Peter Gabriel: Play appears mostly in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, most of the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. However, five videos did present anamorphically-enhanced visuals: “The Drop”, “I Don’t Remember”, “The Barry Williams Show”, “Kiss That Frog”, and “Solsbury Hill”. All of these were 1.78:1 except for “The Drop”, which was 2.35:1. In addition, “Biko” featured a lot of letterboxed movie snippets, but it also presented some fullframe material, so it wasn’t 16X9 enhanced.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews of music video compilations, you’ll have heard me gripe about how tough it is to summarize picture quality for them. Music videos use so many extreme visual techniques and often intentionally look bad. In addition, when a package spans more than two decades like Play, we see age-related differences that make a uniform rating next to impossible.
But that’s my job, and in the case of Play, I thought the videos looked surprisingly good. Music videos of the Eighties and even into the Nineties often suffered from a gauzy appearance, but that largely failed to materialize here. The clips showed consistently good definition and sharpness. They rarely looked tremendously sharp, but the avoided the usual bland fuzziness. Jagged edges were only a small problem, and shimmering caused no distractions. Edge enhancement didn’t interfere either; some haloes appeared - such as during “Don’t Give Up” and “Kiss That Frog” - but they seemed to stem from the various visual effects. Source flaws essentially remained absent. A few marks and other distractions periodically appeared, but not with any frequency.
Colors depended on the style of the video, but the hues usually were strong. “Kiss That Frog” was surprisingly bland given its vivid CG origins, but then something like “Shaking the Tree” rebounded with lively tones. Overall, the colors looked fairly engaging and vivid. Blacks could go a little drab at times, but they mostly seemed dense enough, and the occasional low-light shot usually came across as reasonably well-defined. Don’t anticipate stellar visuals here, for this remained a package of music videos. However, within the constraints of genre and age, Play looked good and offered stronger picture quality than I expected.
For Play, all the songs received fresh remixes to convert them to multichannel formats. The DVD presented both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Though DTS often gets the nod for musical presentations, I couldn’t hear substantial differences between the two tracks. Both sounded virtually identical.
That was fine with me, for the audio of Play was uniformly excellent. Not content to leave things simply stereo, the songs offered highly aggressive use of all five channels. The forward channels still played the strongest role, but that occurred solely because of the lead vocals. Gabriel’s singing always stayed appropriately focused in the front center channel. Otherwise, the pieces spread out broadly across the five speakers. No one area dominated, as different bits popped up all over the place. Though this could have become gimmicky, it didn’t, and the impression remained natural and well integrated. As for the material from the front, those features blended together wonderfully well. The instrumentation seemed nicely localized but not excessively discrete, so the whole package melded together cleanly. The soundfield offered a seamless and natural presentation.
The quality of the audio also seemed excellent. Vocals were fantastically firm and natural. They appeared very up front and concise and lacked any signs of problems. All instruments came across as accurate and fully developed. Highs displayed good bite and clarity, while bass response was deep and tight. All in all, the audio of Play seemed simply outstanding.
Note that because all of the tracks were remixed for 5.1, some may not sound the way you remember them. For the most part, the remixes largely retained the elements of the original songs, but some of them took greater liberties. For example, “Big Time” and “Steam” came across as pretty different at times.
Unfortunately, I can’t recall if these mixes matched those heard in the original videos. I do know that they vary when compared to the album versions of the songs, but it’s possible that the videos used alternate mixes. Anyway, while the quality of the audio remained uniformly excellent, I wanted to provide the disclaimer that these remixes did tinker with the original tracks to moderate degrees.
When we look at the set’s extras, the biggest attraction comes from video introductions. Most of the songs include these optional comments. Only “Lovetown”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Washing of the Water”, and “Solsbury Hill” present no remarks. (Technically, “Father, Son” provides an intro, but it’s so simple it probably shouldn’t count.)
The intros mix new comments from Gabriel plus archival remarks and notes from a few of the videos’ directors. We also see some behind the scenes footage, such as when Pete demonstrates the computer state of the art circa 1980. The intros provide general information about the songs, the videos, and the sessions. Some are better than others, but overall, they add decent background about the clips.
Next we get a live version of Games Without Frontiers from 2004. Available with the three audio options found in the main program, this tune didn’t appear on Growing Up Live. The song appeared during Gabriel’s summer 2004 outdoor European tour. It’s a jerky music video style presentation that doesn’t work very well. Picture quality seems messy as well. The booklet claims it’ll be part of a DVD to document the 2004 tour; I hope it looks more natural there.
Two more music videos appear. We get “Modern Love” from 1977’s “Car” plus “The Nest That Sailed the Sky” off of 2000’s Ovo. Love” is silly but cool in a bizarre way. It also looks shockingly good for a video from 1977. (Unlike “Solsbury Hill”, “Love” really is a 1977 video; “Hill” consists mostly of new footage.)
“Nest” is more esoteric as it presents… well, I’m not really sure what it presents. It looks like the construction of a complex circus stage, but don’t quote me on that. It’s marginally interesting at best. I have no clue why neither of these shows up in the standard program. Perhaps the cue-ball Pete of 2004 can’t stand the sight of his bushy-headed self from 1977, but that doesn’t explain the omission of “Nest”; Pete doesn’t even appear in that clip.
Three trailers finish the DVD. We get ads for the upcoming Family Portrait as well as Growing Up Live and Secret World Live. Portrait looks like an interesting glance behind the scenes of the 2002 tour.
Finally, Play includes a nice 24-page booklet. It presents an introduction from Gabriel as well as various credits.
When we look at the list of music video innovators, Peter Gabriel definitely deserves a mention. Play shows why, as its 23 clips offer a lot of quirky and memorable material with relatively few duds. The DVD presents generally positive visuals with absolutely stellar audio and a few moderately intriguing supplements. I heartily recommend Play, for it acts as a good introduction to Gabriel’s music as well as a strong collection of ground-breaking videos.