Sunday, March 7, 2010

Peter Gabriel Sings the Hits

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.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back, MTC!

Stephen said...

Thank you for doing a post! You were very missed....& how great that I get to start by disagreeing with you. I love this album & I am always intrigued with albums of cover songs by songwriters (I think of Shawn Colvin's COVER GIRL). My favorite track so far is Gabriel's reimagining of HEROES, although the version that I have on my April Mix it is a dance re-mix, so the rhythm is back in force.

Phillip Glass did a symphony based on this song.

I am doing a MIX of cover versions of HEROES including: Arcade Fire Magnetic Fiels, King Crimson, Nico, Oasis, & Billy Preston.

Thanks again for doing a post.
My verification word is: eatie

MightyToyCannon said...

Stephen, I might not have been totally fair in my judgment of Gabriel's new album since I didn't listen to it that carefully. It bored my early on, so by the time I got to HEROES I was lost. A dance re-mix might be just what I need to hear! Like you, I'm a big fan of cover tunes -- especially when the artist reinterprets the originals. Shawn Colvin's COVER GIRL is a fabulous album that I must have listened to a hundred times some 15 years ago. As you know, it includes a great version of Tom Waits' HEART OF SATURDAY NIGHT. Cover versions of Waits tunes are always interesting to me --often because they reveal just how beautiful his poetry and melodies are when separated from his gravelly croak. (That was not meant as criticism of his croak). I recommend the CD NEW COAT OF PAINT as one nice collection of Tom Waits covers. The little musical combo with which I amuse myself adopted the name BOURBON JOCKEY in honor of the song JOCKEY FULL OF BOURBON ... which we cover in our inimitable fashion.

Stephen said...

Is there a mailing list for when you perform your music?

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