A great cover version tells you something you didn’t already know about the song being covered
2/5 Scratch My Back A great cover version tells you something you didn’t already know about the song being covered; think of the way Maxwell actualises Kate Bush’s masculine point of view in his reading of ‘This Woman’s Work’. Judging by his new 12-track set of ultrasomber art-rock interpretations, Peter Gabriel is dying to demonstrate just how boring some of his favorite songs are: Scratch My Back is the rare covers album capable of making you wonder what you ever heard in stuff by such A-list tunesmiths as Randy Newman, Paul Simon and Lou Reed.
Gabriel’s source material is promising. Indie gems like Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’ and ‘My Body is a Cage’ by Arcade Fire share space with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and other such hipster-cannon fodder. Yet singing over dreary orchestral arrangements that reduce everything to the same shade of fake-Philip Glass gray, Gabriel consistently eliminates the appealing idiosyncrasies (not to mention the sex, or the drama, or the humour) of each tune. When he brags during a typically lugubrious take on Elbow’s ‘Mirrorball’ that ‘we kissed like we invented it,’ well, you’ll just have to take his word for it, won’t you.
There are moments of reprieve. Reed’s ‘The Power of the Heart’ features a genuinely gorgeous arrangement, and there’s a perverse kind of fun in hearing Gabriel suck the wit out of ‘The Book Of Love’ by the Magnetic Fields. Mostly, though, Scratch My Back is a slog. Mikael Wood In stores now.