on 4 May 2011
I was a huge fan of Peter Gabriel in my youth, both as part of Genesis and in his solo career, seeing him live on many occasions. As life got more complicated I lost touch with his music, coming across it with pleasure now and then in film scores and at the millenium dome. And that's rather how I came upon this, recognising his dulcet tones in the sublime 'My Body Is A Cage' as background (fore and centre ground too, overpoweringly wonderful as it was) in an episode of House. I've had the album two weeks now and it grows more of a joy at each listen, new tracks becoming favourites with familiarity. Mirrorball is particularly heavenly, The Book of Love a delight, but most tracks illicit goose bumps. So here I am at 53, a Peter Gabriel fan once again. Utterly beautiful.
I honestly wanted to love this album. Peter Gabriel is a national treasure and I am sadly old enough to admit to seeing Genesis at Bristol's Colston Hall in 1973 where Gabriel was mesmerizing. When I saw them next at Knebworth in 1978 he wasn't in the band and I preferred Devo (unlike the majority of the crowd!). Gabriel has always ploughed his own furrow and his development of WOMAD deserves a knighthood. He has a great sense of humour and his recent cover with Hot Chip of "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" by Vampire Weekend is a wicked gem.
"Scratch my back" is not just a covers album it's about song exchange with the different artists covered pledging to return the favour. I had hoped that Gabriel's album could do a "Joni Mitchell". When the great lady revisited her standards the mature reading that she produced through a voice that was no longer angelic but infused with a life of experience and backed by a stirring orchestra was superb. Songs like "Both Sides Now" sounded better than the originals.
Gabriel's covers are certainly well chosen and show impeccable taste (although "My Body is a cage" is a least favourite Arcade Fire song), the problem is that some work incredibly well while other fall flat. Thus Gabriel's version of Bon Iver's "Flume" for instance is workmanlike and misses the mark. His reading of Neil Young's "Philadelphia" never quite captures the quiet desperation and sheer sadness to be found on the original. When we finally get a cover like Radiohead's "Street Spirit" that is so radically reworked that it is almost unrecognizable to the original, you punch the air. The trouble is that it just does not work and is mournful and dreadfully dull. Indeed my dog gave me a dirty look when I played it! "I think its going to rain today" by Randy Newman takes a brave singer to attempt and again Gabriel's version stays so close that it is almost a reprise and as such can't really add much. Sorry when it comes to David Bowie's "Heroes" why tamper with perfection?
The good news is that "The Boy in the Bubble" (Paul Simon) is excellent. Indeed for the first time ever you realise what a subversive lyric underpins the song which is sung with crystal clarity by Gabriel. The "Listening Wind" (Talking Heads) cover is I think actually better than the original. Its interesting that Gabriel is most at home here with the African related songs. Thus the Talking Heads original is slowed down to a much sadder and reflective piece. I can't comment on "Power of the Heart" the Lou Reed cover since I have never heard the original but Gabriel's take is lovely. Elbows "Mirrorball" works really well for Gabriel's voice indeed he has compared it to singing a difficult Genesis song. The orchestration works brilliantly on this as it does on the cover of Stephen Merritt's wonderful "Book of Life". Gabriel's version is a knockout.
Look I'm not saying don't buy this album since it is a fascinating attempt by a major artist to deconstruct and reconstruct a set of songs which are on the whole faultlessly chosen. You just wish it was a bit more unique and that a greater exercise of re -imagination had occurred.
on 24 August 2011
Bought this album on a whim, iv'e always liked Peter Gabriel's music. On first playing, I found the music a bit over orchestrated and samey and I wasn't that impressed. I was expecting to like Street Spirit (as the Bends is my Favourite album} but even that left me cold.
I played the album a few days later. "The boy in the bubble", and "Mirrorball" sounded quite nice, I then heard "The Book of Love" for the second time and my knees went weak, what a gorgeous song, it makes me feel so good. Every time I play the album it seems to get better. Flume is beautiful, "The Power of the Heart" "Philadelphia" lovely. There is not a bad song on the album. "Heroes" and "Street Spirit" are probablly my least favourites. But i'm sure i'll get to like them eventally. I have since bought "69 songs by Magnetic Fields (The book of Love) on the strengh of this Album- But thats another story.
Iv'e never written a review before, but I love this album so much. Please ignore the poor reviews, If you have given the Album a poor review Listen to it again, and again. You wont be sorry.
on 8 February 2012
Peter Gabriel has made his fans wait 8 years for new material. Although "Scratch My Back" is an album full of covers, the way the music has been arranged makes this release very original and daring and can be potentially classed as an album of new material as the songs are given a new life. The song choices are very bold and have been composed by some very reputable artists, but Peter Gabriel has never been the type of artist to compromise on his vision.
