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CD REVIEW: Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back

Thursday, February 18 2010 1:59PM
After 8 years of absence since the release of his last album Up, Peter Gabriel is finally back, offering us 12 musically revisited tracks from fellow artists with respect to the original writing of the songs. A perilous exercise, coming of more as a cerebral result than an emotional one, however worth mentioning and discovering including the few apparent weaknesses.

The word «symphonic» would be best appropriate to described the interest generated by this experience: all song are either rock, folk or cabaret music inspired, in which Peter Gabriel erases all pop music instrumentation in favour of philharmonic and piano arrangements.

The chosen songs and their roots are enough to intrigue us. Peter Gabriel goes deep in the musical repertoire, unearthing songs from Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, and even goes on to satisfy a more urban and young audience by borrowing from Radiohead, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Regina Spektor, Elbow and The Magnetic Fields.

Hits and Misses

Predictably, with this kind of eclectic song selection, the result could only be unequal.

The common denominator for all the reinterpretation on the album, aside from the symphonic inspired musical arrangements, is the drop in tempo forcing the listener to concentrate on the music being delivered in order to avoid being bored and overwhelmed by the album’s whole and its bipolar dynamics.

The musical arrangements vary between the melodramatic and the grandiose, expressing by moments a somewhat obsessive sensibility, making the album feel like a series of jerks.

Nonetheless, the risk was bold (Gabriel’s personal touch when making major modifications to the borrowed pieces) and the many well-executed exercises found on the album once isolated from the rest.

“My Body Is a Cage”, a reprise from Arcade Fire, is probably the best track on the album (even if it is a little on the long side) where Gabriel succeeds in making the song its own, giving it a less visceral feel and a new and strangely intriguing angle.

Other well-done pieces include Gabriel’s reprise of “Après Moi” from Regina Spektor and the playful “Listening Wind” (originally from the Talking Heads).

On the other hand, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” from Radiohead is completely off the mark, mostly due to poor vocals, whereas “The Boy in the Bubble” from Paul Simon simply feels lifeless.

The follow-up

One thing to look forward to are the live performances to follow, guaranteed to bring even more grandiose than the album venture.

Peter Gabriel’s next tour titled New Blood will be stopping by the Bell Center in Montreal on April 28th and 29th where the first half of the show will be dedicated to the songs found on this new album, followed by his own repertoire being revisited with the same musical symphonic arrangements.

I’ll Scratch Yours

To be noted, all the featured artists from whom Peter Gabriel borrowed on this new album will in return themselves offer a new interpretation of a song chosen from Gabriel’s catalogue on an upcoming album to be titled I’ll Scratch Yours. Another experience which promises to be just as perilous, unequal… but intriguingly interesting!


My Body Is a Cage, Après Moi, Listening Wind, Mirrorball

Street Spirit (Fade Out), The Boy in the Bubble, Philadelphia