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Great songs, but a missed opportunity.
on 16 October 2011
Scratch My Back split opinion: it was very slow - monotonous even, and very sad. But it also stripped back the songs to their melodic roots, and then surrounded Gabriel's voice with judicious arrangements which served to support, rather than combat, his voice.
New Blood sounds a similar project, an album of orchestral versions, but this time of Gabriel's own songs. I like it, and some songs are brilliantly done. But there is much less of a sense of reinterpretation. Why keep the bass-line from Don't Give Up? Or the tinkling from Mercy Street? Or the twinkling spashy opening to Red Rain? Sometimes it feels like the score has just been handed round, but with the parts changed from electric to acoustic instruments. So the strings are taking the hi-hat rhythm, the bass is doing the drums, the wind the synth section. If you listen online to his version of Secret World on the New Blood tour, you can see this evidently. If it had been someone else's song, and he'd covered it on Scratch My Back, you can be sure they rhythm would have been jettisoned in favour of a more simple bash at the melody. Instead, a whimsical piano and percussion riff runs through the whole thing, in exactly the same way as the synth and drum riff did in the original.
Perversely then, I feel like some of the versions make unnecessary changes to the fabric of the originals. Why cut the last minutes, the climax of Downside Up, when you have a minute-and-a-half long instrumental opening? Why change and simplify the slow chorus of Digging in the Dirt? Why does Ane Brun not pronounce the 'p's in Don't Give Up? Or Don't Give U' as it might now be titled. On the tour, Solsbury Hill had rather a fun ending, interpolating Beethoven's 9th and other classical tunes - not here.
In a further twist, the songs which didn't make it onto the album are really rather better than some which did. Father, Son, Blood of Eden and Signal to Noise are all worthy versions, and I'd sooner have had those than Mercy Street or In Your Eyes. Though extremely close to the originals, they soothe and build much more effectively than their synthy originals. Signal to Noise is the best track in the whole project, but only available on iTunes.
Put simply, this album sounds too much like 'acoustic versions' of the songs. If you knew nothing about it and came to it, I'm sure that would be fine. But I'm really disappointed in some ways. I do like the album, I like the songs too much not to, and some of the songs I didn't know in the original are excellent: Darkness, Wallflower, The Rhythm of the Heat. But it's telling that the songs I did know in the original are easily my least favourites, and I wonder, when I've gone back and listened to all the original versions, whether I'll have much use for New Blood.