Album review: Peter Gabriel, "Scratch My Back"
By Allison Stewart
It's supposed to go something like this: Peter Gabriel records an album of covers ("Scratch My Back," out today) of songs by artists who, in turn, cover Gabriel's songs on a second album ("I'll Scratch Yours," release date unknown).
The odds of getting every musician to hold up their end of the bargain are slim, and there are already reports that Thom Yorke is balking, though he may just be unhappy that Gabriel took Radiohead's most depressing song, "Street Spirit," and somehow made it even more funereal, which couldn't have been easy. Gabriel, possibly the greatest pop artist no longer regularly making pop albums, turns most of these well-curated, exquisitely made tracks into dirges, even when doing so is a very, very bad idea.
(Bleak and bleaker, after the jump.)
"Scratch My Back" uses only pianos and orchestral instruments (no guitars or drums), and favors arrangements that start slow, swell into full orchestral passages and then slow down again. It's a treatment intended to bring out the fine-boned individuality of these songs; instead, it makes them all sound the same - draggy and sad, monuments to their own excessive solemnity. Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble," previously exuberant and perfect, is now sluggish and leaden; it isn't reworked, it's euthanized.
David Bowie's "Heroes" is similarly bleak. Only Bon Iver's "Flume" escapes unscathed.
"Scratch My Back" fares better when the songs soar instead of drag. A cover of the Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love" matches the original; "The Power of the Heart" resembles the theme to a late-'90s Disney movie, probably the only time this will ever be said of a Lou Reed song.
Recommended tracks: "Flume," "The Book of Love"
March 2, 2010; 7:45 AM ET
Categories: Quick spins | Tags: Peter Gabriel
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