One of the highlights here is "Heroes" as it provides a majestic opening to the album with a full blown orchestra and powerful strings. "The Boy In The Bubble" is much gentler and emotionally intense with a simple piano and a gentle soothing cello playing in the background. This contrast of classical arrangements works in the context of this release. "Mirrorball" is another beautifully constructed song with intense and captivating string arrangements providing exciting variation in the melody. "Flume" represents the quiet before the storm with soft vocals from Peter in the verses and the use of his more plaintive tone in the chorus, helping to build the song to a crescendo. "Listening Wind" is very dark and sombre, adding magic and an element of bitter sweet passion so present in Peter's own compositions. "The Power Of Your Heart" has a very sentimental and spine tingling orchestral arrangement which suits Peter like a glove and is another highlight. "My Body Is A Cage" is another dark and atmospheric track which builds into a a mini symphony of sounds combined with deep hypnotising vocals. "The Book Of Love" is very endearing with a sweet melody and arrangements and ends up being the third highlight. "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" is a very quiet and gentle piano led ballad focussing on the beauty of the lyrics and melody. "Apres Moi" is a tormented yet vulnerable song with some fascinating arrangements. "Philadephia" and "Street Spirit" are probably my least favourite compositions on here as they are less emotional than the other songs, but they still have quality arrangements.
"Scratch My Back" is therefore a very strong return to music for Peter and the songs that he has chosen to interpret in such a way certainly allow him to reinvent his musical style and remind us once again that he is a very interesting and original artist with a unique style.
on 1 March 2010
Listened to this several times now and it's really disappointing. I'm struggling to listen to the whole thing from start to finish without wishing to press the off button! The only tracks that really grab me are "Listening Wind" where we see Peter's phrasing at its best a la "Games Without Frontiers" and the beginning of "The Boy In The Bubble" where the words take on a whole new meaning. "Street Spirit" though is utterly dreadful (I've never been keen on the original either so what chance did PG have!) and "Mirrorball" fails to move me and is a pale shadow of the original. "Heroes" - poor, very monotonous, "Philadelphia" - listen to Neil Young's version instead, much better. A few of the others have started to grow on me - "Flume" especially gets better with each listen (the original is excellent but not as good as "Re: Stacks" by Bon Iver - what a wonderful song - anyone who has not heard this should give it a listen) as does "My Body Is A Cage" and "The Book Of Love" - so hope springs eternal!
This is by far the most dissappointing Gabriel release of his entire career in my opinion and I'm a big big Gabriel fan - I'm now pissed off with him for two reasons - his stubborness to reform the classic line-up and this, what is in the main "very depressing durge!"
The worse thing is I've paid the £150 to see him live at the O2, so have to sit through 2 hrs of this and the soundcheck too!
on 22 January 2010
The thought of the innovative Peter Gabriel going down the route of a covers album seemed worrying to me for such a forward looking and creative artist however having heard much of this through the download in support of Haiti and the podcasts from Gabriel's website, it turns out that this is a mini-masterpiece of cleverly crafted music and vocals, which sounds at times like Gabriel back in Genesis and his early solo periods, though you can pick out elements of music and styles throughout his career.
Bowie's 'Heroes' is an absolutely standout track and though the words are the same as used on the 1977 release, its a totally different song in terms of sound and feel, and this appears to be the case througout the album.
Gabriel has clearly carefully chosen a set of songs that can flow together and sound like a Gabriel album and to me this is his best album in decades. It has songs from great artists that include Elbow, Neil Young, Radiohead and the Paul Simon that I could never understand would work together and sound cohesive and often these sombre renditions remind me of some of songs from 'Ovo', e.g. 'Downside Up'.
I truly hope it gets enough airplay so that the 'man (or woman) on the street' doesn't miss out on this great album as IMHO it truly is a return to form for Peter Gabriel, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
I don't understand some of the reviews on this page by people who seem to buy music like baked beans or toothpaste. Music should surprise us, disturb us, even. And this album does just that - not by means of pyrotechnics or production tricks, but by means of some stripped-down, subtly emotional readings of other artists' songs, delivered in a mercilessly exposed voice which sometimes cracks, sometimes whispers, sometimes coos and only occasionally resorts to grandstanding. The instrumentation is orchestral (sometimes piano) and there's little in the way of production trickery or genre stylings. This is naked music, a great interpreter of song sparingly, sometimes startlingly framed. Most shocking of all are the radical reworkings of two very well-known modern anthems - David Bowie's Heroes and Radiohead's Street Spirit. The latter almost stopped my heart.
