Arduous and occasionally damp recording sessions at his rural English estate in 1981 and 1982, with co-producer/engineer David Lord, resulted in Gabriel's fourth LP release (the aforementioned Security), on which Gabriel took more production responsibility. It was one of the first commercial albums recorded entirely to digital tape (using a Sony mobile truck), and featured the early, extremely expensive Fairlight CMI sampling computer. Gabriel combined a variety of sampled and deconstructed sounds with world-beat percussion and other unusual instrumentation to create a radically new, emotionally charged soundscape. Furthermore, the sleeve art consisted of inscrutable, video-based imagery. Despite the album's peculiar sound, odd appearance, and often disturbing themes, it sold well and had a hit single in "Shock the Monkey", which also became a groundbreaking music video.
Gabriel toured extensively for each of his albums, continuing the dramatic shows he began with Genesis, often involving elaborate stage props and acrobatics which had him suspended from gantries, distorting his face with Fresnel lenses and mirrors, and wearing unusual makeup. For one tour, his entire band shaved their heads. His 1982-83 tour included a section opening for David Bowie, where many audience members and critics thought that Gabriel as opener (especially with his elaborate makeup) overshadowed Bowie at the height of his popularity. The stage was set for Gabriel's true breakout with his next studio release.
The hit years: So, Passion, Us, and Up
Cover art from the album So, Gabriel's biggest commercial success
Although early on he achieved critical success and some commercial success (e.g. "Games Without Frontiers" from his third album and "Shock the Monkey" from his fourth), Gabriel achieved his greatest popularity with songs from the 1986 So album, highlights being the 60's-tinged pop and suggestiveness of "Sledgehammer" (a #1 smash in the US, ironically knocked off the top by Gabriel's old band Genesis's "Invisible Touch"), ""Big Time", the tear-jerking ballad "Don't Give Up" with Kate Bush about the devastation of unemployment and love song "In Your Eyes." ("In Your Eyes" had a conspicuous inclusion in the 1989 film Say Anything...; consequently, it was as popular that year as it was initially in 1986.) Gabriel co-produced So with Canadian Daniel Lanois, also known for his work with U2. Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer" was accompanied by a visually stunning music video, which was a collaboration with director Stephen R. Johnson, Aardman Animations, and the Brothers Quay. The video won numerous awards at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, and set a new standard for art in the music video industry. A follow-up video for the song "Big Time" also broke new ground in music video animation and special effects.
Gabriel played a prominent role in supporting Amnesty International at this time, appearing on the 1986 U.S. A Conspiracy of Hope Tour (where "Shock the Monkey"'s percussive echoing around stadiums was a highlight) and on the 1988 worldwide Human Rights Now! Tour.
In 1989, Gabriel released Passion, the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's movie The Last Temptation of Christ. Many consider the album to be the climax of his work in world music. Following this, Gabriel recorded Us in 1992 (also co-produced with Daniel Lanois), an album in which he deals with the pain of his life problems of the previous years, his failed first marriage, and the distance with his first daughter.
Gabriel's introspection within the context of the album continues in "Digging in the Dirt", an extended metaphor which Gabriel uses to describe his process of trying to unearth the things inside of him that cause him trouble. Accompanied by a graphic and disturbing video featuring footage of Gabriel covered in worms, this song also made reference to the way media coverage seems to wallow in the foibles and mistakes of high visibility artists. Gabriel describes his struggle to get through to his daughter in "Come Talk To Me" which featured backing vocals by Sin?ad O'Connor. The result was one of his most personal albums, though one with limited popular success. He followed the release of the album with a world tour. One prominent feature was a set-up that consisted of two stages: a round one and a square one, united by a bridge that he crossed riding a boat.
In 2000, Gabriel followed Us with the music to OVO, a soundtrack for the Millennium Dome Show in London, and Long Walk Home, the music from the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, early in 2002. In September 2002, he released Up, his most recent full-length album, which was entirely self-produced, and returned to some of the less commercial, darker themes of his work in the late '70s and early '80s. The album also shows Gabriel's continued freedom from the typical requirements for airplay of songs: aside from the ending piano ballad "The Drop," no song on Up is shorter than six minutes, and many go through several distinct movements, with great dynamics in sound and theme.
Musicians and collaborators
While the gaps between his studio album releases have become longer and longer (six years between So and Us, ten between Us and Up), Gabriel has continued to work witha relatively stable crew of musicians and recording engineers. Bass and Stick player Tony Levin, for example, has appeared on every Peter Gabriel studio album and tour since 1976 and guitar player David Rhodes has been Gabriel's guitarist of choice since 1979, both in the studio and on the road. Gabriel is known for choosing top-flight collaborators, from co-producers such as Ezrin, Fripp, Lillywhite, and Lanois to musicians such as L. Shankar, Youssou N'Dour, Larry Fast, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sin?ad O'Connor, Kate Bush, Paula Cole, Manu Katch?, and Stewart Copeland.
Over the years, Gabriel has collaborated with singer Kate Bush several times; Bush provided backing vocals for Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" and "No Self Control" in 1980, and female lead vocal for "Don't Give Up" (a Top 10 hit in the UK) in 1986, and Gabriel appeared on her television special. Their duet of Roy Harper's "Another Day" was discussed for release as