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ROCK / After Freud we rhyme

THE TIMES they are a-stretchin'. Tomorrow Peter Gabriel releases a set of new songs, six years and four months after his last one. If he'd only hung on nine more months, this would have been as long as the Beatles took to release all 12 of their LPs. To be fair, Gabriel had an album out in 1989 - the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. Even so, it's quite a wait. The only precedent I know is that of Dire Straits, who took from May 1985 to last September to come up with On Every Street, and paid the price: the album went double platinum, instead of the usual octuple.

Gabriel's is much the better record. It's called Us, and the plural looks royal. One of the ways he's spent the past six years is having psychotherapy. Some of the lyrics deal with this (the single 'Digging in the Dirt'); most gain from it - especially 'Washing of the Water', a classical folk song, almost gospel, which dives into the Freudian depths and comes up shining. It's the best song about a river since 'The River', and probably the song of the year.

There's something else about the lyrics: they rhyme. Several times Gabriel essays the rhyme scheme AAA, unheard in rock'n'roll since Chuck Berry's heyday. Straining for poetry, he lapses into rhyming prose - this may be the first lyric sheet to feature 'self-esteem' - but he gets high marks for trying, and anyway the words, as usual, are not really the thing.

Gabriel's melodies grip and linger, and Daniel Lanois's settings are stippled and dragged to perfection. In the credits - which embrace ex-wives, ex-lovers, and 12 musicians whose work didn't make the final mixes - Lanois's friend Brian Eno is thanked for 'extra brainstorming', and you can hear him closing down the options, paring down the sound. One or two rhythm tracks could have done with more of this: swing is still not Gabriel's forte.

He makes up for it in blood, sweat and taste, marshalling his army of world musicians behind the bleeding husk of his voice. Side one is solid pleasure, and 'Washing of the Water' is still to come. Phil Spector claimed to make 'little symphonies for the kids'. Gabriel and Lanois do little symphonies for the grown-ups. We'll still be playing them in six years' time.

'Us' is released tomorrow (Virgin VS PG7).

(Photograph omitted)