Peter Gabriel Caps Busy Year With Release of ‘i/o,’ His First New Studio Album in 2 Decades

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Peter Gabriel i/o album cover (Photo: Nadav Kander)

If it seems like Peter Gabriel has been top of mind to classic rock fans throughout 2023, then he’s accomplished his goal. Beginning on January 6 with a song called “Panopticom” and continuing literally on every full moon throughout the rest of the year, Gabriel shared a new track—12 in all—from i/o, his first studio album of new material since 2002. The twelfth and final track, “Live and Let Live,” arrived on November 27. In between were not just 10 other songs, from the haunting “Love Can Heal” to the up-tempo “Olive Tree” and the stunning “Playing For Time.” For Gabriel also managed to perform two separate legs of his first solo outing since 2014, in which he presented most of the songs from the new LP as well as his extensive catalog. Funnily enough, despite his busy calendar and the monthly drip, drip, drip of a new song, the acclaimed musician didn’t reveal the full details of i/o until Oct. 18—nearly a year after he released its first song. The album, which arrived on Dec. 1, was recorded mostly at Real World Studios and at his home. All 12 tracks are subject to two stereo mixes: the Bright-Side Mix, handled by Mark “Spike” Stent, and the Dark-Side Mix, as reshaped by Tchad Blake. “We have two of the greatest mixers in the world in Tchad and Spike and they definitely bring different characters to the songs,” Gabriel said. As a result, i/o will thus be released as a 2-CD set. It is also be available as a 2-CD + Blu-ray with the In-Side Mix (Dolby Atmos) and 24/96 hi-res stereo mixes; and as two separate 2-LP sets. (A 4-LP, 2-CD + Blu-ray box set will be released on March 8, 2024.)

The album features a vast personnel: Gabriel has kept his trusty inner circle of musicians close to hand, which means guitarist David Rhodes, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Manu Katché are presences throughout. Several songs bear the fingerprints of long-time associate Brian Eno, while there are contributions from Richard Russell, pianist Tom Cawley, trumpeters Josh Shpak and Paolo Fresu, cellist Linnea Olsson and keyboard player Don E.

Gabriel’s daughter Melanie contributes backing vocals, as does Ríoghnach Connolly of The Breath, while Real World regulars Richard Chappell, Oli Jacobs, Katie May and Richard Evans collectively provide programming and play various instruments. Soweto Gospel Choir and Swedish all-male choir Oprhei Drängar lend their harmonies to a selection of tracks, along with the mass strings of the New Blood Orchestra, led by John Metcalfe.

Audio clips, along with the complete track listing for i/o, appear below the Amazon links. When you buy something using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting Best Classic Bands.

Peter Gabriel i/o Tracklist
The Court
Playing for Time
Four Kinds of Horses
Road to Joy
So Much
Olive Tree
Love Can Heal
This Is Home
And Still
Live And Let Live

Gabriel pre-promoted the album with an extensive tour that began in Europe on May 18 and resumed with a North American edition that began on Sept. 8 and concluded on Oct. 21. The first track, “Panopticom,” was released at midnight on Jan. 6, nearly two months after he announced plans for the tour on Nov. 8, 2022. “i/o The Tour” saw Gabriel playing new material from the forthcoming album, as well as delving into his extensive catalog of music, with hits, fan favorites and “the unexpected.”

Related: Our review of the tour

“After a years-worth of full moon releases, I’m very happy to see all these new songs back together on the good ship i/o and ready for their journey out into the world,” he said in the announcement.

“Live and Let Live” was the last to be written for the album. Gabriel describes it as a song about forgiveness. “There’s… a description that Nelson Mandela gave when he was released from jail after 27 years in prison and found himself about to become president of South Africa, standing next to some of the people who’d been responsible for keeping him in jail all that time,” Gabriel wrote. “He said he felt some of the old fear and hatred swelling up inside him but when he thought hard about it, he realized that he needed to find a way to work with these people, to build what he called his rainbow coalition. He needed to feel their humanity and ultimately to find a way to forgive them. He was quite sure that if he couldn’t forgive them and find a way to work with them, that he would remain their prisoner for the rest of his days.”

“And Still,” released on Oct. 28, and in memory of his mother, is one of the most personal songs Gabriel has written. “I was trying to write a little bit in the style of the music that my parents responded to, so I think there is some music from the 40s probably that had an influence on the song. In the middle I wanted to write my mum a beautiful melody. She loved classical music, so we have a beautiful cello playing there. It took a while to get that right, it can’t be too emotional or too underplayed, but I think we got there in the end.”

Gabriel calls “This Is Home,” which arrived on September 29, “a love song. It began with inspiration from some of the great Tamla Motown rhythm sections so we’re trying to recreate that in a modern way, complete with the tambourine and handclaps. The groove I like a lot, Tony Levin does a great bass part there.

“I did an unusual thing for me in that I tried doing this low voice / high voice thing, so you get this almost conversational voice at the beginning and the second part is a higher, more emotional voice. I thought that would be both intimate and emotive to put the two side by side.”

The previous track, “Love Can Heal,” shared on Aug. 31, actually had its live premiere during Gabriel and Sting’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors” tour of North America of 2016.

“‘Love Can Heal’ was written around 2016,” says Gabriel. “I started playing it midway through the tour and dedicated it to Jo Cox, who was the British MP brutally murdered by an extremist and someone that I had met at a leadership conference. I think the song fits right in to the themes of the album in the sense that i/o is about feeling and being connected to everything and in a way, the next evolution of being connected to things is a feeling of love for everything.”

“Olive Tree” provides another up-tempo moment for the i/o album. “I wanted it to have some speed to it but I also wanted some mystery, too,” says Gabriel. “I think it is a celebration in a way and there’s a real sense of being alive.”

Written and produced by Gabriel, the previous track, “So Much,” features a string arrangement from John Metcalfe and contributions from Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar and backing vocals from Peter’s daughter Melanie Gabriel.

“I was trying purposefully not to be clever with this,” says Gabriel. “I wanted to get a very simple chorus but one which still had some substance to the harmony and melody. Something that was easy to digest but still had a bit of character to it.

“‘So Much’ is about mortality, getting old, all the bright, cheerful subjects, but I think when you get to my sort of age, you either run away from mortality or you jump into it and try and live life to the full and that always seems to make a lot more sense to me. The countries that seem most alive are those that have death as part of their culture.”

The previous track, “Road to Joy,” features the Soweto Gospel Choir, a string arrangement from John Metcalfe and contributions from a number of Gabriel’s current touring band. The song is one of the last tracks to emerge for the i/o record, but it has some DNA from an earlier project. “It was actually very late in the record that we got to this,” says Gabriel. There had been a song that musically I’d started, I think, around the OVO project called Pukka. It was very different to this, but it was actually the starting point for coming back to this song. I just felt there was a good groove there, and I wanted something else with rhythm and so we tried a few things when I was working with Brian Eno. The excitement and energy in the song was something that I was getting off on. I felt we didn’t have enough of that for this record.”

Watch Gabriel and his band perform “Road to Joy” on the 2023 tour

The fifth track released, “Four Kinds of Horses,” “actually began on Richard Russell’s project ‘Everything Is Recorded,’ said Gabriel in a May 5 post. “He’s a friend (and founder of XL Records) and he asked me to pop in to his studio. I came up with some chords, melodies and words on top of a groove he was working on. We tried a few things that didn’t altogether work and so it laid dormant for quite a while. Then I started playing around with it again and changed the mood and the groove and something else began to emerge with a better chorus.”

When he released the title track on April 6, he noted, “This month the song is ‘i/o’ and ‘i/o’ means input/output. You see it on the back of a lot of electrical equipment and it just triggered some ideas about the stuff we put in and pull out of ourselves, in physical and non-physical ways,” says Gabriel. The song features Soweto Gospel Choir, who were recorded at High Seas Studios in South Africa.

