'Steam', a Top 10 hit in January '93, was Gabriel's biggest solo success since the classic 'Sledgehammer' in 1986... His live performance of the song was a highlight of the 1993 Brits Awards [sic] show.The last of Peter Garbriel's four Now appearances, coincidentally (other than perhaps for generational reasons) on the same album as his former colleagues Genesis bow out. Indeed all four Now albums that feature Gabriel also feature his old band, though Ashley Abram resisted the temptation ever to sequence them next to each other.
Released in the UK as the second single from the album Us, 'Steam' is a highly atypical track, much more fun than the rest of the disc both in its upbeat musical mood and in the light-hearted wordplay and unusual rhymes of the lyric ("You know your sinner from your saint/ You know your stripper from your paint/Whenever heaven's door are shut, you'll get them open but/ I know you". Although the song is ostensibly about a woman who understands everything except herself, there's a subtext of the same sexual energy as 'Sledgehammer', the song in his catalogue this most closely resembles. Indeed the song seems in places almost a conscious attempt to produce a successor to his biggest hit, but is saved from the appearance of cynicism by its genuine joie de vivre and the uncommercial decision to release a six minute single with no radio edit; the video edit is a little shorter though, presumably because of the cost of the special effects. It was reported at the time that Gabriel had been scanned into the computers to such a level of detail that future music videos could theoretically be made without his direct involvement, although I don't think he ever tested that theory. Whatever format they were encoded in is probably obsolete these days anyway. Besides, with the dark and highly personal nature of the album it's no bad thing to have a spot of light relief. It would have been false advertising to make this the first single off his album, but that's probably why it wasn't. It still works out of context anyway.
I hadn't seen the Brits performance before. It looks like it would have been quite something if I wasn't viewing it through an ancient VHS recording.
Also appearing on: Now 7, 8, 23
Available on: Us (Remastered)