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Peter Gabriel

Crossover Prog

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4 stars All Quiet on the Western Front.

This new work by Peter Gabriel's old glories with us again dressed differently. After the CD is ready to come out on DVD / Blu-ray concert in March at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. Marketing? One would think. is the reinterpretation of the orchestral repertoire classic. Of course the music is. Of course Peter's voice is superb. Sure. But fans of Peter Gabriel waited another nine years. A new job. New songs. New ideas.

To make the team play there is the arranger John Metcalfe and the "New Blood Orchestra," composed of more than forty elements and directed by Ben Foster. God forbid! Peter knows how to do things big. It 'a master. There are cornets and trumpets and strings. But there are no traditional instruments. Those were the basis and the magic of San Jacinto or Rhythm of the Heat. But there is a new magic. A new dress and elegant atmosphere.

In Bath there is peace. The peace of the hills. The silence of the lakes. The old Piper observes all this. There, where once he imagined the future. Now he has to imagine the past.

After the live albums and collections of old songs. Having stripped and covered things on which we have dreamed. Now we are waiting to see where it's going Peter. The time passes. We can not wait ten years for each new album. Every time.

Mind, Peter is always Peter.

Report this review (#555111)
Posted Sunday, October 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have loved Gabriel's music for many years now, both with Genesis and in a solo career that has produced some exceptional music, although not nearly enough of it. This is the first studio album released by Gabriel from his own material since 2002's Up, and is, as with 2010's Scratch My Back, an album of orchestral interpretation, this time with Gabriel's songs rather than others.

For those of us who believe he is akin to genius, the question has to be asked, can you possibly improve on the original recordings? Is it possible to bring new focus to songs that we have enjoyed for many years now?

By and large, the answer is an unequivocal yes, although I must state that it does not work throughout the album. There are some very disappointing moments, and perhaps it might be better to deal with those first.

Don't Give Up is the biggest disappointment of the year to me. Whilst it was always going to be a thankless task for any vocalist to fill the (Big Red) shoes of Kate Bush, I'm afraid that Ane Brun comes nowhere near. It really doesn't work at all. Her voice lacks the sheer passion of the original, and the orchestration does not add one jot to the original, which was an orchestral piece anyway. It really is quite horrible, and a massive disappointment.

Digging In The Dirt lacks the sheer intensity of the source material, and for once the orchestration fails to match or exceed the darkness of the original. The vocals are stripped back far too much. It's good (you cannot really fail with material this strong), but it is only really at the close that I find myself taking a great deal of notice.

A Quite Moment is the "what's the point of this?" moment on the album. Almost five minutes of bird song, and nothing else, is a pleasant way to spend some time, but I really cannot see the point at all.

Lastly, that all time classic, Solsbury Hill, surprisingly, does not translate at all well to this format, and this was strikingly seen on the Jools Holland live sessions on BBC 2, where Red Rain was majestic, and this was, well, plodding and slow.

Those are the gripes over. Elsewhere, there is much to celebrate on this album, with some magnificent reworkings of excellent pieces of music.

Opener, Rhythm of the Heat is very strong. The orchestra adds a menacing tone, and lilts strongly during the "The rhythm has my soul" sequence. The backing vocals are far more sparse than the original, and the strings are more than adequate substitutes for the drum troupe found on the original, and the full orchestra builds to a huge climax.

Downside Up is simply beautiful, and, with daughter Melanie sharing the vocal duties, closer to the excellent live version than the rather limp original on OVO. She has the most gorgeous voice, and an oboe adds a lovely poignancy to proceedings. Strings back gently before taking centre stage and adding a whole new intensity to the song. The closing sequence on the original album is cut short on this version.

San Jacinto is just as wonderful here as it is on the original, a true highlight of an exceptional musical career. The complex music is tailor made for orchestration, and the intricate woodwind and percussion mid-section is wonderful to hear. Gabriel himself has rarely sounded better vocally, and the hairs are raised at the denouement. A pure classic, whatever the version.

Intruder is incredible here. The staccato use of strings and brass manage to make this version even more creepy than the synths and drum machine utilised on the original. This is a truly imaginative reworking of a highlight of Gabriel's commercial breakthrough album. The denouement brings forth a massive wall of sound that leaves you breathless.

Wallflower is probably my favourite Gabriel solo song. The orchestra doesn't really add anything new here, although the gentle piano utilised most certainly does, but, in this instance, I don't care. The song's fragile beauty and tribute to brave souls the world over will work whichever version you put on, and the backing vocals do really add a whole new beautiful dimension to proceedings. The close of the track was made for violins crying, and it doesn't disappoint. Melanie again shines in the main conclusion.

In Your Eyes is bright, bouncy, and the orchestration is wonderful at the start, a startling contrast to the somewhat moody passage on So. This mood returns when Gabriel enters the fray, but Melanie again backs wonderfully, and the whole song is far closer in mood and execution to the live version, and a joy to listen to, a reaffirmation of life and love. I don't even miss Youssou N'Dour when I hear this.

Mercy Street is wonderful to listen to again, with the female lead adding a great deal, certainly given the subject matter.

Red Rain is the surprise package of the album. The orchestra takes the pace of the original to both new heights and a supreme show of noise. This is bright, sunny, and rises to an almost impossible intensity prior to the almost silent close.

Darkness is rather more understated than the original. Dark and brooding, I love Gabriel's new gravel like take on the vocals, but also love the sunshine the flute brings to the brighter passages.

Lastly, The Nest That Sailed The Sky is a beautiful instrumental with soundscapes which take me back to Passion, which, to me, is the highlight of the great man's career. A delicate piano and backdrops create a loving, mournful pastiche.

