'Passion' is the belated release of Peter Gabriel's two-LP soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's riveting, controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ. It works as both amplification of Scorsese's obsessively vivid rendering of the biblical tale as well as an opportunity for hitmaker Gabriel to hop off the rock-industry merry-go-round for a while and experiment with some different rhythms and styles. In this way, Gabriel's journey is just as deeply felt as Scorsese's.
As evocative as Passion's twenty-one tracks are for those who have seen Last Temptation, the collection also stands as a testament to the breadth of Gabriel's interests, as well as his talents. Quite simply, Passion is that rare progressive-rock album that isn't so enamored of its own cleverness that all it does is show off its own technical achievements. Working with his usual collaborators (among them guitarist David Rhodes and violinist Shankar, as well as occasional contributors David Sancious and Youssou N'Dour), Gabriel conjures up moods that seem at once period specific (many of the tunes are expansions of centuries old Armenian, Egyptian and Kurdish motifs) and up-to-date.
Cuts, like "Gethsemane" and "Of These, Hope" successfully accommodate third-world melodies and cross-rhythms in a Western pop context. Passion is stirring, stunning stuff: You won't hear it on the radio like you heard "Sledgehammer" or "Big Time," but if you do search it out, you'll find a piece of work by an artist who remains idiosyncratic without being obtuse.