Album + Soundtrack
2002 is proving to be a significant year for Peter Gabriel. First we get a splendid remastering job on his back catalogue and before critics started to point out that it was, well, TEN years since his last studio album, it was followed by the news that a new album is, indeed, in the pipeline.
And then there is this; Gabriel's fourth album of incidental music and a welcome reminder that the reason that Mr G seems a little slow in playing the ageing rock star game is that he sloughed off the role a long time ago. Sometimes people hate to see their heroes grow up, but Long Walk Home (the soundtrack to Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence) proves again that the former progmeister is up to something a little more mature these days.
Real World Records and studios - Gabriel's own label and base of operations - were set up over fifteen years ago to allow the public school polymath to disseminate a burgeoning global village culture to a mass audience. With this and the WOMAD festivals he succeeded admirably.
No longer tied to one musical tradition, he's been responsible for gathering some of the most widely known names in world music together in one place, and its this reservoir of talent that he applies to the construction of the soundtrack. Apart from usual accomplices like David Rhodes (various instrumentation) he's used a veritable who's who of world names to produce a brooding collection of ambient keyboard textures and rhythmic soundscapes. On various tracks drums are provided by the Dhol Foundation, vocals by the Blind Boys of Alabama and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and violin by the estimable Shankar.
Yet to be released in the UK, Rabbit-Proof Fence concerns the true story of aboriginal child Molly Craig and her siblings' escape from domestic servitude and subsequent trek across the Australian outback with only the nominal fence to guide them. Such a harsh setting demands a suitably parched, oppressive and arid atmosphere from its accompanying music and as with The Passion and Birdy beforehand, Gabriel proves himself to be a fine film composer whose work is more than adequate in conveying mood and counterpoint.
The more observant among you will have noticed that the musicians mentioned don't necessarily bring Australia to mind. Yet Gabriel's skill as producer and knowledge of the textures and timbres associated with exotic instrumentation allows this all to blend magnificently. Add to this the expert didgeridoo of Ganga Giri on most tracks and the results never allow you to be in any doubt that you are in antipodean climes.
Undoubtedly Long Walk Home will never have the profile of Gabriel's song-based releases, but for a man who has continually eschewed the standard ephemeral rock star's dalliances this is a real shame. The album is a beautiful addition to his back catalogue and deserves to be judged as a complete statement in its own right. Who knows? Maybe in twenty years time the film music of Peter Gabriel will be the work by which he is most fondly remembered.