who inks his sting/Drawing out Martin Luther King' and 'Far, far away/Out amongst the stars/There’s a planet spinning slowly We call it ours' being two of the clunkier lines).
Ultimately, there is too much here to digest - only a couple of the numbers here clock in under the weightly five-minute mark, and some could easily have been demoted to b-sides. There is a great forty-minute album inside this sprawling sixty-eight minute package. And no, I don't want to play a spot-the-difference game with the two separate mixes of the record (Bright Side and Dark Side). There is so much to adore on 'i/o', but less would indeed have been more. I hope that he makes his next album, rough edges and all, in under six months.