Other Voices 007

Saturday, 05 October 2013

And I’ll Scratch Yours is the follow-up to Peter Gabriel’s 2010 album of cover songs, Scratch My Back. Here, most of the artists covered on that disc [released in 2010 -ed] return the favor, playing Gabriel songs.

Okay, I love cover songs. I love Peter Gabriel. I love most of the artists featured here. So I love this album. Still, I recognize that I'll Scratch Yours has its weaknesses.

What I really love about cover songs is when an artist takes someone else’s song and makes it their own. That's where the entertainment in such an endeavor is for me; when they do something new and unexpected with it. If they’re just going to play the song straight, why even bother?

So my problem with And I’ll Scratch Yours is that too few of these artists radically re-imagine the songs here. Part of that may be that Gabriel is such a unique songwriter; no matter what another musician does with his material, it is still identifiable. Unlike, say, Dylan or Springsteen, he doesn’t work in a standard folk/blues structure that can be easily manipulated, altered, and reclaimed.

Still, there are enough interesting takes here to make this disc more than worthwhile. Joseph Arthur slows “Shock the Monkey” down to a dirge which has far more menace than the original. Both Lou Reed and Brian Eno do something similar with “Solisbury Hill” and “Mother of Violence,” respectively. Both of them discover a layer of anger missing in the originals. I will admit I find this a bit surprising, as I already considered Gabriel a pretty dark songwriter. That other musicians can make his songs even darker is a pleasant surprise. (As a side note, it is interesting that on the original Scratch My Back, Gabriel toned down and smoothed out such songs as Bowie’s “Heroes” and Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble.”)

A couple of musicians do go in the opposite direction. Stephen Merritt turns “Not One of Us” into a playful ditty. And Randy Newman truly makes “Big Time” his own; as he sings it, it sounds much more like a Randy Newman tune than a Peter Gabriel one (especially when he jokes at the end, “My ass is getting bigger… big time”).

Still, even those version which don’t stray too far from the originals are great listens (at least if you’re a Gabriel fan). And for the same reason they don’t stray — his songs have their own character. They still sound great in someone else’s voice, and the various nuances the artists do bring to them further enrich them.

The one big disappointment of the album, however, is not anything on it. It’s what’s not there. Three artists declined to participate – David Bowie, Neil Young and Radiohead. Personally, I would have loved to hear what they would have done with Gabriel’s work.

Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine: Peter Gabriel –
And I'll Scratch Yours [Review]



"And I'll Scratch Yours"
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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