PETER GABRIEL Still Growing Up: Live And Unwrapped DVD (Warner) Rating: NNN ; and Africa Calling: Live 8 At Eden (Warner) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Chatting from an imaginably posh Great Western Royal Hotel suite by London's Paddington Station, Peter Gabriel sounds a tad mellow in his middle age.
Not that I was expecting to catch him mid-LSD trip or anything. Still, it's kinda disappointing when the madman who used to spaz out onstage in the 70s with crazy masks and outrageous theatrics during the darker, more prog-rock-oriented first testament of Genesis calmly lists tennis and long walks in the country among his favourite pastimes, and then gently admits he prefers talk radio to keeping his ear out for cutting-edge music on the horizon.
Fine. So he's not exactly David Byrne and/or Bowie.
Then again, thankfully, he's no Phil Collins either. Sure, Gabriel still occasionally bumps into the original Genesis drummer - who would fill the frontman's shoes in 75, then go solo to score pop mega-hits (In The Air Tonight and You Can't Hurry Love) and now writes schmaltzy soundtrack songs for Disney flicks like Tarzan and Brother Bear - at music functions and weddings.
"Actually, we were supposed to jam in Switzerland, but we both have young kids at the moment," says the father of three.
But if you peruse Gabriel's extensive back catalogue of avant-garde and electronically shaped solo work, it's obvious that, compared to Collins's solo career, of the two Genesis bros, Peter travelled the artistic high road.
Then you might catch yourself, realizing that, hey, Gabriel's also put out a couple of karaoke-worthy top-40s himself, like Sledgehammer and In Your Eyes. And let's not forget that landmark 80s pop record, So.
Why, then, though he's made some Collins-style power moves of his own (writing music for the next World Cup Soccer is his new focus, for example), has Peter Gabriel's name as a musician remained relatively unblemished while Collins's has become an easy-listening FM-lite punchline?
"In the end, a lot of it comes down to the material," says Gabriel of his continued clout. "I began as a songwriter, and I think when you stop writing songs people are interested in, you lose it. Being quite a slow worker has helped me, because people forget about you, and then you come back with a certain freshness when you return. People are enjoying Kate Bush's return at the moment, and I don't think it's really harmed her that she's been away a long time."
Like Bush, then, Gabriel has managed to come back gracefully. Both of his two new DVDs have an interesting concept. One, called Still Growing Up: Live And Unwrapped, which comes out next week, tracks a charcoal-cloak-sporting Gabriel and his equally futuristic bandmates rocking through a leg of his last big European tour, venue-hopping through some more intimate arenas: town squares, a ski resort, even an olive grove.
The second disc, Africa Calling: Live 8 At Eden, already out, is the taped concert organized by Gabriel in response to this summer's charity circus, Live 8, whose organizers neglected to include African performers.
"When the names were announced, we thought it wasn't right to exclude African artists," says Gabriel. "I spoke to Bob Geldof about it, and he explained his aim was to keep the biggest television audience worldwide, so he put the biggest names he could get on the bill, because he didn't want anybody to switch off unfamiliar artists."
But Gabriel disagreed. Along with Geldof, he was involved in a similar-scale event put on in 03 by Nelson Mandela for HIV. That concert featured many African artists and didn't lose viewers. So with the help of his friend Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour, who introduced Gabriel to African music some 20 years ago, he rounded up folks like Anjelique Kidjo, Daara J and Geoffrey Oryema to perform in the Eden Project - basically a humongous biodome - in Cornwall, England.
Without the modern-day-messiah flash of, say, Bono, Gabriel has been doing charity work for years, a couple of times recently with the assistance of Angelina Jolie, who helped him bring some attention to Africa Calling, as well as a recent function for Witness, a charity he co-founded to give cameras and computers to human rights activists.
So maybe he's stopped tuning in to college radio. But in each of his projects, as with his early solo material, innovation and forward motion still seem to be important to Gabriel. It took him a decade to make his last LP, 02's Up, and apparently another one's in the works. "There's a lot of material in the pipeline," he says.
Does this mean Gabriel's next masterpiece will come sooner?
"Yeah" he says. "I've been taking some different tablets this time around."