Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Peter Gabriel - "Scratch My Back"

10-02-17 Picture 001

It arrived this morning! Peter Gabriel's new album "Scratch My Back." I got the Special Edition, because I am a geek and I love Peter's stuff So Hard.

I'm going to tell you all about it.

The concept is simple - it's a covers album. In fact, it's a collaborative covers album. Eventually, there will be a partner piece (or pieces) where the artists covered by Peter on this album will take their turn at covering one of his songs. Peter has chosen to work solely with an orchestra for this piece - no guitars, drums or keyboards. A bold move? Maybe, but this is an artist who has never subscribed to the musical mainstream, thank God.

A small aside - I've noted a few reviews which have been rather negative on the covers aspect of this album, almost hinting at a cop-out. I must disagree. This is a truly collaborative project, and therefore ties in with a great deal of his existing work - after all, Real World was partly brought into existence by his collaboration with world music artists. Big Blue Ball is another example, and he has featured on several albums by other Real World artists. I don't really see the cop-out angle, particularly when you actually listen to the album. And as new PG albums are rarer than a rare thing, anything new from Box is to be heartily welcomed.

So, what is it like?

In a word...exquisite. Beautifully crafted, elegant, sparse and melancholy. No over-production here - this is stripped-out, just vocals and orchestra with nothing to interfere between the listener and Peter's voice. There is an honesty to this recording - every nuance, every creak is there. It's almost like a single-take vocal in places, and is the better for it. I think with good headphones this could seriously blow your mind.

I will be honest. I believe Peter to be the finest male vocalist out there. Incredibly sexy, expressive and with one hell of a range. Having seen him live a few times, if anything his live performance is even more stunning, and I would love to experience this album live. Sadly, finances do not permit, so I hope a DVD will be in the offing.

The couple of songs which I'm familiar with have come so far from their origins that they are almost unrecognisable. Which is a good thing - not because of any failings with the originals, but because they have been stripped down and rebuilt all around the songwriting. They demonstrate that a really great song can work however you choose to interpret it.

There is a real intensity here - this is not an upbeat album. It is decidedly brooding in places, yet in others soars to an almost devotional sound. The clarity and expression in his voice really shows through - hopefully, some new listeners will come to share my high opinion of his vocals.

Highly recommended. Five stars.

So Peter, when's the next album due?


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