Meaning of Road to Joy by Peter Gabriel
The composition of this song dates back to OVO, the album Peter Gabriel dropped back in the year 2000. However, it has been noted that Road to Joy went through major changes between then and eventually being released on 4 June 2023. When it did come out, via Real World Records, it served as the sixth single from Gabriel’s album I/O, also being the sixth track on its playlist. And Peter also revealed that they didn’t get around to completing or working on this song until “very late in the record”.
This is one of three tracks on the album where he teams up with the Soweto Gospel Choir, who can now be counted amongst Gabriel’s regular collaborators. Another artist he has come to work with regularly in recent times (i.e. on I/O especially), Brian Eno, co-produced the song with the singer. And as for the writing of Road to Joy, Peter Gabriel handled that responsibility on his own.
The cover art to this track was created by a Chinese artist named Ai Weiwei, whom Pater admitted to being “a big fan of… both as an artist, as a designer and as a human rights campaigner”. It has been pointed out, as its name implies we may say, that Road to Joy is one of the more upbeat songs found on I/O. And with that in mind, it’s interesting to note that this track fared better than others from the album, as it not only appeared on the UK Singles Download Chart but also peaked at number 4 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs listing stateside.
Peter Gabriel elaborated that this track “deals with near-death experience and locked-in syndromes, where people are unable to communicate or to move”. So by the looks of things the subject, who may be the vocalist himself, is just awakening after having gone through such an ordeal. And at first, it’s as if he’s trying to identify or re-familiarize himself with the world around him. But as the piece progresses it sorta becomes, once again as the title implies, a celebration to life, seemingly premised on how our senses interact with our environments as well as other people.
In fact, this would be a good time to point out that Gabriel has also stated that the lyrics, in part, represent “a story focused around the brain and how we perceive things”. And by the time all is said and done, Road to Joy is sorta reminiscent to I/O, i.e. the title track from the album it is featured on.
That is to say that this wording seems to once again speak to how we are connected to the world at large. But in this case, there appears to be more of an emphasis in terms of making a conscientious effort to enjoy the gift of life. And based on the outro especially, it may be that Peter is trying to insinuate that personal depression is sourced in closed- or individual-minded thinking rather than taking in “the universe” as a whole, so to speak. So going back to this person who is just awakening from being unable to move or what have you, s/he apparently serves as an analogy for those of us who are likewise trapped in our own minds.