|Studio album by Peter Gabriel|
|Released||19 May 1986|
|Recorded||February – December 1985|
near Bath, England
|Peter Gabriel chronology|
|Singles from So|
So is the fifth album by English rock musician Peter Gabriel, released on 19 May 1986 by Charisma Records. After working on the soundtrack to the film Birdy (1984), producer Daniel Lanois was invited to remain at Gabriel's home during 1985 to work on his next singing project. Initial sessions for So consisted of Gabriel, Lanois and guitarist David Rhodes, although these grew to include a number of percussionists.
Although Gabriel continued to use the pioneering Fairlight CMI synthesizer, songs from these sessions were notably less experimental than his previous material, and fused pop and art rock with elements of traditional world music, particularly African and Brazilian styles. It is Gabriel's first non-eponymous album, So representing an "anti-title" that resulted from label pressure to properly market his music. Widely regarded as his best album, as well as his most accessible, it transformed Gabriel from a cult artist into a mainstream star. It received positive reviews from critics, who praised its melodicism and fusion of genres, and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Gabriel toured So on the This Way Up tour (1986–1987), with some songs performed at human rights and charity concerts during this period.
So is Gabriel's best-selling solo release, and has been certified fivefold platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and triple platinum by the British Phonographic Industry. It spawned five singles, "Sledgehammer", "Don't Give Up", "Big Time", "In Your Eyes" and "Red Rain". "Sledgehammer" achieved particular success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning a record of ten MTV Video Music Awards. So was remastered in 2002, partially re-recorded for Gabriel's 2012 orchestral project New Blood and issued as a box set the same year. It has been deemed one of the best albums of the 1980s and is listed at number 187 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Prior to recording So, Gabriel released four studio albums all titled Peter Gabriel. They received nicknames based on their sleeve art, which were designed by English duo Hipgnosis. His debut, Car (1977), received positive reviews, mainly because of the hugely popular "Solsbury Hill", which concerned the site of the same name near Ashcombe House, Gabriel's estate to the north-east of Bath in Somerset. His second album—Scratch (1978)—fared less well and it was not until Melt (1980) that Gabriel was considered a progressive solo artist. Melt included the emotive anti-apartheid song "Biko" and the popular "Games Without Frontiers", with Gabriel helping to "blueprint the sound of 80s rock through its trailblazing use of what became known as the "gated reverb" drum effect." In the early 1980s, Gabriel embarked on various projects, including founding the World Music, Arts and Dance Festival (WOMAD), with a WOMAD album featuring himself, Robert Fripp, Pete Townshend and other artists of the world music genre. His fourth album, Security (1982)—also released in German as the Deutsches Album (1982)—saw success with Gabriel's music video for the eye-opening "Shock the Monkey". Gabriel won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for scoring the soundtrack to the film Birdy (1984).
Since 1978, Gabriel had composed all of his music at Ashcombe House, including his fourth studio album Peter Gabriel or "Security" (1982) and the Birdy (1984) soundtrack. An inexpensive studio existed in the house's adjacent barn, consisting of two rooms, one where Gabriel would produce his vocals and work on lyrics, and another where the music would be assembled. When preparing for So, Gabriel considered Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bill Laswell as potential producers. He eventually asked his Birdy collaborator, Daniel Lanois, to stay at Ashcombe and work with him further. Rehearsals began in May 1985 and consisted of Gabriel, Lanois and guitarist David Rhodes. Gabriel had begun work on some songs and provided Lanois and Rhodes with chord structures, around which they built their own improvised compositions. Lanois recalled they had "a nice starting point [as] in that kind of scenario, it's not a good idea to have a lot of people around because you get nervous that you're wasting other people's time". Consequently, there was a relaxed atmosphere surrounding these sessions and the trio would jokingly refer to themselves as The Three Stooges, an American vaudeville act of the mid-twentieth century. This also involved the wearing of construction site hard hats as they had a "turning up for work humour". As sessions grew, engineer Kevin Killen, bassist Tony Levin, and drummer Jerry Marotta became significant contributors, and were aided by percussionists Manu Katché and Stewart Copeland and violinist L. Shankar.
