Peter Gabriel New Blood

Tracklisting
(standard edition):

1. The Rhythm of the Heat
2. Downside Up
3. San Jacinto
4. Intruder
5. Wallflower
6. In Your Eyes
7. Mercy Street
8. Red Rain
9. Darkness
10. Don't Give Up
11. Digging in the Dirt
12. The Nest that Sailed the Sky (instrumental)
13. A Quiet Moment
14. Solsbury Hill

Peter Gabriel New Blood

New Blood (2011)

Following on from 2010's orchestral covers offering, Scratch My Back, New Blood is a symphonic reinvention of Gabriel back catalogue favourites – though not to be confused with greatest hits, as many of his most popular tracks such as "Sledgehammer", "Games Without Frontiers" or "Shock the Monkey" are all appropriately absent.

On first impressions, New Blood isn't your stereotypical orchestral rock album; it's quieter than expected, and the moments where you expect the music to leap out, it does quite the opposite – and vice-versa. While some tracks simply sound like new arrangements of their counterpart originals, others have been turned completely upside down. Never one to do things by the book, Gabriel has deliberately avoided the use of guitars and drum kits, which has led to some surprisingly engaging results.

Tracks such as "San Jacinto" and "Wallflower" from Gabriel's fourth album have rarely sounded better, perhaps surpassing the originals, as they sound like they were always intended to be played this way. "Intruder" takes a very different approach to the drum-heavy original, but manages to be just as dark and creepy. The same goes for opening track, "The Rhythm of the Heat", clearly chosen because the original was so focussed on percussion, but transformed into something equally as dramatic.

However it's 1986's "Red Rain" which steals the show. Not only does the stunning, cinematic new arrangement prove the timelessness of Gabriel's songwriting, but it reinvents the song for a whole new generation. In contrast, "Digging in the Dirt" sadly fails to perform, instead sounding much more interesting on the instrumental bonus disc (on the special edition version), which contains, as an entirely instrumental version of the album, which holds up as a brilliant piece of work in itself. One unusual aspect of the album is "A Quiet Moment", which is not a song at all, but a few minutes of ambient sound and distant birdsong, recorded live on Solsbury Hill – eventually leading into "Solsbury Hill" itself, which closes the album on quite a chirpy note.

Gabriel's vocals are as emotive as ever, although age has led him to re-evaluate some of the higher notes, but without losing any impact or distinction. Appearing as backing vocalist on most tracks, Gabriel's daughter Melanie sounds rather quiet in comparison to her father, and Ane Brun comes across rather shrill for my taste on "Don't Give Up". With that in mind, maybe this is one track which should never have been touched, because you simply cannot replace Kate Bush, although the track isn't without it's merits.

Although some fans may be frustrated that New Blood doesn't contain any new songs, it's simply nice to have a new album from Peter Gabriel, especially just 18 months after Scratch My back, which in PG timescales must be close to light speed. But those are minor gripes. New Blood is an ambitious and creative piece of work, the results proving that Peter Gabriel is just as relevant today as he's ever been.