ALBUM REVIEW : *** 1/2 PETER GABRIEL “Us” <i> Geffen</i>

Not quite revealing enough to register squarely in the confessional genre, “Us” might nonetheless be considered Peter Gabriel’s “therapy album.” And it’s not dysfunctional.

Temporarily setting aside his social conscience, Gabriel is using the title pronoun not in the we-are-the-world sense, but as an umbrella for writing about couples and about his own failed relationships. He explores his lack of self-esteem and sees as much division as unity in love, more than once going back to the Garden of Eden for imagery to describe a split between the sexes that seems all but unmendable.

The album’s thematic cohesion in this regard puts it in marked contrast to 1986’s “So,” which had such variance it was like a greatest-hits album. There are a couple of attempts here to update the horn-driven fun(k) of “Sledgehammer” (most notably the near-sound-alike “Steam”) that provide a lively break in the sonorous soul-searching. But it’s the dominant consistency of Gabriel’s more quietly revelatory material that is the album’s artistic strength, and potentially its commercial weakness.

Though most of his musical tricks no longer come as surprises to anyone familiar with “So” and the instrumental album “Passion,” you do have to marvel more than ever at how seamlessly and unshowily he integrates the plethora of world-beat guest players into his ethereal post-art-rock sound. Just as you have to admire the former pop philanthropist of the year for making a melancholy chorus out of the refrain “I love to be loved.”


New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).