Picking up conceptually where the too-tame orchrstral cover album Scratch My Back left off, Peter Gabriel’s follow-up is another orchestral cover album, this time drawing from Gabriel’s own back catalog. I was so unimpressed with Scratch My Back that I elected not to review it here (in a nutshell: Gabriel’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Boy In Then Bubble” was the only track I bother to revisit since the first listen), so the thought of Gabriel giving his own material the same treatment didn’t excite me: would he pick the right songs? Would he saddle them with uninspired, Scratch My Back-style arrangements?
And yet some of Gabriel’s music just oozes widescreen majesty. Surely translation into a symphonic idiom could only expand on that… right?
Well… yes and no. Gabriel is working with the same arranger with whom he collaborated on Scratch My Back here, so it’s hit or miss. “Rhythm Of The Heat” is pretty typical of the album as a whole”: for the most part it’s a competent enough translation of the original version of the song, but adds nothing new except a swap-out of rock instruments for orchestral instruments. It’s unadventurous. That description applies to many of the album’s covers. Very few songs break the mold and make me go “wow” – “Intruder” is a good example of this, taking the (already disturbing) original song and reshaping it into an unnerving piece of horror movie music – but most fall into the spineless category. Worse yet, Gabriel’s voice isn’t capable of the acrobatics he could pull off in his younger years, stripping even more of the “oomph” from the songs as he tones the vocals down along with the instruments.
If you’re detecting a recurring theme here, aside from “this could have been so much better,” you’re not imagining things. Peter Gabriel is a maker of mind-expanding, widescreen music. It’s not for nothing that he’s scored movies before (Birdy, The Last Temptation Of Christ), and it’s not for nothing that he was selected to assemble the world-music-rock-opera for London’s Millennium Dome (OVO). And yet New Blood seems to sap the blood from the same songs that made me a Peter Gabriel fan in the first place.
Maybe what this album needed was some TLC from someone who actually does soundtracks, rather than the same numbingly dull approach as Scratch My Back. Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack fame, who is credited by a lot of that show’s fans for exposing them to new and different styles of music, would have knocked this out of the park and (excuse the pun) straight into orbit, fusing orchestral and ethnic music with ease.
I hope Peter Gabriel resumes his more traditional style of music for whatever he releases next. The songs selected for New Blood were enthralling in their original versions because they were so unconventional. New Blood squandered the opportunity to expand on those songs by make them not just convention, but watered-down shadows of their former selves.
Disc One – Vocals
- The Rhythm Of The Heat (5:41)
- Downside Up (3:52)
- San Jacinto (6:58)
- Intruder (5:07)
- Wallflower (6:25)
- In Your Eyes (7:13)
- Mercy Street (5:59)
- Red Rain (5:15)
- Darkness (6:10)
- Don’t Give Up (6:40)
- Digging In The Dirt (4:57)
- The Nest That Sailed The Sky (3:54)
- A Quiet Moment (4:48)
- Solsbury Hill (4:35)
Disc Two – Instrumentals
- The Rhythm Of The Heat (instrumental) (5:41)
- Downside Up (instrumental) (3:52)
- San Jacinto (instrumental) (7:12)
- Intruder (instrumental) (5:06)
- Wallflower (instrumental) (6:24)
- In Your Eyes (instrumental) (7:13)
- Mercy Street (instrumental) (6:00)
- Red Rain (instrumental) (5:15)
- Darkness (instrumental) (6:10)
- Don’t Give Up (instrumental) (6:40)
- Digging In The Dirt (instrumental) (4:58)
- The Nest That Sailed The Sky (instrumental) (3:54)
- The Blood Of Eden (instrumental) (6:05)
Released by: RealWorld
Release date: 2011
Disc one total running time: 77:34
Disc two total running time: 74:30