The studio's basic equipment consisted of "two analog 24-track machines, a Studer A80, and a Studer A80 shell that had been modified by a local electronics wizard, with its own audio cards and transport controls".[nb 2] To record vocals a Neumann U47 tube microphone and a Decca compressor were used without equalization. All of So's songs were made in a similar format. Gabriel would record a piano demo on a modified "B machine" and play this to the band. During rehearsals, the band would listen to the B machine through headphones and record their output onto the "A machine"; parts of Gabriel's demo would also be transferred to the A machine at this stage. Subsequent takes of the song were then put onto the B machine in order for the band to hear what they had played with the demo, as well as the song's new and old takes.
Other equipment included the "groundbreaking" Fairlight CMI synthesizer, which Gabriel said in an interview for Billboard meant "more human imagination is involved". He added, "the creative decision-making process has become more important than technique. You have a wider range of tools, a wider range of decisions". Although remaining continually inspired to produce new music, he often struggled to write lyrics and would delay doing so by procrastinating. His proclivity to being dissatisfied with them required Killen to isolate certain vocal performances as the master track, in order to keep other tracks available so new lyrics could be edited in. Lanois took adverse measures to encourage his writing, such as destroying his much-used telephone in the nearby woods and, on one occasion, nailed the studio door shut to lock him inside.
Towards the end of recording, Gabriel became "obsessed" with the album's track listing and created an audio cassette of all the song's beginnings and ends in order to hear how the sounds blended together. His original intention was to have "In Your Eyes" at the end of the record, but because of its prominent bass line, it had to be placed earlier in the listing on the vinyl edition as there is more room for the needle to vibrate. With later CD releases, this restriction was removed and the track was placed at the end of the album. So was completed in February 1986 and cost £200,000 to make. It was over-dubbed at Power Station Studios in New York, despite Gabriel considering sending it via a computer-telephone set up, reasoning, "that's a lot of information to send via phone. Isn't it amazing though? You can send a song idea around the world to musicians then beam parts back by satellite". It was mastered by Ian Cooper in mid-February 1986 at London's Townhouse Studios.
So has been described as Gabriel's most commercially accessible and least experimental album. Like his previous albums, its basis is in art rock, although on So, Gabriel develops an increased focus on melody and now combines this genre with elements of soul and African music. Its songs are highly influenced by traditional world music, particularly African and Brazilian music, with Gabriel using the distinctive drum beat from these styles. In a 2011 interview for Uncut, Gabriel said, "I'd had my fill of instrumental experimenting for a while, and I wanted to write proper pop songs, albeit on my own terms." Jon Pareles of The New York Times notes that Gabriel "doesn't just add on African drums or Indian violin to ordinary songs; they are part of the foundation." Daniel Lanois production was noted as textured, replete with ambient details and "immaculate warmth giving each note room to breathe, its textures lavish (in the preferred style of the time) without being sterile".
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Gabriel wanted the album to "crash open at the front" and despite disliking "metal" percussion instruments, he was persuaded by Lanois to allow The Police's Stewart Copeland to play cymbals and hi-hat on its opener, "Red Rain". The track sees Gabriel sing in his upper register with a throaty, gravely texture, of a destructive world with social problems such as torture and kidnapping. Its concept originated from a dream in which he envisaged the parting of a vast, red sea and human-like glass bottles filling up with blood. It was also intended to continue the story of Mozo, a recurring character in Gabriel's first and second albums. The second track, "Sledgehammer", was the final track to be conceived of. Although most of Gabriel's band had packed away their equipment and were ready to leave the studio, Gabriel asked them to reassemble to quickly run through a song he had an idea for. "Sledgehammer" was partially inspired by the music of Otis Redding, and Gabriel sought out Wayne Jackson, who Gabriel had seen on tour with Redding in the 1960s, to record horns for the track. Opened by a shakuhachi bamboo flute, its beat is dominated by brass instruments, particularly Jackson's horn, and features lyrics abundant with sexual euphemisms.[nb 3] Manu Katché's drums were recorded in one take as he believed any subsequent version would be inferior to his original interpretation of the music.
