Peter Gabriel – [Album]

Tuesday, 01 October 2013

I love it when I’m right, and by that, in this case, I mean that my own interpretation of this album was not disturbingly off track from what other reviewers have been saying. It shows that, despite my being an irregular and non-committed music reviewer, I’ve still got the knack for sussing out some reality, or truth of opinion with my own mental skills. Regardless, if I thought the opposite of what other writers thought I’d be forthright in telling you that too. Now, onto dissecting I'll Scratch Yours – a strange attempt by various artists to reinterpret some Peter Gabriel songs.

I listened to this CD at least a half a dozen times before I looked to see what anyone else had to say about it. Right from the beginning I knew that there was something amiss, but I couldn't decide if it was that the collection of artists chosen for this project were not old enough to have really grasped Gabriel’s music; both the stuff he first started with while in Genesis as well as the emotional energy (particularly the malaise) that is at the heart of his music. That theory seemed sound at first, but cracked a little bit when I saw the balance of the age of the artists. There were the artists under thirty, and then there are artists here who are over fifty. The over-fifty crowd should have given better renditions of his tunes than the under-thirties did, but none of them gave anything as gripping in return as what the originals were punched full of.

So it turns out that this was a two-part project arranged between Gabriel, who first covered the songs of a selection of artists, and other artists who were then going to return the favor of covering his songs. Gabriel states that the project should have been an “exercise in (amenable) mutual interpretation," thus the titles of the two collections of songs combine to form the phrase, “Scratch my back…” "And I’ll Scratch Yours”.

Gabriel made his album of interpretations (which I sadly have not heard yet) and sufficiently disappointed the other participants, many of which abandoned the project entirely. Those who remained piped in simple, half-hearted renditions of his songs which are real disappointments for any fans of his original music. On first listen, I really felt like this must have been a joke, on someone, which is really stupid. No one should compromise the quality of their work in return for what must have seemed like a half-assed attempt by Gabriel (again, I have not heard SMB so can’t tell you what I thought of his covers)….

In theory, here is what I think may have happened. Peter Gabriel is not the man, or genius artist that he was when he recorded his solo albums all those many years ago. He has transformed since then into an orchestral themed interpreter of what was once quite original and hard-biting expressions of what his mind and heart revealed to himself of the world. And so he has made new music, these covers for bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire, that do not have the verve and intensity that his originals reverberated with but which now reflect his current spirit. I think that Radiohead and Arcade Fire were expecting him to make music that echoed his youthful intensity and character, but were saddened to see that Gabriel views the world now as a wearied, wizened and reclusive artist that no longer is truly in touch with the “current vibes”…

Okay, now to the actual music. Some of the songs on “And I’ll Scratch Yours” do work sufficiently enough at carrying over some of young Gabriel’s angst. David Byrne’s rendition of “I Don’t Remember” filters in enough of his own wackiness to add a slightly out of tune twinge to his vocals which bring in some facsimile of the despair Gabriel’s original was rife with. The synth and drum machine supporting background though are an embarrassment for the quality of pounding emotion that Byrne’s musicianship could have brought through here.

Joseph Arthur’s interpretation of “Shock The Monkey” is heartfelt and esoterically layered enough in emotions of dismay and desperation to ensure the listener that he actually enjoyed the original tune. I actually do not listen enough to Arcade Fire to know if their quality of music is any more serious or complex than what they fluffed off here on us as a childish duplication of the original. Happily for this listener, the songs that sound the furthest from the originals were dared upon us by the ballsy Brian Eno and Lou Reed. Taking artistic license in projects like this should be a golden rule not to be broken. Eno’s “Mother Of Violence” sounds nothing like the original, equally as missing matching the original is Reed’s interpretation of “Solsbury Hill." I don’t think these two were abusing their right to reinterpret the originals, but were gifting us with enough veracity of their own originality to make the new versions, “newer”.

Not an album I’d suggest running out to buy unless you are a collector of all-things-Gabriel, or if you feel adventurous enough to subject yourself to multiple listenings like I did to get this clear of an insight into the disaster of what could have been a much greater outcome if perhaps, the interpreters had tried to really see and hear what it was that Gabriel was really feeling when he interpreted their songs. There should have been more conversation between them all.



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

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