Us, released in 1992, is the sixth studio album by British musician Peter Gabriel. Released six years after the massively-successful and mainstream-friendly So, Us represents a refining of its predecessor's mix of worldbeat and art pop, presenting a somewhat more experimental sound that still remains accessible to fans who got into Gabriel's work through his 1986 megahit. It was his first proper studio album released through his Real World Records label, created following EMI's purchase of Virgin Records and the consequent absorption of Charisma Records shortly after So came outnote ; in the United States and Canada, it was distributed by Geffen Records like his previous three albums.
Unlike the anthemic and relatively upbeat So, Us is a much more somber and introspective affair, influenced by Gabriel facing a multitude of degrading relationships in his personal life over the years. In particular, the album drew inspiration from Gabriel's failed first marriage, his breakup with actress Rosanna Arquette (who he had previously attempted to win back with "In Your Eyes" off of So), and his increasing estrangement from his first daughter. The end result is an album that reflects Gabriel feeling increasingly isolated from the people close to him, carrying an overall concept of collapsing relationships and the feelings of hollowness that result from them.
While not as big of a success as So, and despite being released long after the worldbeat boom had died out, Us still managed to peak at No. 2 on both the UK Albums chart and the Billboard 200. The album was also a critical success, with both fans and the music press viewing it as a worthy followup to So. Us also scored Grammy awards for Best Music Video in both 1992 and 1994, via the singles "Digging in the Dirt" and "Steam", respectively.
Us produced four singles: "Digging in the Dirt", "Steam", "Blood of Eden", and "Kiss That Frog"; "Come Talk to Me" and "Secret World" also saw release as promotional singles, and an early version of "Blood of Eden" featured in the 1991 Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World. Gabriel additionally supported the album throughout 1993 and 1994 via the extensive Secret World Live tour, which spawned both an eponymous live album and concert film in 1994. Us was also one of the first albums to be promoted via CD-ROM software, in the form of the video "game" Xplora1: Peter Gabriel's Secret World; the game featured a variety of puzzle minigames that could be used to unlock music videos and interviews associated with the album. While the idea of promoting music through interactive software would never catch on to the same extent as more conventional forms of advertising, video games would certainly not be entirely overlooked in the decades ahead, with artists such as Billy Idol, David Bowie, and Mike Oldfield all dabbling in the use of interactive software as a marketing strategy in Gabriel's footsteps.
- "Come Talk to Me" (7:06)
- "Love to Be Loved" (5:18)
- "Blood of Eden" (6:38)
- "Steam" (6:03)
- "Only Us" (6:30)
- "Washing of the Water" (3:52)
- "Digging in the Dirt" (5:18)
- "Fourteen Black Paintings" (4:38)
- "Kiss That Frog" (5:20)
- "Secret World" (7:03)
Give me tropes, and how you feel could make it real:
- Alliterative Title: "Washing of the Water"
- Anti-Love Song: Most of the album qualifies as this. "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog" are the only major exceptions, and even then there's a hint of irony in the lyrics.
- Bittersweet Ending: "Secret World"; while Gabriel's failed relationships will still haunt him, he's at least managed to come to terms with them and is determined to build himself back up from the ruins.
- Book-Ends: The album begins and ends with 7-minute songs in similar styles; additionally, while the opening track is an anguished plea for communication, the closing track is a closure-providing reflection on the individuals now cut off.
- Breather Episode: "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog", two upbeat romance songs mixed in with a multitude of other songs about the exact opposite.
- Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Gabriel and Sinéad O'Connor carry this dynamic in "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden".
- Cerebus Syndrome: Us takes the overall sound of So and mixes it with much darker composition techniques and moodier subject matter.
- Concept Album: The album as a whole explores themes of failing relationships and the fallout of them, owing to Gabriel facing a number of collapsing relationships in his own life.
- Conspicuous CG: The music video for "Steam" is full of this, on account of it trying to squeeze as much as it could out of the rapidly-advancing CGI technology of the early 90's. Some of it's aged better than others.
