Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: 20 Watts Radio, album reviews, Bon Iver, David Bowie, justin vernon, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Releases of the Week, Rod Stewart, San Francisco, Sarah MacLachlan, Scratch My Back
PREVIEW: VISIT Peter Gabriel’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 7/20 Watts
Ah, the covers album. It seems like once some artists hit a certain age, they become incapable of writing any more tunes, and instead just dive into something resembling The Great American Songbook a la Rod Stewart. I’m not quite sure, however, whether they do it for their own artistic fulfillment or just to seem relevant in the increasingly schizophrenic music culture. From the looks of Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel‘s entry into the canon of career-turning/stomach-turning albums (your pick), he’s aiming heavily at the latter.
One has to wonder what he was thinking. The tracks here span the last thirty years of music, touching on indie, as well as more mainstream hits from all over the map. Gabriel actually had the stones to follow up a low-key rendition of Sarah McLachlan‘s “Mirrorball” with an equally low-key “Flume,” by Bon Iver. He even goes so far as to finish the album with another slow, piano driven track — his version of Radiohead‘s “Street Spirit (Fade Out).”
Come to think of it, the entire album is a slow burner. Every song’s structure is exactly the same. Like Gabriel decided he wanted a “feel” for the album, and as a result decided on only piano and strings, then told his accompanists: “Go into the next room, make 12 tracks of you building to a crescendo, and we have the album half done.” The next day he probably came in, did every song in one shot, then fired off the album to his label.
However, there is also potential here. The tracks are beautifully arranged, but as mentioned, they’re also brain-bustingly tedious. Some songs are interestingly revealing in performance, especially that of Paul Simon‘s “The Boy In The Bubble.” At the same time, he still decided that for one reason or another, the world needed another cover of David Bowie‘s “Heroes.” The fact is it’s unnecessary, especially as an overwrought orchestral piece from Gabriel.
The reason a cover exists is to breathe new life into a tune (or tunes) we love, to look at songs that have stood the test of time in a new light. Here, Gabriel soaks these tracks in overblown pomposity and pretentious orchestrations, then expects us to come out to his “Orchestral Tour” that he’s currently hawking to support the release. In short, it’s lazy, relatively uninspired, and almost always boring. Instead, I found myself going back to the safety and comfort of the original compositions, then going back to when Gabriel made his own awesome music.
Peter, you know you’re better than this album. Look at the dance moves you used to have. Bring them back my friend, we all miss them, and you.
— Dan Creahan