Peter Gabriel fans heard the "So" album and sneered "sell-out." However, with "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," the album was not only Gabriel's most Rockin', it was also his most accessible. Like several performers, Gabriel's music crossed Rock's path and did so in a compelling way, but Rock was not necessarily what he was about. Rather, as a musician and performer, Gabriel's ability to blend and bend styles was where his talent lied.
Gabriel started with the Art-Rock Genesis but as the group's popularity grew, thanks largely to "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" album and tour, Gabriel feeling confined, left.
Gabriel's '70s solo career was eclectic to say the least, employing numerous musical influences, including worldbeat. These albums built a following but not a massive one, which was, at the time, probably all right by Gabriel. However, the '80s brought change. First, "Peter Gabriel - Security" featured his first real commercial break through with the innovative "Shock The Monkey." Then "So" rolled out. But no performer of Gabriel's ilk can stay in a niche very long. By the '90s Gabriel had tried his hand at movie soundtracks (not very successfully) and returned with a softer, more worldly sound.
But Gabriel's soundtrack luck turned. He worked with Thomas Newman on songs for the '08 film WALL-E. "Down To Earth" earned a Golden Globe nomination but lost to Bruce Springsteen ("The Wrestler"). However, it won the Best Original Song from a Motion Picture award at the '09 Grammys.
"So" is the album. It's as close and consistent as Gabriel comes to Rock. "Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats" does a good job of capturing the Gabriel's significant work. For those with a taste for world music or art rock, Gabriel's self titled late '70's releases (all titled "Peter Gabriel") should be considered but his '90s releases "Us," "Secret World Live" and "Revisited" are better options.