The other day NPR ran a story about Peter Gabriel's new album, Scratch My Back, on which he interprets songs from artists ranging from Arcade Fire to Randy Newman. That report gave the album high marks, saying it "ought to be the ultimate in inessential vanity projects — an album-length love letter to a star's impeccably curated record collection — but it flat-out isn't."
To be fair, I only listened to two tracks all the way through, and snippets of a handful more. I would have listened more, but I got bored. Gabriel has adopted a stripped-down approach that lets the lyrics stand out, but his lugubrious pace is dirgelike--and, yes, I know that lugubrious and dirgelike mean pretty much the same thing, but I just had to say it twice.
NPR thought Gabriel found new dimensions in Bon Iver's Flume, but I must have missed it. Perhaps, for me, it's a song that is so defined by Justin Vernon’s quirky falsetto that nobody else should even try. Tell me what you think:
The song that really put me off is Gabriel’s version of David Bowie’s Heroes. He’s stripped away the rhythmic drive that, to my ear, defines the song and makes it great. If you don’t fall asleep too quickly, you’ll hear a little Philip Glass-ian rhythm at the end of Gabriel's take, but it misses the point.
The first clip below is Gabriel’s version (with video in support of a Haiti relief effort). It’s followed by two versions by Mr. Bowie. The first of those is from a Bing Crosby Christmas special in 1977, of all things. I post it for the novelty value and because of Bowie's self-love demonstrated at about the 1:00 mark. The second clip is a live performance from (I’m guessing) the mid-1990s, when Bowie was at the pinnacle of coolness. Plus, he sings an alternate opening verse which is fun. I have not posted the concert version he signs in German.