So's most prominent political statement, "Don't Give Up", was fuelled by Gabriel's discontent with rising unemployment during Margaret Thatcher's premiership and Dorothea Lange's photograph "Migrant Mother". The track began as a rhythm pattern of slow, low-pitched tom-tom drums that Gabriel made, and Lanois believed could serve as the centrepiece of a song. Tony Levin added bass to create a more harmonious sound, and during the second-half of the track, put a nappy behind his bass strings to dampen the sound. Gabriel ensured the song, which follows a narrative of an unemployed man and his lover, was written as a conversational piece. He initially sought out Dolly Parton to portray the woman, although Parton declined; his friend Kate Bush later agreed to feature. Bush serves as the song's respondent, she assumes a comforting role and with delicate vocals, sings lines such as "Rest your head/ you worry too much". The album's first side culminates with "That Voice Again", in which Gabriel explores the concept of conscience, examining the "parental voice in our heads that either helps or defeats us". Co-written with David Rhodes, who plays guitar over Katché and Levin's input, the song was written after Gabriel's initial discussions with Martin Scorsese about scoring The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).[nb 4]
"In Your Eyes" has been described as Gabriel's greatest love song. Inspired by the Sagrada Família and its architect Antoni Gaudí, Gabriel sings over a drumbeat of only feeling complete in the eyes of his lover. The track's powerful atmosphere is created through the scat singing of Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour, who sings in his native language. Gabriel became interested in the late American poet Anne Sexton after reading the anthology To Bedlam And Part Way Back. He dedicated So's sixth track to her, calling it "Mercy Street" after "45 Mercy Street", a poem released in another posthumous collection. "Mercy Street" is set to one of several Forró-inspired percussion compositions that Gabriel recorded in Rio de Janeiro. When these compositions were unearthed in the studio, they were accidentally played back at a speed ten per cent slower than the original recording, giving them a grainy quality that Gabriel and Lanois thought highlighted the cymbal and guitars. It features two harmonious Gabriel vocals, one of which is a shadow vocal which is an octave below the main vocal, intended to give a sensual, haunting effect, although this was hard to capture except when Gabriel had first woken up.
The dance song "Big Time" has funk influences and is built on a "percussive bass sound". Its lyrics satirise the yuppie culture of the 1980s, materialism and consumerism and are the result of Gabriel's self-examination, after he considered whether he may have desired fame after all. "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" was a song written for Gabriel's third album Peter Gabriel or "Melt" and is described as an interlude. It references the experiment on obedience carried out by American social psychologist Stanley Milgram, intended as a reference to the obedience citizens show to dictators during times of war. Marotta's drums on the song were said to resemble "a heartbeat heard from the womb", these were coupled with Shankar's violin and "two overdubbed guitar tracks by Rhodes". The album is completed by "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)", which Gabriel decided forty-eight hours before his album submission, was going to be included. "Excellent Birds" was composed with American musician Laurie Anderson and featured on her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak. This was interpolated into another recording called "This Is The Picture", which Nile Rodgers plays rhythmic guitar on.
So is Gabriel's first non-eponymous album. Gabriel has noted his dislike for titling albums, mainly because it distracts from the sleeve design. In an interview for Rolling Stone, he explained that his American label Geffen Records refused to release Peter Gabriel IV until it was retitled Security. He elaborated that for So "[he] decided to go for the anti-title ... It can be more a piece of graphic, if you like, as opposed to something with meaning and intention. And that's what I've done ever since". When the album was profiled in the Classic Albums documentary series, Gabriel quipped that its short title meant it could be enlarged and useful when marketing it. The sleeve design is a portrait of Gabriel photographed by Trevor Key, who was then most famous for capturing the bell artwork for Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973). It was then designed by Peter Saville and Brett Wickens; Saville was most known for designing several sleeves for Factory Records artists. Saville was paid £20,000 for his design. Gabriel has since commented: "the only compromise I made was to go with Peter Saville's idea for a retro-style portrait. I was told my usual obscure LP sleeves alienated women."
