Next Time, I Want to Make an Album with Apes; Morbidity, Monkeys and Moon Cycles - There's More Than Music to Peter Gabriel

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Byline: TIM COOPER

THE problem with enigmas is that you never really know what you will get, which is why meeting one of British music's true geniuses is more than a little disconcerting. After all, which Peter Gabriel are we going to get today? Will it be the New Age nut obsessed with energy lines and Stonehenge, or maybe the deliberately obtuse and infuriatingly private man running rings around interviewers, or perhaps it's the overemotional "little boy lost, no one understands me" act peppered with tears and tantrums.

Well, it must be my lucky day because the famously schizophrenic Gabriel has decided to reveal all - with a liberal sprinkling of morbidity and humour to boot. First, however, his eyes glaze over with the telltale signs of a tear, as he recalls an emotionally traumatic moment of his years in the pop "wilderness", when he explored his relationship with his father through, erm, yoga. It was twoperson yoga involving a lot of physical contact. "I just broke down doing a spine stretch and he grabbed me with his arms outstretched. He had not hugged me like that since I was a boy."

Is crying something he is familiar with? "Yes, I do cry when I'm stressed.

The slightest bit of sentimentality on the telly, even a well-made commercial, can get me blubbing on a bad day," he confesses.

He may be fabulously successful, but Peter Gabriel has never been a proper pop star. From those early days with the weird hair, fronting Genesis, through the "dancing-vegetables" video for Sledgehammer, to today's world music collaborations, his records have always been the musical equivalent of a subtitled art-house movie. When he had hits - Solsbury Hill, Sledgehammer, Games Without Frontiers, Don't Give Up - it seemed like the same sort of accident as a foreign film winning a worldwide audience.

Today he's back with a new solo album - his 10th. Despite its optimistic title, the album, Up, is far from easy listening.

Sure, there are haunting melodies in there (Sky Blue, for example), but they take a while to insinuate themselves.

And there's an abrasive opening number (cheerfully titled Darkness) that becomes incredibly loud, as if deliberately designed to put the casual listener off. Then there are the lyrics.

Titles such as Darkness, I Grieve and No Way Out make it fairly plain this is no barrel of laughs.

It's very dark stuff indeed and Gabriel, when we meet in the middle of his manic schedule, is quick to acknowledge that, at 52, mortality has become a dominant theme in his life. …