[Review] Peter Gabriel: Passion (1989)

Gabriel’s daring exploration of world ambient music also served as the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ.

Kronomyth 8.0: The holy cross-culture.

It would be tempting to see this as a mere soundtrack, but what Peter Gabriel has created with Passion is a “separate body of work” (his words) that intrepidly explores the new field of world ambient music. Like a lot of ambient music, Passion was underwhelming at first; then I slipped on the headphones and was immersed, transported, enrapt for an hour.

Gabriel’s affinity for exotic textures dates back to his earliest recordings with Robert Fripp (“Exposure,” “Here Comes The Flood”). An interest in third-world elements appeared on his third album and flowered on his fourth, albeit always modernized. Passion is an extension of those interests and yet also a radical retreat from electronic music toward organic, instrumental soundscapes at once ancient and alien.

“One of the most important records for me was the Passion record, which was an opportunity really to try, as a writer, to do a whole different sort of job than I usually do.” – Peter Gabriel, as quoted in the remastered Passion promo video.

Similar (and superior) to Brian Eno’s Music For Films, Passion features moving, breathing miniatures that exist richly in a space and then disappear like a mirage. The difference between the two works is Gabriel’s decision to use ancient instruments with a minimum of modern effects. The mix of Middle Eastern and African instruments, combined with post-modern treatments, creates an otherworldly ambiance with a distinctly authentic third-world vibe (“The Feeling Begins,” “Zaar”).

Eno’s third-world experiments (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Possible Musics) were sterile by comparison because they isolated the source from the creation. In Passion, creation is the source, collaboration is the compass. Gabriel is often the ghost in the machine, adding spectral keyboards, percussion and voice, only occasionally shaping the music in his familiar idiom (“A Different Drum,” “It Is Accomplished”). It is in the slow summoning of sound, the calm passages coupled with the arid buzz of string and skin, where Passion weaves its spell. The Englishman briefly emerges (“With This Love,” “Bread And Wine”), only to be subsumed again by this new world of rediscovered antiquity around him, and we follow, willingly swallowed.

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Original 2LP Version

A1. The Feeling Begins (4:00)
A2. Gethsemane (1:23)
A3. Of These, Hope (4:05)
A4. Lazarus Raised (0:36)
B1. Of These, Hope – Reprise (1:06)
B2. In Doubt (2:07)
B3. A Different Drum (6:05)
B4. Zaar (4:44)
B5. Troubled (2:46)
B6. Open (Peter Gabriel/Shankar) (3:18)
C1. Before Night Falls (2:16)
C2. With This Love (3:36)
C3. Sandstorm (2:55)
C4. Stigmata (Peter Gabriel/Mahmoud Tabrizi Zadeh) (2:24)
C5. Passion (7:36)
D1. With This Love – Choir (3:19)
D2. Wall of Breath (2:25)
D3. The Promise of Shadows (2:12)
D4. Disturbed (3:07)
D5. It Is Accomplished (3:30)
D6. Bread And Wine (2:23)

All compositions by Peter Gabriel unless noted.

The Players

Peter Gabriel (synthesizers, shakers, skins, surdu, flute samples, flute, voices, bass, percussion, flute whistle, Prophet 5, Piano Akai S900, Audioframe, Fairlight samples, vocals, Emulator, piano, doholla, Roland D-50, contrabass), Shankar (double violin, vocals) with Said Mohammad Aly (percussion loop on D4), Antranik Askarian (Armenian doudouk on A1), Mustafa Abdel Aziz (arghul drone, percussion loop), David Bottrill (drone mix, tambourine, distorted slide), Robin Canter (oboe & coranglais on C2/D1), Bill Cobham (drums & percussion, drumkit, tambourine), Djalma Correa (Brazilian percussion on C5), Massamba Dlop (talking drum on A3), Nathan East (bass on B4/D5), Manny Elias (octabans, surdu & skins on A1), Kudsi Erguner (Turkish ney flute on C1/D2), Richard Evans (choir recording, tin whistle on D1/D6), Fatala (additional percussion, percussion loop-three bars, African percussion), Jon Hassell (trumpet on C5), Vatche Housepian (Armenian doudouk on A1), Manu Katché (additional percussion on C3), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Qawwali voice on C5), Baaba Maal (vocals on B1), Musicians du Nil (arghul on D2), Youssou N’Dour (voice on B3/C5), players unknown (Kurdish duduk and tenbur on A4), Hossam Ramzy (finger cymbals, tabla, dufs, tambourines, triangle, surdu, mazhar), David Rhodes (guitar, ebow guitar, Steinberger guitar), Doudou N’Daiye Rose (percussion loop-four bars on B3), David Sancious (backing vocals, Akai S900, synthesizer arrangement, Hammond organ), Julian Wilkins (choirboy on C5), Mahmoud Tabrizi Zadeh (kementhché). Produced by Peter Gabriel; engineered by David Bottrill; mixed by David Bottrill, Peter Gabriel.

The Pictures

Front cover drawing by Julian Grater. Back cover photograph by James Bell/Science Photo Library. Design by Mouat @ Assorted Images.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP, compact disc and cassette on June 5, 1989 in the UK and Germany (Real World, RWLP/RWCD-1), the US (Geffen, 24206-1/2/M5G-24206), Brazil (Virgin, 4270131) and Japan (Virgin, VD-32212) with picture innersleeves; reached #29 on the UK charts and #60 on the US charts; Grammy award for Best New Age Performance (1990).

  1. Re-released on audiophile 2LP in 2002 in the US (Classic Records, PGLP-08) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2002 in the UK (Virgin, RWCDX-1).
  3. Re-released on super audio compact disc in 2003 in the UK (SARWCD-1).

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