So was released on 19 May 1986. It topped the charts of seven countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, where it became Gabriel's second number one album. In the United States, So became one of Geffen Records' most commercially successful releases, peaking at number two and remaining on the chart for ninety-three weeks. In April 1986, "Sledgehammer" was released as the album's lead single and became Gabriel's first and only number one on the Billboard Hot 100, displacing Genesis' first and only US number one "Invisible Touch". The track reached number four in the United Kingdom, where it ties with "Games Without Frontiers" as his highest charting single, and peaked at number one in Canada. The success of "Sledgehammer" can be seen, in part, due to its hugely popular and innovative stop motion music video, designed by Aardman Animations. Gabriel would go on to say in an interview for Rolling Stone that he believed the video exposed So's songs to a wider audience, bolstering the album's success. Two high-charting singles followed, "Don't Give Up", which rose to number nine on the UK Singles Chart and a less successful seventy-nine in America, while "Big Time" peaked at number thirteen in the UK and number eight in America. "In Your Eyes" saw moderate success in America, where it reached twenty-six on the Hot 100, while "Red Rain" peaked at forty-six in the United Kingdom.
Bono contacted Gabriel to perform at A Conspiracy of Hope, a series of Live Aid-inspired concerts that intended to spread awareness of human rights issues in light of Amnesty International's twenty-fifth anniversary. Gabriel accepted and in June 1986, he performed alongside Sting, The Police, Lou Reed and Joan Baez, with a set that opened with "Red Rain" and featured "Sledgehammer". Gabriel described it as "the best tour [he'd] ever been on". In the same month, Gabriel performed at London's Clapham Common, along with Boy George and Elvis Costello, for Artists Against Apartheid. Gabriel eventually embarked on the ninety-three date This Way Up tour to support So, beginning in Rochester, New York on 7 November 1986. One of the dates was a special two-night residency (December 20–21) at Tokyo's Meiji Jingu Stadium to fund a global computer system for the University for Peace, a United Nations project. The tour suspended in early 1987 until June when it reached Europe, before going on to America and finishing at the Lycabettus Amphitheatre in Athens in October. Gabriel partially performed So at The Prince's Trust Concert and at Human Rights Now! Tour in 1988.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||B–|
So received mostly favourable reviews from music critics. Robert Christgau commented "Gabriel's so smart he knows rhythm is what makes music go, which relieves him of humdrum melodic responsibilities but doesn't get him up on the one—smart guys do go for texture in a pinch." Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote "only a handful of Western rock musicians have managed to use exotic rhythms and instruments with so much ingenuity and conviction". Pareles also praised his vocals, describing them as "grainy but not bluesy, ageless and joyless, the voice of some ancient mariner recounting disasters". Tim Holmes writing for Rolling Stone described the album as "a record of considerable emotional complexity and musical sophistication" and was pleased that the records would assist exposing Gabriel to mainstream pop music. Terry Atkinson of Los Angeles Times viewed the album as offering "an amazing variety of tones, moods, and topics and a consistently powerful level of expression". Although disliking "Big Time", Atkinson concludes So is "a great album, possibly Gabriel's best". Chicago Tribune 's Lynn Van Matre praised the album's "wave of funky rhythms" and called for more appreciation of Gabriel's talent, but noted that there were no tracks as stand out as "Biko", a single from his third eponymous album Peter Gabriel or "Melt".
