Peter Gabriel's new album, Scratch My Back, aims high, but falls way low.
“How the mighty have fallen...”
I can’t believe what I’m about to say: Peter Gabriel’s new album, a collection of covers called Scratch My Back, is awful. Let me say outright how difficult it is for me, being a fan since 1973, to say that.
I have always admired Gabriel’s relentless pursuit of the creative in rock music, but in recent times, I fear his muse has abandoned him. There were some hints beginning as early as 1992’s Us continuing with Up and the dreadful OVO. This album confirms that his best work is behind him.
Scratch My Back is a collaboration with John Metcalfe, British violist and composer, with the philosophy of solely using orchestral instruments and piano as the sole backing for Gabriel’s voice. With great and diverse songs like Bowie’s Heroes to Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble, what could it go wrong?
The idea here is that, by taking a new approach and eschewing the typical rock format of guitars-bass-and-drums, that something new could be discovered about these well-known songs. The trouble is that none of these songs has any spark or excitement.
The orchestra, used here on a limited number of tracks, is not used with any of the incredible force and drive that a modern orchestra can deliver. The piano accompaniment is also stripped down to mere basics. Gabriel mutters and sputters weakly, I believe, in hopes of an honest and vulnerable interpretation, but falls so terribly short.
Without passion or spot-on delivery, no concept, however genuine or good and idea it is, can succeed artistically. You can, trust me, flat out scratch Scratch My Back.