In search of you I feel my way, through the slowest heaving night
Whatever fear invents, I swear it make no sense
I reach out through the border fence
Come down, come talk to me
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 .
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. It would go on to become the 79th best-selling album of 1992 in the UK and the 81st best-selling album of 1993 in the US, and would be certified triple-platinum in Italy, double-platinum in Canada, platinum in the UK, the US, Australia, and Germany, double-gold in France, and gold in Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden. The album was also a critical success, with both fans and the music press viewing it as a worthy follow-up 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:
- Absurdly Long Limousine: Gabriel pops out of one at the start of the video for "Steam".
- Album Closure: "Secret World" wraps up the album's overarching themes of collapsing relationships by having the narrator— and by extension, Gabriel— come to terms with his loss and resolve to move forward.
- 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.
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: The central theme of "Fourteen Black Paintings", inspired by Francisco de Goya's Black Paintings and the violence & slaughter of The Napoleonic Wars that most art historians believe factored into their creation; compounding this is the song's artwork in the liner notes, featuring an egg surrounded by black spikes.
- 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: As spelled out in the liner notes, "much of this record is about relationships," with Gabriel dedicating it to "all those who have taught me about loving and being loved." More specifically, the album explores themes of failing relationships and the fallout of them, owing to Gabriel facing a number of collapsing relationships in his own life.
- Darker and Edgier: While not the absolute darkest his music has ever gotten (Melt and Security from 12/10 years prior could arguably be considered dourer records), this trope is very much apparent when comparing this album to So, with themes of collapsing interpersonal relationships and intense feelings of grief and depersonalization.
- Deranged Animation: The music video for "Steam" is rife with this, owing to a combination of Gabriel's desire to experiment with the still-nascent medium of CGI and director Stephen R. Johnson's desire to cram the video with as many "things" as possible, resulting in the eclectic, surreal tone of the final product.
- Design Student's Orgasm: Not only does the cover art feature some elaborate photo editing on the part of designer Malcolm Garrett, but the liner notes also feature unique artwork for each song made by a variety of artists, a gimmick Gabriel would repeat with Up a decade later; the art for these songs would be used as a starting point for the cover art of the album's single releases.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The artwork for "Washing of the Water" features a sheet of sticks placed over a cave opening, with a large hole in the sheet shaped suspiciously like a vagina.
- 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 and tears up the floorboards.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Secret World"
- Heroic BSoD: The whole album is a prolonged case of this.
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art:
- The album cover repeats the visual motifs that were standard for Gabriel's Real World Records label at the time. Namely, the album features a rainbow stripe that spans from the bottom-left corner of the front cover to the bottom-right quadrant of the back cover, as well as a macro photograph occupying most of the back cover. Like the label's first release, Gabriel's 1989 soundtrack album Passion, the back cover is also predominantly red. A white stripe featuring the artist, album title, and barcode stretch across the top of the back cover and the upper spine, the WOMAD logo is present in the upper-right, and the tracklist is featured on the left side of the back cover in a white box.
- The CD releases of the album's associated singles feature label art consisting of palette swaps of the album's disc label; Up and its own CD singles would repeat the gimmick a decade later.
- Intercourse with You: "Steam" and especially "Kiss That Frog".
- Limited Lyrics Song: "Fourteen Black Paintings", the full lyrics of which are as follows:From the pain come the dream
From the dream come the vision
From the vision come the people
From the people come the power
From 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 minimalist as the album art for So, it's still fairly understated, especially compared to other album covers of the time. The disc label is a straighter example, simply being an enlarged version of the title logo that occupies the entire disc face.
- Mythology Gag: Two in the video for "Steam": the sequence of Gabriel as a male stripper recalls a party scene illustrated in the music video for "Big Time", while a later sequence briefly features an actor dressed up to resemble Gabriel during his Genesis days.
- Not What It Looks Like:
- Discussed in the lyrics for "Blood of Eden", which features the narrator pondering whether the person he is singing to is clutching a dagger or a crucifix, with the implications for one being radically different than the implications for the other, tying in with the album's themes of communication and miscommunication.
- Invoked in the video for "Digging in the Dirt", which features a subplot of Gabriel attempting to swat away a wasp that got into his car and stung him, accidentally hitting the woman he's driving with; the subplot is intentionally framed to make Gabriel appear like a domestic abuser, while also focusing on the wasp that he's actually targeting.
- 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.
- Poor Communication Kills: A recurring theme on the album.
- 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 was ultimately released as a B-side for the single release of "Blood of Eden".
- Retraux: "Steam", in the vein of "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time", is a deliberate throwback to 60's soul and funk music.
- Shifted to CGI: The music videos for "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog" continue the Deranged Animation style of the "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" videos, but opt for experimental computer animation instead of stop-motion.
- Special Guest: As with any Gabriel album, Us is far from sparse in this department.
- Sinéad O'Connor performs backing vocals on "Come Talk to Me" and "Blood of Eden".
- King Crimson bassist and longtime Gabriel collaborator Tony Levin contributes bass to almost the entire album, save for "Fourteen Black Paintings" and "Kiss That Frog".
- John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin provides surdo, bass, and keyboard parts on "Fourteen Black Paintings".
- Van der Graaf Generator guitarist & vocalist Peter Hammill sings backing vocals on "Digging in the Dirt".
- Leo Nocentelli of the Meters performs guitar on "Steam" and "Digging in the Dirt".
- Iconic Indian violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar plays on "Love to Be Loved", "Blood of Eden", "Only Us", and "Fourteen Black Paintings".
- Brian Eno contributes keyboard parts to "Love to be Loved" and is credited in the liner notes for "extra brainstorming."
- 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: Given that the entire album is more or less a darker take on So, cases of this inevitably abound.
- "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.
- "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.
- This even extends to the music videos, with "Steam" and "Kiss That Frog" following up on the stop-motion driven videos for "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" by making as much use of then-cutting-edge CGI animation technology as possible.
- Stop Motion: Used for the primary sequences in the "Digging in the Dirt" video, which feature Gabriel lying in a field that grows around and swallows him.
- 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.
- Wicked Wasps: One features in the video for "Digging in the Dirt", and acts as the catalyst for a severe misunderstanding between Gabriel and his female partner.
- The X of Y: "Washing of the Water"