Thankfully, this is no carbon-copy cover-song album. Gabriel has stripped each song down to its bare bones, banned guitars and drums, and made his vocals as raw as possible. The result is intriguing, especially when the only arrangements are for accompaniments of piano and orchestra.
These have been superbly done, largely by someone new to me, called John Metcalfe. Many of the orchestral arrangements reminded me of contemporary American composer John Adams (especially `Heroes', `Mirrorball' and `Listening Wind'), but there is also room for music akin to a Bach cello study (`The Boy in the Bubble') and an adagio or two for brass band (`Flume').
Since Gabriel chose these tracks for their strength qua songs, I have reviewed them as such. And since prior to listening to this CD I only knew one of them anyway (`Heroes'), there really was no choice anyway. Many of the names of the original performers and writers of these songs are unknown to me. (I gave up on pop/rock in 1990 when I realised there very little new to be said and that most of the industry was a cynical money-making exercise repeating what had been done in the previous generation.)
Most of the songs `work', and there are some wonderful lyrics that are new to me: "We kissed like we invented it" from `Mirrorball' and "The book of love is long and boring ... It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing" (`Book of Love'). Gabriel's rendition of `Listening Wind' was going round my head for a week or two - it's probably still there - as did his deadpan rendition of `My Body Is a Cage'.
Some songs qua songs fail to inspire; the worst follow on from each other towards the album's end - `I think It's Going to Rain Today', `Apres Moi', and `Philadelphia'. The worst is `Apres Moi', a poor song with embarrassing lyrics. And yet the song with the most embarrassing lyrics of all turns out to be the best of the whole set.
I speak of Lou Reed's `The Power of the Heart'. On first listening, I thought the song was awful, ludicrous, mortifying, its lyrics faux naïve and the repeat of the song's title inane. But, its clever arrangement and the way Gabriel sings it with commitment and sincerity is ultimately very touching. I almost cried. (Almost.)
In conclusion, Andy Gill in `The Independent', was right when he wrote, "Overall it's a fascinating exercise in musical refurbishment, one whose dominant moods of resignation, anxiety and melancholy reflect the uneasy tenor of the times as much as they do Peter Gabriel's own character."
`Scratch My Back' is Peter Gabriel's new orchestral covers album and it has a very gentle, introspective pace to it. The theory is that he covers various artists work and they will return the favour to offer us another album of Gabriel covers later on. He has also deliberately chosen to forego the use of drums and guitar, the theory being that these self imposed restrictions will encourage creativity overall as they are worked around. To be honest the album opener `Heroes' left me pretty cold and although I enjoy the original `The Boy in The Bubble', the version on offer here doesn't do it full justice. It isn't until the 4th, 5th and 6th tracks that this album comes into its own and `Flume', `Listening Wind' and `The Power of the Heart' all offer up some moving piano and orchestral playing, accompanied by Gabriel's own unique, almost fragile vocals. In fact, his vocals suit this raw, pared back style of music perfectly. This album has got a slight melancholy feel to it throughout and if you are a fan of his previous work then this may be lacking in a certain passion at times. But taken on face value, and with repeated listening, this album offers up some inspired reworking of other artists tracks and although it has been a long time in the making (Gabriel is renowned now for his long gestation periods between albums) it is still a credible addition to his catalogue of music. I do, however, have to agree with other reviewers who hanker for the delights of `Up' and hope this will be forthcoming soon. This special edition CD has an additional disc with four extra tracks on it, three from the album that are remixed and `Waterloo Sunset'. Although they are good, they are very similar to the album versions and you don't get much more for your money and this isn't the best value special edition I have ever come across. But for big fans of Peter Gabriel that want to experience all his latest album has to offer it goes without saying you should buy this.
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on 3 February 2010
I listened to this album and then read the reviews. I cannot believe the blinkered view that because there were no drums and guitars that the album is worthless and miserable and depressing. Crikey, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc were miserable and morose, but still brilliant. Gabriel does not do what the normal artiste to record a covers album does. He doesn't imitate, although imitation is a sincere form of flattery. What he does do is to create his own take on the song, as in Heroes, not doing a Bowie cover like Oasis did (with their drums & guitars, sic). The Elbow cover is fantastic and would probably have praise heaped upon it by the band themselves following their concert with the Halle.
My particular favourite is Philadelphia where Gabriel achieves the impossible, by out-performing Neil Young's original version. I love the brass band sound that accompanies it.
I implore you. Listen to the album, listen to the MUSIC then feel the ambience the songs and arrangements create. It is somewhat morose; but that can be construed as 'atmospheric'. I certainly love listening to it late at night, surround speakers on with a nice red wine and decent company.