Peter Gabriel returns on February 15th with his latest project “Scratch My Back” released through Virgin Records. The first part in a series of ‘song exchange’ collections which sees Gabriel covering the work of other artists. Aided by by musical luminaries as Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Lou Reed), Tchad Blake (Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits) and John Metcalfe (Durutti Column).
Rather than take a stand up approach to covering a selection of popular songs, for this outing Gabriel and his collaborators have chosen to reinterpret the pieces using orchestral arrangements. That fact alone makes this album a very interesting proposition as most of the songs on offer here come from the genre of popular music. The throwaway sensibilities that are often immersed in popular culture are stripped away allowing oft missed aspects of a song to shine through (one prime example being his version of Paul Simon’s ‘The Boy In The Bubble’).
Elsewhere he makes songs his own (Elbow’s ‘Mirrorball’ and Regina Spektor’s ‘Apres Moi’) with these new arrangements a sense of majesty that might be absent from the originals (purely on the basis that was never the intent of the songs).
There are occasional blips on an otherwise unsullied horizon though, personally I don’t think anyone should ever touch David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The taut buzz saw intensity of the original’s music and Bowie’s keening vocal are the defining aspects of the song. And then there is the somewhat unwise rebuilding of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. When I saw the track listing, I was one hundred percent convinced that Gabriel’s voice would do this song justice and it would be an album highpoint. Sadly that is not the case, his reinterpretation strips away the bleak mournful air of the original and replaces it with what I can only describe as an ‘artificial sadness’ which does no justice to the original song. You may disagree, and in fairness the chances of Gabriel getting as much right with this album as he did were slim. Vocally he retains the qualities that have defined him throughout his career and it would seem the power and emotive qualities of his voice remain largely intact.
A quality collection marred by an occasional blip, still highly recommended all the same.