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Peter Gabriel - Passion: Music from the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 April 2003

Peter Gabriel
Passion: The Music From the Film "The Last Temptation of Christ"
format: SACD
label: Real World Records
release year: 2003
performance: 9
sound 8
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

When critics talk about Peter Gabriel as a creative force and musical genius, many refer back to his experimental, art-rock days with genesis or his pop success on albums like So. I find this album Passion, the music for the Martin Scorsese film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” to be yet another level of refinement in a stellar career from a master songwriter and, in this case, an excellent composer.

To say “The Last Temptation of Christ” as a film was controversial would be to understate the outrage from the religious zealots on the right who objected to Scorsese’s storytelling. What for me was controversial was that, at the time the album was released, Passion didn’t really sound like Peter Gabriel records of the era. Most notably is the lack of Gabriel as the frontman we’re accustomed to hearing. Passion is mostly instrumental, with vocals (some from Gabriel himself) used as additional layers on an abstract musical composition. The first time I heard the record, I was waiting for the big hit single, but Passion isn’t that kind of album.

It only took me a few spins through the record to appreciate that the artist was headed in a new direction, one that was closer to world music, remaining loosely based on Western musical themes but experimenting with new sounds and complex musical layering. For an audio enthusiast with a system capable of resolving minute details as well as fast-paced changes in dynamics, Passion is a treat. This SACD version of Passion is mixed for stereo on a non-hybrid disc and therefore will not play on a traditional CD player – it is not mixed for surround sound. You need a dedicated SACD player to hear the remastered album.

It is hard to analyze Passion on a song by song basis because of its composition. Passion feels like an album and moves from one musical idea to another almost seamlessly. The lead-off track, “The Feeling Begins,” is a song that eerily builds in momentum, sucking you in with an Eastern melody and deep, hard-hitting drums. Later in the track, high-pitched percussive instruments come in. This is where the SACD remastered version shines over the CD. These shaking percussive instruments sound alive but not the least bit harsh. They remain with you until the track builds up to a powerful and deep conclusion with an amazing collection of drum sounds, ending in a blast of a drum fill to end the track that is sonically tantamount to an exclamation point.

One of the more compelling melodies on Passion is found on the beginning of “Of These, Hope – Reprise.” The track picks up almost a runner’s tempo, accentuated by terse yet deep drum fills, African-sounding chants and squeaky melody. While the song breaks down again to just its basic melody, it keeps you interested without the urge to fast-forward tracks.

The closest thing to a single on Passion is “A Different Drum,” which lays down a hard-hitting beat as a base and builds on that with musical layers that, like a fine meal, just gets better and better as it goes on. Gabriel sings what turns out to be the chorus, although the words aren’t really intelligible. It is more of a melody. From there, other non-Western singers are added in for flavor. On the SACD version, I could hear inner details of the backbeats from all of the different drummers that get lost on the CD version of the record.

Too often these days, I hear “albums” that have one or two hit records at best but miss the concept of a cohesive whole. An album is a collection of music. Some songs can be hits, but when all of the songs work together as a complete composition, you have something truly special. Passion is just that, an album that needs to regarded and heard as an entire work. With the new resolution found on SACD, it sounds even better than on CD, which allows people to appreciate the art more clearly. This record is an audiophile gem created by a master songwriter and composer. If you set your expectations right, you are most likely going to love it.

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