- Darker and Edgier: While not the absolute darkest his music has ever gotten (his third Self-Titled Album from 12 years prior could arguably be considered a dourer record), this trope is very much apparent when comparing this album to So.
- Double Entendre: "Kiss That Frog" does this quite frequently in its lyrics, though unlike its direct predecessor, "Sledgehammer", it's not as apparent on the first listen.
- Epic Rocking: Very frequent with this album; exactly half of the tracks on the album exceed the 6-minute mark.
- Face on the Cover: Gabriel dancing in a red room with a female partner, twirling so rapidly she becomes an unidentifiable blur.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Secret World"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Kiss That Frog" is, for all intents and purposes, a blowjob song muddied under allusions to a popular fairy tale.
- Heroic BSoD: The whole album is a prolonged case of this.
- Intercourse with You: "Steam" and especially "Kiss That Frog".
- Limited Lyrics Song: "Fourteen Black Paintings"From the pain come the dreamFrom the dream come the visionFrom the vision come the peopleFrom the people come the powerFrom this power come the change
- Longest Song Goes Last: Inverted; the 7:06 "Come Talk to Me" opens the album.
- Loudness War: ...sorta. At DR9, the 2002 remaster is noticeably more compressed than the other albums in Real World Records' remaster campaign, with Car through So all coming in at DR11, but it still offers quite a bit more headroom than other remasters released at around the same time.
- Meaningful Name: Us, an album about what happens when the term becomes moot.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: A mid-motion shot of Gabriel and a female partner dancing in a red room. While not as minimalistic as the album art for So, it's still fairly understated, especially compared to other album covers of the time.
- One-Word Title: "Us" and "Steam".
- Pastiche: "Steam" is not only one to southern soul, but also to Gabriel's earlier soul throwbacks on So.
- Rearrange the Song: "Blood of Eden" originally appeared in a sparser form, with Gabriel performing vocals alone (plus providing his own backing vocals), in the 1991 Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World; the song was re-recorded in a higher key, with a denser mix, and with Sinéad O'Connor on backing vocals for Us. The 1991 version wasn't included on the film's soundtrack album (likely because it was already due for inclusion on Us) and remained unreleased until 2019, when it was featured as part of the digital-only rarities compilation Flotsam and Jetsam.
- Retraux: "Steam", in the vein of "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time", is a deliberate throwback to 60's soul and funk music.
- Special Guest: Sinéad O'Connor performs backing vocals on "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden".
- Spiritual Antithesis: A noticeable one when compared with So; while both albums are mixes of art pop and worldbeat, So is fairly upbeat and (for the most part) celebratory, while Us is dour and contemplative.
- Spiritual Successor: "Steam" is overtly one to "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time", in that it's a throwback to 60's soul and 70's funk on an album otherwise defined by a mix of art pop and African folk music.
- This even extends to the music videos, with "Steam" following up on the stop-motion driven video for "Sledgehammer" by making as much use of then-cutting-edge CGI animation technology as possible.
- "Kiss That Frog" also acts as a successor of sorts to So's funkier pieces, with it being an upbeat love song with heavy use of phallic metaphors in the vein of "Sledgehammer".
- "Fourteen Black Paintings" can be considered one to "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)", with it being a mostly-instrumental mood piece tucked near the end of its respective album.
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: Despite its overall somber tone, the album ends on the hopeful-sounding and closure-granting "Secret World".
- Surreal Music Video: As is standard with Peter Gabriel; "Steam" is a particularly noticeable example, being a "Sledgehammer"-inspired mishmash of scenes featuring Gabriel and various bits of CGI tomfoolery. You will never look at an armchair the same way again.
- Textless Album Cover: Save for a sticker included on the shrinkwrap, the album cover plays this straight, even on CD copies.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Kiss That Frog" uses frogs as a phallic metaphor.
- Vocal Evolution: Gabriel's voice grows noticeably huskier and strained here, on account of the aging process really starting to hit him in the six years since So's release; note that he was 42 and noticeably losing his hairline when Us finally debuted on store shelves.
- The X of Y: "Washing of the Water"