Gabriel had enough success with Security to allow him to take his time in making his fifth studio album, So. During this extended time off, he continued to embrace lighter, humorous music and MTV completed its ascendance to dominate pop culture. "Shock the Monkey" had been a favorite during the early days of the music-video network, so they were prepared to embrace a new record from him -- and he seized the opportunity by developing a brilliant, kaleidoscopic video for "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver ...
Gabriel had enough success with Security to allow him to take his time in making his fifth studio album, So. During this extended time off, he continued to embrace lighter, humorous music and MTV completed its ascendance to dominate pop culture. "Shock the Monkey" had been a favorite during the early days of the music-video network, so they were prepared to embrace a new record from him -- and he seized the opportunity by developing a brilliant, kaleidoscopic video for "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut. "Sledgehammer" propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had written enough songs with single potential to keep it there. There was "Big Time," another colorful dance number; "Don't Give Up," a moving duet with Kate Bush; "Red Rain," a stately anthem popular on album rock radio; and "In Your Eyes," Gabriel's greatest love song which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's classic, Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend soul, African music, and jangly pop into his moody art rock. Apart from these singles, plus the urgent "That Voice Again," the rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security. The difference is, the singles on that record were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-'80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it's hard not to be won over by them, even if overall So doesn't develop the unity of its two predecessors. So is unquestionably Peter Gabriel's high-water mark commercially and creatively, it's one of his greatest albums, as well. All this makes it an ideal candidate for a super deluxe set, which the album received in 2012. Like many deluxe sets this comes in two different incarnations, the splashiest one being the Immersion box set containing a wealth of material: there is a remastered So; there is the concert film Live from Athens 1987 concert, presented both as a DVD and as a double-CD; a DVD of the Classic Albums documentary series focusing on So; a vinyl version of the album; a 12" single with two previously unreleased tracks ("Courage," "Sagrada") and an alternate version of "Don't Give Up;" finally, there's an extra CD of So DNA , containing evolutionary edits of each song on the album. Of these extras, by far the most interesting is So DNA . While the live concert -- which is the bonus feature on the far cheaper standard deluxe triple-disc edition -- is quite good, So DNA illustrates Gabriel's creative process in a way no other album has. Each cut begins as an amorphous set of instrumentals and vocals, then slowly the song takes shape. This procedure tends to be more interesting on the livelier numbers like "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," whose origins are much further away from the finished product than, say, the always eerie "Red Rain," but each of the cuts are quite compelling and surely worth the time of any Gabriel diehard. Whether it's worth the considerable chunk of cash just to hear this disc is another matter, but the rest of the Immersion Box is indeed gorgeous -- a handsomely produced, well-annotated, deep excavation into So -- so anybody with the inclination and budget to purchase the super-deluxe set will likely not be disappointed. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi