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Peter Gabriel - Scratch my back CD (album) cover

SCRATCH MY BACK

Peter Gabriel

 

Crossover Prog

2.91 | 180 ratings

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Negoba
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Weak but not Completely Meritless

I first listened to samples of Peter Gabriel's SCRATCH MY BACK last year when it was released, and felt a passionate "meh." The overall concept of trading covers using an orchestral "no drums no guitars" approach was moderately interesting. However, the execution seemed lacking - too slow and ponderous, little new added to the pieces. It really seemed like Gabriel was showing his age. Over the last few weeks I've been listening more frequently in anticipation of seeing the New Blood tour this summer. During that time, I've gained a greater appreciation for the album, which does indeed show some creative glimmers but is still a deeply flawed piece of work.

A pivotal track for me was Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble." This song's original leaned heavily on an active, bouncy rhythm - it was all about movement, a feeling of dance. The most active image of movement evoked anywhere on SCRATCH MY BACK would be the slow opening of a flower, or perhaps a dingy army on a slow march. As a big fan of GRACELAND, I was peeved at the arrangement and almost shut the album off after 2 tracks. Now, after about 6-8 listens, I must admit that the completely new approach to that song does shed light into a few new corners. The lyrics open up a bit, the sense of wonder which is a core theme gets to breathe. The original is better, but this is an interesting alternate take. In the end, this is the pattern of the entire album.

Of course, there are high and low moments. "My Body is a Cage" is perhaps the best song. Both the arrangement and Gabriel's performance are more intricate and spooky. Though just as slow and dark as the rest of the album, there is more color to this track. A sense of danger and menace finally emerge, and we're reminded, if only briefly, of the deep talent of the man. On the other hand, "Power of the Heart" is so inane that it would make Shania Twain's ugly junior high school sister blush to perform it. My eyes nearly popped out of my head to learn Lou Reed had penned that drek. Gabriel's arrangement is just as lackluster as the lyrics. Similarly, Gabriel adds nothing to Bon Iver's already downer "Flume."

Some of the songs were unfamiliar to me prior to this album. Elbow's "Mirrorball" boasts interesting lyrics and one of the better uses of the orchestra on the album. Regina Spector's "Apres Moi" and the Talking Heads "Listening Wind" are also solid tracks. Occasionally, it feels like the orchestra is going to really pick up steam, but sadly the pace always dies back down all too quickly. So many times, I yearned for a bit more of PG's signature angst and pathos. We get a few teases but never a true "Rhythm of the Heat" scream. Too often we're instead lulled into sleep.

This album was teetering toward toward 1 star at one point for me, but it's actually sniffing at 3 now. Still, there's virtually nothing prog about this album so it remains at two stars. Especially given how much great material you can get from Gabriel, this is simply un- necessary, unless like me, you own everything the man puts out.

Negoba | 2/5 |

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