Four Kinds of Horses by Peter Gabriel
The title of this song is the name of a parable whose authorship is often attributed to Buddha, meaning that it’s pretty old. There are different variations to how it is told. But basically, the ‘four kinds of horses’ respectively represent the mentalities of religious adherents. Some tend to be naturally inclined or dispositional towards following rules, while others have to learn the hard way, if at all, while still others fall in-between those two extremes.
Beyond being inspired by that teaching, a 2005 Golden Globe-winning film titled Paradise Now is also said to have influenced this song. It focuses on a couple of Palestinian characters who become suicide bombers. And of course the types of people who engage in such activities, i.e. suicide bombings, often do so as inspired by religious ideology.
So Peter found it interesting how religion, which is regularly used to promote peace, can also inspire “violence and terrorism”, i.e. those being two sides of the same ideological coin, if you will. And apparently the way he sees it, based on these lyrics, is as those who use their religious beliefs as a rationale to become terrorists being akin to the untamed or undisciplined horse.
That is to say that first of all, the lyrics of this song don’t actually focus on horses, as the singer clarifies in the chorus that the “four kinds of horses” are meant to represent “four kinds of men”. Secondly, with the foreknowledge in tow that his singing about terrorism in relation to the aforenoted parable, it reads pretty obvious that he is likening individuals who engage in such practices, i.e. terrorists, to the basest of ‘horses’. Or interpreted from a different angle, he is presenting such terrorists as not only being fearful but also seemingly misguided and ultimately ineffective in terms of achieving their desired goals. Beyond that, the outro seems to imply that in the end, we all have to suffer as a result of their actions.
Or at least, that appears to be the gist of what the vocalist is putting forth. But with this being Peter Gabriel and all, of course some of the lyrics are also so abstract that we can’t readily make out what they’re supposed to mean.
Writing & Production
Peter Gabriel wrote Four Kinds of Horses, and he produced the track with Richard Russell.
This is the fifth song on the playlist of Peter Gabriel’s 2022 studio album I/O, as issued via his label, Real World Records. And it also served as the fifth single from that project, being released as such on 5 May 2023.