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic commended So as Gabriel's "catchiest, happiest record he ever cut". Erlewine particularly praised Gabriel's fusion of art rock with African music and soul. Jude Rogers of the BBC wrote "once you look past the bombast of "Sledgehammer", ... you notice how easily its artful ideas slipped inside the 80s mainstream". The Quietus' Wyndham Wallace praised So's sincerity and called it "a heartfelt journey through intense emotional territory, assembled and arranged with intricacy and commitment, laboured over with such care that it sounds effortless". Ryan Bray, writer for Consequence of Sound, concluded So was an "all-too-rare record that manages to have it both ways, earning its richly deserved critical and commercial respect without giving so much as an artistic inch". He added that "it still stands on its own two feet as one of the consensus best records of the 80s". Mark Blake of Q described the album as "carbon-dated to 1986 thanks to those blaring saxes and Fairlight CMI digital sampling synths". He added that "Gabriel crafted an album of user-friendly pop that was still reassuringly odd." Mojo's David Buckley contrasted the album with Gabriel's earlier, more experimental work, claiming "on 1986's So, he switched tack to write pop, and write big. The results are mixed. Sledgehammer, echoing both Stevie Wonders's "Superstition" and David Bowie's "Fame", retains its punch. Elsewhere, Gabriel sounds airbrushed on Mercy Street, Red Rain and In Your Eyes, with only We Do What We're Told a reminder of a daring past." Writing in Uncut, John Lewis praised its state-of-the-art production in parts, highlighting "Big Time" and "Sledgehammer" as standout tracks, but claimed elsewhere it interfered, such as the Fairlight CMI synthesizer on "That Voice Again" and whistling ambient accompaniment on "Mercy Street". Terry Staunton of Classic Rock wrote "Red Rain was familiarly pensive and politically charged, but the radio waves completely surrendered to the record's muscular dance rock and slower tempo eloquence." Staunton concluded that Gabriel had displayed "a masterful confidence, delivering a satisfyingly unified whole".
At the 29th Annual Grammy Awards, So was nominated for Album of the Year, losing to Paul Simon's Graceland (1986), while "Sledgehammer" received nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. At the sixth Brit Awards, hosted by Jonathan King at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, Gabriel won Best British Male Artist and "Sledgehammer" won Best British Music Video. Gabriel was most successful at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards where he was honoured with the Video Vanguard Award and "Sledgehammer" won an additional nine awards including Video of the Year, a record that has not been challenged. Its video is the most played music video in the history of MTV.
So is often regarded as Gabriel's best album, as well as one of the best albums of the 1980s. It enabled Gabriel to transform from a cult artist, acclaimed for his cerebral, experimental solo work in the 1970s, into a mainstream, internationally-known star. Rolling Stone placed So at 187 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and at 14 on its 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, noting that "despite its mass appeal, however, So also presented compelling challenges." Stereogum placed it at number one on its list of Gabriel's best albums, writing, "Peter Gabriel's fifth studio album is a mesmerizing dichotomy: simultaneously hooky and experimental; timeless, yet completely crystalizing its moment in history ... It's a masterpiece. It has been profiled in the Classic Albums series and featured in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Slant Magazine listed the album at 41 on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s, describing it as "Gabriel's most accessible yet ambitious work. A chronicle of political, emotional, and artistic exploration, the album [attempts] to balance standard pop orthodoxy with his still-rumbling desire for sonic experimentation". Conversely, The Guardian's lead critic Alexis Petridis claimed Gabriel "suffered a musical mid-life crisis", describing it as "an album packed with ultra-commercial priapic cod-funk" and "a ruthless bid for mainstream success".
It is Gabriel's best-selling album, having been certified fivefold platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and triple platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). In 2002, So was re-issued and remastered. In 2011, several of tracks from So were featured on Gabriel's ninth studio release New Blood, a project of orchestral re-recordings from Gabriel's discography. In 2012, for the album's twenty-fifth anniversary, a limited edition box set was released. It includes the remastered So album, the Live at Athens (1987) album and a So DNA album which examines its production, as well as new liner notes, photographs, vinyl collectibles and the So: Classic Albums documentary. In the same year, Gabriel embarked on the Back to Front Tour where Gabriel plays every song on the So album with several of the session musicians from its recording.
