Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Peter Gabriel's several-years-in-the-making project of cover versions has finally been finished, although not because of his delay this time.  The idea was for him to cover some of his favourite songs, and then the writers of those would cover one of his.  Gabriel finished his first, but some dilly-dallying by the others meant that he had to put out his covers first, three years back, as Scratch My Back.  Now we get part two, artists covering Gabriel, called And I'll Scratch Yours.  For those who didn't get the first album, you can also buy a deluxe package that includes both CD's.

Gabriel took great liberties when he covered the others, first deciding there would be no drums or guitars, and then making everything with an orchestra.  This actually had a dramatic and interesting effect on songs such as Paul Simon's Boy In The Bubble, Talking Heads' Listening Wind, and Arcade Fire's My Body Is A Cage.  These are dramatic reinterpretations, perhaps not bettering the originals but certainly giving us another, usually satisfying view of the song.

His fellow songsmiths didn't have to follow the same rules about the drums and guitars and orchestra, and some of their versions don't really change the songs all that much.  Arcade Fire give us a pretty recognizable Games Without Frontiers, and Elbow's Mercy Street is much the same, and less effective than Gabriel's original.  But most got the spirit of the project, and personalized the songs.  Poignantly, there's a Lou Reed number here, toughening up the prog-ish Solsbury Hill, a surprising choice from the late urban tough guy.  David Byrne does a suitably Byrne-esque number on I Don't Remember, amping up the paranoia and dance.  Regina Spektor sings Blood Of Eden straight and strong, and I like the plain treatment, focusing on the lyrics.  Biko is one of Gabriel's most respected songs, and Paul Simon, no stranger to South Africa, makes it modern folk.  Most surprising is Randy Newman's take on Big Time, which, without changing the lyrics, now sounds exactly like Randy Newman wrote it.

Two of hoped-for participants didn't come through.  Gabriel had covered Radiohead and Neil Young on Scratch My Back, but something stood in the way of their further involvement.  Subbing are Joseph Arthur, doing justice to Shock The Monkey, and a cool collaboration between Feist and Timber Timbre on Don't Give Up.  That more than makes up for Radiosnooze, but I would have killed to hear Crazy Horse tackle Sledgehammer.

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