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Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

2.91 | 220 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars This is dangerously close to being a very bad album, and I really wish somebody had been able to talk some sense into Peter as he put this together. In the midst of sorting through dozens of unfinished songs, Peter decided he would take a break and do an album of covers. The idea behind Scratch My Back was that he would do covers of songs by various artists he liked, and then they in turn would cover songs Peter had done, and there could be two albums, Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours out in stores at the same time. In trying to bring this idea to fruition, though, Peter made a major strategic error: he failed to account for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, not everybody on his list of artists would have the time or inclination to cover a Peter Gabriel song, at this late a date, just because he wanted them to. If he really wanted to make this happen, he should have gotten twelve artists on board with agreements to do HIS songs first, and then pick songs from those who volunteered for the task. While some of the corresponding artists came through (Magnetic Fields did a rousing "Not One of Us," and the Paul Simon cover of "Biko" is quite lovely), half of them didn't, and the whole process made Peter look a little foolish.

Not as foolish as the contents of the album, though. Peter decided to impose a restriction on himself - no guitars of any kind, and no drums - and while this could have led to interesting synth layerings intertwined with orchestral elements, Peter uses orchestration almost the entire time (with a very small amount of piano here and there). So that makes this into an orchestral covers album, which doesn't really seem all that impressive when I remember the pleasant-but-mediocre Justin Hayward solo album, Classic Blue, from 20 years earlier. Of course, there is a significant difference between this album and that one; Peter deconstructs a lot of the material into sombre, dirge-like interpretations of the originals, with the melodies stripped down so far they start to lose their melodic core. The worst offender, and the one that I unfortunately heard first, is the closing "Street Spirit" (originally from Radiohead), where Peter almost enters William Shatner territory. It's AWFUL, and makes a higher grade totally out of the question.

There are, I admit, some tracks where I find myself enjoying things a bit. The opening ""Heroes"," where Peter starts on the, "I, I wish you could swim ..." verse, makes this sound like a promising experience, and the cover of Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love" turns a moderately silly song into a moderately melancholy song, to surprisingly good effect. The cover of Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" nails the atmosphere of the original dead on despite having (obviously) a totally different arrangement, and ... uh ..."Mirrorball" (by a band called Elbow) sounds pretty. On the other hand, the rest of the album ranges from fairly unremarkable to really tacky (the bombastic parts of "My Body is a Cage" by Arcade Fire, though the softer parts are kinda nice, or all of "Apres moi" by Regina Spektor).

On the whole, pretty much the only consistent positive is that, even when he's doing an ill- conceived project, Peter's voice is still as addictive as ever, and a large part of me feels happy to have one more medium in which to hear him. But even his voice can't save this: this may have been a project Peter totally believed in and poured his heart into, but when I hear this, I think of David St. Hubbins and his desire to record a few of his acoustic songs with the London Symphony Orchestra. After 40 years, Peter finally made a mediocre album.

tarkus1980 | 2/5 |


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