Thursday, 10 July 2008

'Big Blue Ball' (Real World Records): Review

At last – after years of recording, post-production, and a huge amount of mixing – comes ‘Big Blue Ball’; the fruit of 3 Real World recording weeks way back in the mid 90s. The spontaneity of the initial recordings and snail-pace gestation period of this album suggested that it could either be a huge success or an unmitigated disaster. If the project started off as a kind of ‘recording experiment’, would it work? Would material recorded over a decade ago stand the test of time amid the modern musical climate? I’m glad to say that, for the most part, ‘Big Blue Ball’ has been worth the wait. In many ways, it almost comes as something of a relief to say that. The release of any Peter Gabriel-related material nowadays is infrequent at best, and the level of anticipation which surrounds it is always huge amongst his dedicated fanbase.

To call this a Peter Gabriel record, however, is misleading. Whilst Gabriel, along with ex-Waterboy Karl Wallinger, undoubtedly provided the creative impetus here, this is as much a collaborative project as last year’s ‘Imagined Village’. Furthermore, whilst this album will almost certainly draw comparisons to Gabriel’s ‘Ovo’, there is probably a greater balance of Eastern and Western musical influence and input here than ever before. Those expecting a Gabriel solo album, as I know some were, may be disappointed by this but the sheer diversity of sound and talent on display here is the album’s greatest strength.

I’m not going to look at each track in depth, as this has been done elsewhere. I would, however, like to talk about several personal highlights, the first of which is the Gabriel-led opener ‘Whole Thing’ (which will already be familiar to those who watched last year’s ‘Long Way Down’). ‘Shadow’ blends a distinctly African groove with some fine flamenco guitar playing to great success. I was expecting to like the tracks most heavily featuring Gabriel the most, but ‘Atlus Silva’ probably has to be my personal favourite. The song sets Joseph Arthur’s incredible voice against a musical backdrop combining the wistful melancholy of Irish folk music with driving ambient soundscapes and a slow Eastern rhythm.

Of course, the album isn’t without its faults. Its staggered release around the world seems to be a strange way of working for people as pioneering as Gabriel and the Real World Records team. Furthermore, the project’s original intention of being representative of many different styles, cultures and eras is somewhat blighted by its late release. Occasionally it does seem to be a little out of sync with 21st century musical developments. Considering the sheer volume of work it took for this project to make it off the ground in the first place, however, it’s an overall impressive feat and a worthy addition to the Real World records repertoire.


‘Big Blue Ball’ is released in the UK on July 28th 2008

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