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Peter Gabriel - New Blood CD (album) cover


Peter Gabriel


Crossover Prog

3.59 | 178 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars I have loved Gabriel's music for many years now, both with Genesis and in a solo career that has produced some exceptional music, although not nearly enough of it. This is the first studio album released by Gabriel from his own material since 2002's Up, and is, as with 2010's Scratch My Back, an album of orchestral interpretation, this time with Gabriel's songs rather than others.

For those of us who believe he is akin to genius, the question has to be asked, can you possibly improve on the original recordings? Is it possible to bring new focus to songs that we have enjoyed for many years now?

By and large, the answer is an unequivocal yes, although I must state that it does not work throughout the album. There are some very disappointing moments, and perhaps it might be better to deal with those first.

Don't Give Up is the biggest disappointment of the year to me. Whilst it was always going to be a thankless task for any vocalist to fill the (Big Red) shoes of Kate Bush, I'm afraid that Ane Brun comes nowhere near. It really doesn't work at all. Her voice lacks the sheer passion of the original, and the orchestration does not add one jot to the original, which was an orchestral piece anyway. It really is quite horrible, and a massive disappointment.

Digging In The Dirt lacks the sheer intensity of the source material, and for once the orchestration fails to match or exceed the darkness of the original. The vocals are stripped back far too much. It's good (you cannot really fail with material this strong), but it is only really at the close that I find myself taking a great deal of notice.

A Quite Moment is the "what's the point of this?" moment on the album. Almost five minutes of bird song, and nothing else, is a pleasant way to spend some time, but I really cannot see the point at all.

Lastly, that all time classic, Solsbury Hill, surprisingly, does not translate at all well to this format, and this was strikingly seen on the Jools Holland live sessions on BBC 2, where Red Rain was majestic, and this was, well, plodding and slow.

Those are the gripes over. Elsewhere, there is much to celebrate on this album, with some magnificent reworkings of excellent pieces of music.

Opener, Rhythm of the Heat is very strong. The orchestra adds a menacing tone, and lilts strongly during the "The rhythm has my soul" sequence. The backing vocals are far more sparse than the original, and the strings are more than adequate substitutes for the drum troupe found on the original, and the full orchestra builds to a huge climax.

Downside Up is simply beautiful, and, with daughter Melanie sharing the vocal duties, closer to the excellent live version than the rather limp original on OVO. She has the most gorgeous voice, and an oboe adds a lovely poignancy to proceedings. Strings back gently before taking centre stage and adding a whole new intensity to the song. The closing sequence on the original album is cut short on this version.

San Jacinto is just as wonderful here as it is on the original, a true highlight of an exceptional musical career. The complex music is tailor made for orchestration, and the intricate woodwind and percussion mid-section is wonderful to hear. Gabriel himself has rarely sounded better vocally, and the hairs are raised at the denouement. A pure classic, whatever the version.

Intruder is incredible here. The staccato use of strings and brass manage to make this version even more creepy than the synths and drum machine utilised on the original. This is a truly imaginative reworking of a highlight of Gabriel's commercial breakthrough album. The denouement brings forth a massive wall of sound that leaves you breathless.

Wallflower is probably my favourite Gabriel solo song. The orchestra doesn't really add anything new here, although the gentle piano utilised most certainly does, but, in this instance, I don't care. The song's fragile beauty and tribute to brave souls the world over will work whichever version you put on, and the backing vocals do really add a whole new beautiful dimension to proceedings. The close of the track was made for violins crying, and it doesn't disappoint. Melanie again shines in the main conclusion.

In Your Eyes is bright, bouncy, and the orchestration is wonderful at the start, a startling contrast to the somewhat moody passage on So. This mood returns when Gabriel enters the fray, but Melanie again backs wonderfully, and the whole song is far closer in mood and execution to the live version, and a joy to listen to, a reaffirmation of life and love. I don't even miss Youssou N'Dour when I hear this.

Mercy Street is wonderful to listen to again, with the female lead adding a great deal, certainly given the subject matter.

Red Rain is the surprise package of the album. The orchestra takes the pace of the original to both new heights and a supreme show of noise. This is bright, sunny, and rises to an almost impossible intensity prior to the almost silent close.

Darkness is rather more understated than the original. Dark and brooding, I love Gabriel's new gravel like take on the vocals, but also love the sunshine the flute brings to the brighter passages.

Lastly, The Nest That Sailed The Sky is a beautiful instrumental with soundscapes which take me back to Passion, which, to me, is the highlight of the great man's career. A delicate piano and backdrops create a loving, mournful pastiche.

So, there we are. Not a masterpiece, but, the weaker tracks aside, close to it. Really, though, with such material, you really can't fail.

The most obvious quibble, though, is the fact that it has been ten years now since we had a genuine Gabriel album of wholly original material. It's far too long. I know his old man is still alive on the cusp of 100, but, really, he needs to get a move on. There is clearly so much left in him to bring us, I hope he does so before it is too late.

3.5 stars if we had such a rating, but rounded up to four stars, an excellent addition to any prog rock collection, simply because the highs are sublime, and the lows do not really detract that much from the overall pleasure of this album, Don't Give Up aside.

lazland | 4/5 |


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