So, there we are. Not a masterpiece, but, the weaker tracks aside, close to it. Really, though, with such material, you really can't fail.

The most obvious quibble, though, is the fact that it has been ten years now since we had a genuine Gabriel album of wholly original material. It's far too long. I know his old man is still alive on the cusp of 100, but, really, he needs to get a move on. There is clearly so much left in him to bring us, I hope he does so before it is too late.

3.5 stars if we had such a rating, but rounded up to four stars, an excellent addition to any prog rock collection, simply because the highs are sublime, and the lows do not really detract that much from the overall pleasure of this album, Don't Give Up aside.

Report this review (#636619)
Posted Monday, February 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Making the followup to Scratch My Back into what's essentially an "orchestral self- covers" album may show a disappointing lack of ambition, but this is a much more enjoyable album than its predecessor nonetheless. As on the last album, Peter follows a strict no percussion allowed, piano-and-orchestra-only rule (except for the weirdly out of place new track, "A Quiet Moment," which is some sort of ambient track I guess), but he makes one major improvement from his previous approach: instead of trying to cram all of the material into the same downbeat, ultra-minimalist, dirge-like mode that dominated Scratch My Back, he allows the arrangements to take on the same rich tapestry of atmospheres that made most of these tracks so enjoyable in the first place. There's some melancholy and darkness, sure, but there's also majesty and joy, and the result is that the album is a far less oppressive experience than its predecessor. Plus, Peter ends up finding some rather innovative solutions to the problem of how to handle the "no drums allowed" constraint when dealing with tracks that had once been percussion-heavy: "The Rhythm of the Heat," "Intruder" and "Digging in the Dirt" especially deserve high marks in this regard.

The song selection is fairly unpredictable for such an endeavour, and takes this album beyond the glorified greatest hits affair that it could have been. Security gets a surprising three tracks; aside from the aforementioned "Rhythm," the album also includes remakes of "San Jacinto" (no worse than the original) and "Wallflower" (extremely moving, and enough to lift my feelings towards the original a bit). The selections from So aren't as surprising, but we still get a lovely "Mercy Street" in addition to the fairly predictable "Red Rain" (lovely), "In Your Eyes" (cheerful but a little overlong) and "Don't Give Up" (arrrrrrrrrrgh). III gets the aforementioned "Intruder," OVO has two interesting selections in "Downside Up" and "The Nest That Sailed the Sky," Up gets "Darkness" (a little sillier in its melodrama here than in the original, but still fine), and of course the album ends with "Solsbury Hill" (lots of fun). This isn't a perfect setlist, but it's not a bad one either

If there's a general drawback to the album aside from the feel that it's mildly redundant, it's that Peter's daughter Melanie, featured on many tracks as one of the female backing vocalists (and serving as the sole one on "Downside Up") hasn't improved much since the Growing Up Live DVD, where she was a slight embarrassment. On the other hand, Ane Brun contributes some fantastic backing vocals, and this balances out the Melanie weakness fairly well. In the end, this album probably turned out about as well as it could have, and while it's a little pointless, it's still a blast to listen to a couple of times. Casual fans need not bother, but hardcore fans will probably enjoy this plenty.

Report this review (#776243)
Posted Saturday, June 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars As an old fan (solo as well as early Genesis) of him who quite liked "Scratch my Back" but loves most of his original stuff I wasn't too enthusiastic when I heard about Peter re-doing the orchestral thing. The good thing is, I bought "New Blood" nonetheless (luckily in the special edition as it was an special offer - luckily, because the almost instrumental CD2 really can stand for itself, just the orchestra minus Peter's voice! The arrangements of Maestro Metcalfe are that good!)

With "Scratch..." Peter made perfectly clear that he certainly wasn't going for the rock star with orchestra noodleing behind him cliché but that - albeit good - effort is easily excelled by the majestic "New Blood". I'm not going into details (as another reviewer so nicely did before) but John Metcalfe's orchestration perfectly match Peter's song which shine (er, in fact, most of the time, they shine quite darkly) in their new incarnations. The whole emotional spectrum is covered from the tender "Don't Give Up", the incredible sad beauty of "Mercy Street" (always one of my all-time faves) to the the thrilling "Intruder" or "Darkness". Not to forget the more upbeat songs/arrangements! The blending of African percussion and "western" orchestra (of which Peter prouded himself in an interview) works amazingly well on these.

The songs are infused with new blood, indeed! Wonderful re-interpretations of his well known songs (by the way, this is not intended to be a greatest hits collection! ). His singing is outstanding as always, most of the time quite dark and sombre but if need be he reaches the high notes easily enough for the, er, mature man he is!

As some of you might have wandered about the ambient "A Quiet Moment" with it's birds and environment sounds: If I recall the interview I read correctl, Peter didn't want to include "Solsbury Hill" but people kept asking. He felt, that it didn't fit in well between the other songs and liked "The Nest..." too much as program closer. Thus, in true peter-like fashion he added some minutes of environment sound recorded on or by the one and onely Solsbury Hill and after that, finally, we get the reworked version of "Solsbury Hill".

4 stars, excellent addition to any prog collection. In its own realm of "prog artist backed by an orchestra" easily 5 stars as an stand-out reference. Orchestra haters might make it 2 stars or less, nevertheless.

One last word: In my special edition I also found an download coupon leading me to an 24bit-FLAC version hosted by the honorable "Society of Sound". Well, if you have the equipment to play this (basically a computer with a good sound card or one of this multi media player streamer thingies) try to get your hands on that one. Sounds brilliant, much better than 16bit-CD.

Report this review (#818556)
Posted Tuesday, September 11, 2012 | Review Permalink

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