…And I’ll Scratch Yours

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel Ltd., 2013

http://www.petergabriel.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/05/2018

In 2010, Peter Gabriel recorded an album of songs he liked by 12 different artists, six of his generation and six of the next generation, releasing it as Scratch My Back. The intent was that, in return, those same 12 artists would record a Peter Gabriel song in what was essentially a tribute album.

That didn’t quite happen in the timeframe Gabriel envisioned, and in that three-year period Radiohead and Neil Young dropped out, so they had to be swapped, but otherwise the project went off as planned. The problem? It’s still a tribute album, and there’s really no such thing as a good tribute album. This one is just a handful of decent covers and other songs that are head-scratchingly mediocre.

Most of the selections picked are Gabriel’s more somber, reflective pieces, and many are not likely to be known to the casual fan (who wouldn’t really be interested in this anyway). The album therefore is quite slow and, at times, a chore to sit through. Joseph Arthur turns “Shock The Monkey” into a tortured, drum-free dirge, Randy Newman butchers “Big Time” by turning it into some sort of vaudeville caterwaul, and Feist slows down “Don’t Give Up” to the speed of molasses on a winter day. Stephen Merritt also turns in an annoying, repetitive take on “Not One Of Us” that is best not heard.nbtc__dv_250

Worst of all, Lou Reed completely destroys “Solsbury Hill” by making it an electric-guitar drone, pitching it at half the speed of the original and drunkenly slurring the lyrics without a care to what they actually meant. It’s a low point for the song, for Reed and for Gabriel’s creation.

So what works? Arcade Fire’s version of “Games Without Frontiers” keeps the spirit of the original but adds more atmospheric doom befitting the anti-war lyrics. David Byrne takes “I Don’t Remember” in a more danceable direction but with his nervy personality grafted on, and it’s a good choice to open the disc. Regina Spektor also does well by “Blood Of Eden.”

Elbow’s “Mercy Street” and Brian Eno’s “Mother Of Violence” are both slow dirges that just take up space without offering anything, but Paul Simon’s take on “Biko” acquits nearly everything on the disc, closing the proceedings with an acoustic take on the protest song. It’s that rare case that, in my opinion, is an improvement on the original and will make you hear the intent of the song differently. I get that maybe this is what the other artists here were trying to do, and I’m sure Gabriel admires the spirit of adventurousness with which they approach his work, given his own track record. But interpreting Gabriel doesn’t just mean going slow and ponderous, as Simon and Bryne prove here.

Gabriel fans might be curious about this, but they’re about the only ones who will get some satisfaction here. The truth is that this is not a very good album and Gabriel’s music deserved better.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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