Album review: Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live (Real World, 1994)
A good live album should always make you wish you'd been there to see the concert. Secret World Live is one of those for me, a vast 2 disc recording capturing PG and co. live in Italy in late 1993 during the Secret World tour to promote "Us", his most recent studio album at the time. Gabriel has always known how to put on an elaborate and atmospheric show, with this being perhaps his most adventurous stage set ever, which can be properly appreciated by seeing the accompanying (and brilliantly shot) concert film. Although the CD version may not offer the complete experience, it does differ from the video slightly in track listing ("Red Rain" on the CD and "San Jacinto" on the video, though apparently the upcoming remastered DVD/Bluray release will change this) and I think the sound is different in some parts (mix/editing). The track list itself takes liberally from "So" and "Us", and all the hits from those two albums are present including a massive 11 minute version of "In Your Eyes" closing the album. Indeed the set list does play out like something of a greatest hits, with only "Solsbury Hill" representing the earliest stage of his career (on the CD), and even that is basically a hit single. A surprise inclusion however is "Across the River", originally a more obscure B-side to a 1982 single, perhaps the most intense of the album's early tracks and featuring some amazing vocal improvisation from Gabriel and Shankar's violin playing. Other inclusions such as "Slow Marimbas" or "Shaking the Tree" (which admittedly does drag somewhat in the middle, audience interaction is a bit less interesting when you can only hear it) may not have been as obvious, but welcome nonetheless. Most of the songs from "Us" are performed, and seeing as how "Us" is perhaps my favourite album of all time it isn't a surprise this is my favourite of his live albums/videos (if only "Plays Live" had been filmed...). I do wonder why the songs "Love to Be Loved" and "Only Us", aren't included, or "Lovetown" but from what I know those songs were rarely ever played anyway which is a bit of a shame, I think.
The lineup for this show features perhaps the best band he ever worked with. Guitarist David Rhodes and bass master Tony Levin are present as always, alongside stellar percussionist Manu Katché (his drumming on this album must be heard to be believed), Jean-Claude Naimro on keyboards, Shankar on (double necked, electric) violin, vocalist Paula Cole (who's strident and powerful voice enhances many of the tracks, most notably "Don't Give Up") and the man himself performing keyboards and harmonica (on one track) in addition to lead vocals. The sound of the album itself is fantastic, definitely very polished and "arena rock" sounding although the textures and atmosphere, along with the brilliant performances more than compensate for this in my opinion. Gabriel is a notorious perfectionist so there is no doubt that some extensive post-production must have been done. Does that really make SWL a truly "live" album? I don't know but that is fairly standard practice for live albums, and the end result doesn't bother me at all seeing as how I wasn't there to see what was overdubbed or edited.
Though it might make more sense on film, the album of "Secret World" is an essential for any Gabriel fan and anyone who just wants to hear an energetic and powerful performance.