Of the album, Gabriel says, “It’s been around for a long time as a title for this project. I always knew I was going to write a song called i/o, but the title came first.”

“‘Playing For Time,'” says Gabriel of the stunning third track, “is a song that I have been working on for a long time and have performed live, without lyrics, so some people may be familiar with it. It’s been an important song for me. It’s about time, mortality and memories and the idea that each of us has a planet full of memories which get stashed inside the brain.

“It is more of a personal song about how you assemble memories and whether we are prisoners of time or whether that is something that can actually free us. I do think it’s good to push yourself towards more bold or interesting experiences because then you will have richer memories to feed you when you get to my age. You also get taught by every meaningful experience that you go through.” Order an mp3 of “Playing For Time” in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Of “The Court,” Gabriel says, he was inspired by the work of Namati, whose mission is to provide people around the world access to justice they may not otherwise be able to afford. “I had this idea for ‘the court will rise’ chorus, so it became a free-form, impressionistic lyric that connected to justice, but there’s a sense of urgency there. A lot of life is a struggle between order and chaos and in some senses the justice or legal system is something that we impose to try and bring some element of order to the chaos. That’s often abused, it’s often unfair and discriminatory but at the same time it’s probably an essential part of a civilized society.” Listen to the song as well as an extended feature on the track. “I’m an old drummer; I still love to find a groove,” he says.

The European dates marked his first shows outside of North America since 2014’s tour celebrating the era-defining album So. “It’s been a while and I am now surrounded by a whole lot of new songs and am excited to be taking them out on the road for a spin. Look forward to seeing you out there,” said Gabriel in the original Nov. 8 tour announcement.

Produced by Live Nation, the 22 shows in Europe kicked off on May 18 before wrapping on June 25. The touring band includes Gabriel veterans Tony Levin (bass), Richard Evans (guitar, flute), Manu Katché (drums), and David Rhodes (guitar), plus newcomers Ayanna Witter-Johnson (cello, piano, vocals), Marina Moore (violin, viola, vocals), Don McLean (keyboards), and Josh Shpak (trumpet, french horn, keys, vocals). Our recap of the tour’s opening night.

In December, Gabriel previewed the first release, “Panopticom,” and the tour for members of his fan club.

“Panopticom” references an idea that Gabriel has been working on to initiate the creation of an infinitely expandable accessible data globe. The aim is to “allow the world to see itself better and understand more of what’s really going on.”

Listen to the Bright Side Mix of “Panopticom,” the first song released from i/o

“I’m lucky to have two of the world’s best mix engineers, Tchad Blake and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, working with me on the music from i/o,” Gabriel wrote on Jan. 21. “Rather than choosing only one of their mixes to release I have decided that people should be able to hear all the great work that they are both doing.”

From the song’s original Jan. 6 announcement: The release of “Panopticom” on the full moon is no coincidence and in true Gabriel fashion the approach for i/o will be a little different from the norm. The lunar phases guided the release plan in 2023, with a new song revealed each full moon.

Gabriel turned 73 on Feb. 13.

Watch the official tour trailer

Related: Listings for 100s of classic rock tours

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  1. muddywatersmann
    #1 muddywatersmann 7 April, 2023, 01:05

    brief comment: a dear friend in Houston took me to one of Peter’s concert and it was a shamanic/mystical/spiritual/religious/soulful [soul full]/communal/rocking/glorious/elegant musical and artistic experience…unique as all great concerts are…I can only imagine his lineup of concerts will only be the same..the world now desperately needs its artists to bring healing art beauty and community back to us…Peter is one of the best!

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  2. Rocknroll
    #2 Rocknroll 1 September, 2023, 21:32

    09.01.2023. I’m going to see Peter Gabriel in NYC MSG September 2023. Looking forward to it. Hope he plays the following songs Steam, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and Shock The Monkey. I saw Genesis 3X and once Phil Collins. Can’t wait.

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