Scratch My Back

Tracklisting:

1. Heroes
2. The Boy in the Bubble
3. Mirrorball
4. Flume
5. Listening Wind
6. The Power of the Heart
7. My Body is a Cage
8. The Book of Love
9. I Think It's Going to Rain Today
10. Après Moi
11. Philadelphia
12. Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Peter Gabriel SCratch My Back

Scratch My Back (2010)

Peter Gabriel is no stranger to cover versions, having produced some truly excellent ones throughout his career, such as Gershwin's "Summertime" and Joseph Arthur's "In The Sun". It was inevitable, that at some point, Gabriel would take a break from his own music and look to others for inspiration.

Recorded between late 2008 and throughout 2009, Scratch My Back is a covers album with a slight twist, in that the project is a song swap with the original artists, and features Gabriel performing with an orchestra, with no drums or guitar. Anybody expecting anything upbeat or close in style to the original songs is in for a bit of a shock - these songs bear no or very little resemblance to the originals as Gabriel takes a very unique approach.

David Bowie's "Heroes" is arguably the best-known song on offer here, although this version is nearly unrecognisable, having turned the track completely upside down, into a slow and moody affair, with a gradual orchestral backing. Like "Heroes", "The Boy in the Bubble" is almost a complete opposite of Paul Simon's upbeat original; reduced to a sombre piano and vocal arrangement.

Elbow's "Mirrorball" is perhaps as optimistic as the album gets, with some lovely cinematic orchestral parts. Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" – clearly the album's high point, perfectly lending itself to Gabriel's vocal style and the orchestral direction of the album, and perhaps the most overall successful new interpretation out of the whole selection.

Loved-up tracks such as Lou Reed's "The Power of Your Heart" and a new interpretation of The Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love" (which Gabriel had recorded previously for the film Shall We Dance) are very emotive and pleasant on the ear, if a little samey. But this clearly shows a touching romantic side to Gabriel's music and his vocals really bring those emotions home.

However, the full impact of the orchestra really comes into effect during "My Body Is A Cage" (Arcade Fire) and Regina Spektor's "Après Moi", a stunning piece which has a typically Gabrielsque lyric.

By this point perhaps the album is a couple of songs too many - "Après Moi" would have made a perfect closing number. Neil Young's "Philadelphia", Radiohead's "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" may well take some warming to, and prove to be the tracks that divide fans and critics.

Sombre, moving and melancholic are perhaps the best three words to summarise Scratch My Back. It's easy to imagine many of the songs here turning up in Hollywood movie soundtracks in the near future. Gabriel's raspy vocals might be showing showing signs of age in places, although his upper range is not what it once was, time has blessed him with some lovely, earthy deeper tones, which add a lot of character to the songs.

A companion album, I'll Scratch Yours, is due to emerge gradually throughout 2010 as the artists Gabriel has covered, return the favour; the first of which appeared in the form of The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merrit with a bizarre electronic version of "Not One Of Us".

Overall Scratch My Back is an interesting album and certainly the most diverse set of songs Gabriel has recorded. Despite not being Gabriel's own lyric, the album feels strangely intense and personal. Maybe not all the tracks work, but there some are some truly wonderful, pieces here, brought to life by John Metcalfe's beautiful orchestral arrangements. Detached from his usual world instruments and layers of production, this is Peter Gabriel at his most exposed and vulnerable, not to mention emotional.