All songs written by Peter Gabriel, except where indicated.
|3.||"Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush)||6:33|
|4.||"That Voice Again"||
|1.||"In Your Eyes"||5:27|
|4.||"We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)"||3:22|
|5.||"This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson)||
|2002 remastered edition|
|3.||"Don't Give Up" (featuring Kate Bush)||6:33|
|4.||"That Voice Again"||
|7.||"We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)"||3:22|
|8.||"This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" (featuring Laurie Anderson)||
|9.||"In Your Eyes"||5:27|
- "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" was not included on the original vinyl release.
Credits adapted from So's liner notes. The track numbers correspond to the original release.
- Peter Gabriel – lead and backing vocals, Fairlight CMI, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 (all except tracks 5, 9), piano (all except tracks 7, 9), Linn LM-1 (tracks 3, 7), synthesizer (tracks 5, 7), percussion (track 4), Yamaha CS-80 (track 6), LinnDrum (track 9), Synclavier (track 9)
- Tony Levin – bass guitar (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), drumstick bass guitar (fretting only) (track 7)
- David Rhodes – guitar (all except tracks 6, 9), backing vocals (tracks 1, 5)
- Jerry Marotta – drums (tracks 1, 8), additional drums (track 5), drumstick bass guitar (drumming only) (track 7)
- Manu Katché – drums (tracks 2, 3, 4, 5), percussion (tracks 3, 4, 5), talking drum (tracks 5, 9)
- Chris Hughes – LinnDrum programming (track 1)
- Stewart Copeland – hi-hat (track 1), drums (track 7)
- Daniel Lanois – guitar (tracks 1, 2, 4), tambourine (track 2), surf guitar (track 7), 12-string guitar (track 9)
- Wayne Jackson – trumpet (track 2, 7), cornet (track 7)
- Mark Rivera – tenor saxophone (track 2, 7), processed saxophone (track 6), alto and baritone saxophone (track 7)
- Don Mikkelsen – trombone (track 2, 7)
- P. P. Arnold – backing vocals (track 2, 7)
- Coral Gordon – backing vocals (track 2, 7)
- Dee Lewis – backing vocals (track 2, 7)
- Richard Tee – piano (tracks 3, 5, 6)
- Simon Clark – Yamaha CS-80 chorus effect (track 3), Hammond, Fairlight CMI and bass (track 7)
- Kate Bush – vocals (track 3)
- L. Shankar – violin (tracks 4, 8)
- Larry Klein – bass guitar (tracks 5, 6)
- Youssou N'Dour – vocals (track 5)
- Michael Been – backing vocals (track 5)
- Jim Kerr – backing vocals (track 5)
- Ronnie Bright – bass vocals (track 5)
- Djalma Correa – surdo, congas and triangle (track 6)
- Jimmy Bralower – LinnDrum kick (track 7)
- Bill Laswell – bass guitar (track 9)
- Nile Rodgers – guitar (track 9)
- Laurie Anderson – vocals (track 9)
|United Kingdom (BPI)||3× Platinum||900,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||5× Platinum||5,000,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
- All of these release dates pertain to their release in the United Kingdom, except "In Your Eyes" which was released in the US in September 1986.
- Killen notes that by September 1985, all of the material was on a Mitsubishi 32-track digital audio tape.
- When So was overdubbed at Power Station Studio, New York, the German electronic duo Kraftwerk were finishing Electric Café (1986) and "Sledgehammer" was played to them. David Buckley, a Kraftwerk biographer, wrote, "they were knocked back by how fantastic it sounded. They felt their record was puny sonically by comparison, even though it's a completely different genre of music".
- Gabriel eventually agreed to score the film and released Passion (1989) to acclaim, winning a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album at the 1990 ceremony. Note that Passion is sometimes titled Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ. Gabriel has said this is due to "legal barriers".
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The album made Gabriel one of the biggest names in pop
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he was more comfortable with making a pop album by this point
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Click the Awards tab to access the record of Passion's awards.
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- Gabriel 2012, 40:20.
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- Easlea 2013, p. 273.
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