So is Peter Gabriel's most famous album, released in 1986. It displays all of his musical virtues: passion, subtlety, humour, and experimentalism, matched with a level of accesibility unique in his catalogue. The hits Sledgehammer, In Your Eyes, and Big Time derive from this album, all of which are still heard on the radio today. Despite this album's success, Peter Gabriel spent six years crafting its successor, Us, in the process bowing out of the pop scene whose attention this album grabbed.

The album was produced by Daniel Lanois and Peter Gabriel. All songs were written by Peter Gabriel except That Voice Again by Peter Gabriel and David Rhodes and This is the Picture (Excellent Birds) by Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel.

  1. Red Rain (5:38)
    The album begins with characteristic subtlety; a quiet hi-hat riff followed by reverberant keyboards and bass. These elements build slowly until the vocals enter. The song then assumes a wide-open sound with lots of reverb, the vocals taking a prominent place at the centre of the mix. The slow, deliberate tempo of the song compliments the imagistic lyrics and passionate vocals. In the end, the instrumentation thins leaving only the vocals which eventually also fade away.
  2. Sledgehammer (5:16)
    The song that broke Peter Gabriel's work into the mainstream, this song is a funky soul-pop number with jaunty rhythms and a swinging horn accompaniment. It grooves, the pace not slackening as a series of progressively sillier sexual innuendos are sung. The catchy, humourous tone continues through two verses and two choruses, leading into the bridge which is propelled by a smooth and subtle flute solo. Following the bridge the vocals come back into prominence, this time with counterpoint from some female backing vocals, before the song fades away.
  3. Don't Give Up (6:33)
    A subdued piece, this song is a duet between Gabriel and Kate Bush. Lush synthesiser textures underly the central vocals, Gabriel initially taking the verses and Bush the choruses. The piano joins in the bridge before leaving in favour of the original synth textures. Towards the end, Tony Levin contributes a very nice bass solo, rounding off the atmosphere of the song.
  4. That Voice Again (4:53)
    Piano chords begin this urgent, insistent piece, leading into the full instrumentation of the chorus, complete with meandering synthesiser tones. The instrumentation backs off to drums and subtle synths for the verse, so that the mix can concentrate on the vocals. Prominent keyboards build up to the chorus again, and this cycle repeats. An atmospheric bridge follows, the vocals returning with a more reflective bent. The song eventually ends on a single chord.
  5. In Your Eyes (5:29)
    A masterpiece and one of the best love songs of its time, this song pairs an atmospheric piano part with a quiet African percussion track, overarched with subtle and beautiful lyrics. The most remarkable feature of this song is how casually but frequently the lyrics rhyme, in a seemingly effortless burst of poetic eloquence. Slow and careful in its pacing, the song manages to be both subdued and passionate at the same time. Synth sounds weave in and out of the chorus, as the song builds to its triumphant climax featuring the vocal talents of Youssou N'Dour. (On recent remasters of So, this song is moved to track 9 in accord with Peter Gabriel's original concept)
  6. Mercy Street (6:20)
    Another subdued piece, this song fades in quietly and arhythmically before whistling synth sounds and a ringing triangle beat enter leading to the vocal entrance. The bass and vocals chase each other across this low sonic landscape, the vocals breaking out for the chorus. Beginning in the chorus modulated copies of the vocals are employed to create an interesting harmonic texture. The synthesiser has a brief, quiet solo bridging from the chorus back to the verse. The resulting effects give the song a calm, reflective tone.
  7. Big Time (4:29)
    Another uptempo hit, funkier and sillier than Sledgehammer, this song has a reverb-laden sound which has not necessarily aged well. The lyrics satirise the cynical materialism stereotypical of the mid-1980s with tongue-in-cheek remarks about how supernatually large everthing in the singer's life is. The world-music experiments of Peter Gabriel's previous albums inform the sound of this song, but this time the textures are in service to a groove as big as any of the big things mentioned in the lyrics. The song builds to a climax but is defused before it reaches the obvious conclusion.
  8. We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37) (3:22)
    The first of the two experimental closing tracks, this song features a heavily distorted drum beat, an equally distorted atmospheric guitar part, and choral chants of "We do what we're told". The result is an interesting and indescribable sonic painting, clearing up briefly towards the end for a brief solo verse.
  9. This is the Picture (Excellent Birds) (4:25)
    Beginning with a semi-spoken section of vocals, this experiment is less opaque than the preceding one using a simple repeating instrumental figure to capture Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel's unusual lyric poetry. Less interesting sonically than We Do What We're Told, it is still an effective if oblique closer.

All told, this album is a milestone in Peter Gabriel's career and his most accessible album. Besides being worthwhile in its own right, it serves as a good introduction to his work from which the obliqueness of his early albums and the denseness of his newer albums can be made more comprehensible.

This writeup is copyright 2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at .