Peter Gabriel – New Blood (2011)

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by Tom Johnson

Somewhere out there, music fans cower in fear. The day has come again: Peter Gabriel returns with yet another album of orchestral covers! But fear not. This time he’s covering his own songs.

Luckily on New Blood the results are far, far more pleasing to long-time fans than his previous effort, last year’s Scratch My Back, which saw Gabriel taking on a number of current and older favorite songs and, as the title would suggest, the artists in question would then submit their own covers of his songs (to be called I’ll Scratch Yours.) A noble, even intriguing effort on paper, but the outcome was significantly more, shall we say, dull than most would expect from Peter Gabriel. And then many of the Yours participants suddenly found themselves strangely too busy to contribute — washing their hair, gardening, or just ignoring the project all together.

What few did take part emerged as sad little digital singles on Amazon’s and iTunes’ digital stores. “Ill-received” is probably a good term for the project.

If only Gabriel had released New Blood instead, and relegated Scratch to a much shorter EP consisting of the more successful (read: more recent) source material. New Blood is everything the prior release wasn’t — dark and brooding, yes, but that’s expected. It’s also graceful, beautiful, and moving. In eliminating the “rock” element of these songs, it’s easy to worry that the songs might lose their urgency, but that’s the interesting key to what’s made Gabriel’s music so intriguing all along. He’s never been stuck on typical rock instrumentation or structures, so replacing it with strings and horns doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the music the way it does other rock songs, nor does it make them, to borrow a word used to describe many of the songs of Scratch My Back, “boring.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A five-song spin through Peter Gabriel’s solo career, featuring both charting favorites and a few forgotten gems.]

Arranger John Metcalfe and Gabriel clearly lift inspiration from modern film scores, which have grown more a more propulsive, if less melodic, as time goes by, and songs like “The Rhythm Of The Heat” benefit. (In fact, one listen and you, like me, may be wondering how long it will be before the instrumental version is used in a film trailer.) It’s Gabriel’s talent with weaving a vocal melody that holds everything together. The music underneath serves to alternately poke and prod in response or to gently sway along. Most impressively though, nothing feels gaudy or gauche. Everything is done with just the right touch.

Daughter Melanie provides soft, sweet backing vocals throughout, being featured side-by-side with her father on “Downside Up” to good effect. Guest vocalist Ane Brun fills the Kate Bush role in “Don’t Give Up” with mixed results. “In Your Eyes,” “Mercy Street,” and “Red Rain,” the fitting centerpieces of the album, are unsurprisingly grand and eloquent — which is exactly as they should be. “Intruder” sufficiently retains its creepy weirdness … or maybe twists that a little with the orchestra, who playfully illustrate the song, while “Wallflower” is especially tender here, all piano and cello, and Gabriel’s immaculately aged voice giving it more depth.

Shivers — shivers abound throughout New Blood. You didn’t get shivers on Scratch My Back, did you? He was better than that material and it showed, though in some cases he made some of the tunes interesting, but here, on New Blood where he takes on his own material, he can only compliment it. And he does so perfectly.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Johnson
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