Peter Gabriel performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. The singer recently released his first album of all original material in 21 years.

Peter Gabriel performs at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. The singer recently released his first album of all original material in 21 years. (Nhat V. Meyer, Bay Area News Group/TNS)

It finally happened. The world caught up to Peter Gabriel.

That notion applies to multiple things on “I/O,” the singer’s first album of all original material since 2002’s “Up.” First, the music. Head all the way back to 1977 and his solo debut set, and you’ll find atmospheric, ambiguously electronic tendencies with “Moribund the Burgermeister” or even 1980 when, on his third album, he offered up dark poppy passages like “No Self Control.” For every “Solsbury Hill,” there was a “Family Snapshot” or even a “Digging In The Dirt” lurking in the shadows. He knew how to manipulate mood with a few minor keys and, for the time at least, cutting-edge technology.

As such, consider pop music today. Whatever isn’t a cousin of contemporary R&B often finds itself on the family tree of Euro pop. Think Billie Eilish or Lorde — the stars who maximize minimalism in a very non-American way. Gabriel pioneered that and it’s never been as evident as it is on these 12 songs, be it the “Bright Side” or “Dark Side” mixes (the album is available in separate mixes). In some ways, he sounds more modern than ever, a song like “The Court” embodying his signature brooding disposition all the while pausing for a dramatic hook that wouldn’t not fit on Top 40 radio today. It just didn’t sound as natural back in 1985 when his former drummer was prancing around stadium stages yelling “Sussudio” — or even in 1995, when pop radio was dominated by a Blowfish asking you to “Hold My Hand.”

These days, it fits like a rain-soaked leather glove. Even “Panopticom,” the album’s first single (which didn’t turn out to mean much as Gabriel released each song as a single throughout all of 2023), has an oddly updated aesthetic — even for him. The echoes of an acoustic guitar are something easily associated with his Genesis days, but the movements of the track, complete with an unexpected up-tempo chorus, suggest that this isn’t a guy stuck “In The Cage” he found himself in, all the way back on his first band’s 1974 seminal LP, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.”

Which, naturally, leads us to the other way the world has caught up to the “Sledgehammer” singer: time. With “I/O,” Gabriel openly struggles with the complexities of it. Perhaps it’s existentialism; perhaps it’s a three-quarter-life crises, but the mere reality of mortality is a theme that looms over these songs, both happy and sad, as they unfold. “Playing For Time” leans into that the most, recalling his “Washing Of The Water,” some 31 years ago. It’s easy to forget how affecting Gabriel’s ballads can be, but here, as he confesses, “Everything I care about is held in here / All of those I love inside / Everybody’s playing for time / You and I still playing for time,” not only do you hear him struggle with such an obtuse construct, but he makes it all sound so pretty, too. And as he’s about to turn 74 years old, one has to conclude life will do that to you.

And yet life will also give you the ability to pursue the deepest of passions as long as you establish their presence within yourself. And maybe that’s what makes “I/O” so compelling. Gabriel doesn’t sound desperate for attention; instead, he sounds thirsty for answers. The music, meanwhile, takes care of the rest. “Olive Tree” is a ton of fun as it provides a killer horn refrain (better heard on the dark side mix, to be fair) that lightens the mood in more ways than one. “So Much” turns out to be “Kiss That Frog Pt. 2” for any of the singer’s longtime fans and it, too, is a welcome reprieve, stylistically, from some of its morbid contemporaries. Even the title track kicks up the speed in delicious ways during its chorus, throwing in a subtle time-signature change for good measure.

It adds up to one of the best albums in Gabriel’s half-century career. It might not be the most ambitious, exploratory or intriguing, but it could just very well be the most rewarding. It’s the sound of life admitting that more questions than answers pose themselves the deeper you get into it. It’s also a showcase for a killer band (drummer Manu Katché’s simple-yet-inventive groovy performance is particularly noteworthy), an endless musical ambition and an artist who doesn’t sound like he’s anywhere close to quitting, no matter the time the precedes him or eludes him.

“Stuff coming out / Stuff going in / I’m just a part of everything,” he sings on the rambunctious “I/O.”

Yes, he is. Yes, indeed. He is.

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