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Peter Gabriel (et al.) - Big Blue Ball Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2008
ImageBig Blue Ball is Peter Gabriel’s hug for us all. A hug recorded in marathon sessions and 18 years in the making. And I think it’s the perfect time for it.

The Big Blue Ball of the title refers to our little third stone from the sun, and Gabriel and Karl Wallinger (of World Party fame), who brought together many of the planet’s most creative and successful artists for “recording weeks” in the mid ‘90s, were hoping to make that ball seem much smaller by allowing these fabulous musicians to cook their various talents into an international jambalaya of sound. The resulting recordings are as beautiful as they are tasty. And they’ve proven how easy it is to wrap your arms around the universal language.

I really can’t explain how much I love this music. It’s as comforting as an old couch, as exotic as a side street in a foreign country, as familiar as your grandfather’s smile and as edgy as a stolen kiss. I love the skritch and thud of world music as much as I love Jimi, and Big Blue Ball is filled with it. I love the sound of rain on a tin roof as much as I love the sound of car tires swishing by, and Big Blue Ball is both. If you’ve always desired a trip around the world in order to experience music with your head and heart, you’ll find Big Blue Ball to be extremely satisfying.

Big Blue Ball opens with “Whole Thing,” which showcases Peter (pronounced Pee-TAH! when you’re screaming it at a concert) at his earnest best. Has there ever been a singer who can make everything sound so meaningful and necessary? The first thing out of his mouth is “The whole thing will still go on without you” and I agree with him completely. It doesn’t really matter what else he says because I know the whole thing will still go on without me. And since BBB is about bringing the world together with a big musical embrace, it’s good to see that Tim Finn is a co-author and backup vocalist on the cut. There was a bit of tension between Tim and PG at the time of Finn’s eponymous release in 1989, having to do with band members or something trivial. I guess it would be kind of hard to mold the world into a big blue squeeze if you’re holding a grudge. From there Big Blue Ball winds itself through the deltas of Egypt, “Habibe,” the rolling greenery of Ireland, “altus silva,” “Rivers” and the streets of Budapest, all the while blending disparate musicians and instrumentation. Sometimes you think they’ll mix like George W. at a Mensa meeting but luckily it’s nothing that comically horrific. When you see Vernon (Living Color) Reid  listed as a guitarist on a cut, you can rest easy that it’s not merely six string thunder crammed into the music with the hope that his fans will pick the record up. What it means is that he had something meaningful to contribute to the sound.

Peter’s imposing shadow falls all across Big Blue Ball. “Exit Through You” sounds as if it was recorded at the same time as “Steam” (from Us) and hops back and forth between funky verses sang by Joseph Arthur and sincere choruses by Gabriel. If it had been released in 1992, “Exit” would have climbed directly to the top of the charts and stayed for 10 or 12 weeks.

Some pieces, such as “Forest,” evoke the music of Passion, Gabriel’s soundtrack to “Last Temptation of Christ.” Haunting, rhythmic and driven, it fills your head with a sound movie and allows you to visit a marketplace in Tanzania or a city square in Armenia... wherever you want to be. As George Harrison said, you can “arrive without traveling.”

On “Burn You Up, Burn You Down” Gabriel and Wallinger assemble a group that includes (but is not limited to) the Holmes Brothers, Jules Shear, Arona N’Diaye, Jah Wobble, Wendy Melvoin and Billy Cobham, for a song that scorches hotter than the title. With a backbeat you can hang a size nine hat on and a chorus that’s catchier than infectious mononucleosis, it makes you glad there’s booty-shaking music on this Big Blue Ball. It periodically forces me to leap from my chair, rubberize my arms and move. Imagine a circling Irish bird with more soul than you’d ever guess. Some day I will dance to this song in front of 18, or so, thousand people.

Wallinger’s “Big Blue Ball” closes out the release and producer Steven Hague, who was brought in to complete the project, has made the perfect choice. It is beautifully played, sang and arranged and makes the world seem like a hopeful place. Maybe a little smaller. And even with lyrics that drift towards the sad realization of how tiny we are on our blue marble, you’ll still smile and appreciate being able to look up into the sky and ponder that insignificance.

That’s the magic of Big Blue Ball. By bringing together musicians from all over the world the ball constricts and we’re allowed to linger over this unity with peaceful purpose. At the same time the beautiful music allows our hearts to expand. Like the universe, both are happening at the same time. A squeeze and an expanding heart. That’s a hug.   

I downloaded these 256 kbps MP3 files from and they’re amazingly full and bright. I wish the cymbals and select percussion instruments were a little more crisp but that’s nit picking, really. The mix is outstanding – perfect, actually – and the wide range of instrumentation sounds natural in the “Real World” environment. A hard feat to accomplish considering the difficult nature of capturing their sounds while making them sound natural.

This is not a driving album although some of the songs rock hard enough for freeway driving. It’s more of a listening (and traveling) experience. And who can afford to drive anyway? Big Blue Ball sounds excellent on my home theater system and it’s one of those recordings I wish I could get in surround sound. Maybe if I wish hard enough.    

I’ll leave it up to you to tell me if the synth/organ sound on “Jijy” is the same as the one from “Kiss that Frog.” Just wondering. And turn it up, because Jah Wobble’s bass will make your sub scream for relief. Awesome.

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