Music Reviews
4:49 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

Peter Gabriel's Favorite Artists Remake His Music From 'Scratch'

Originally published on Tue January 7, 2014 9:06 pm

In 2010, Peter Gabriel released the first half of a two-part project, singing favorite songs written by living musicians. He titled it Scratch My Back. Now comes the sequel, titled And I'll Scratch Yours. It features most of the acts whose songs he covered, returning the favor by performing Peter Gabriel songs. The lineup includes David Byrne, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Paul Simon and Bon Iver.

On part one of Gabriel's covers project, all the songs he sang were arranged for orchestra, mostly at tempos ranging from slow to glacial. The songs were excellent, but it didn't always work. On part two, a bunch of Gabriel's best songs are performed any way the contributing artists wanted. So, for example, nothing stopped David Byrne from turning "I Don't Remember," a spasmodic, paranoid song about amnesia, into a disco party anthem.

It's fascinating to hear Gabriel's contemporaries cover his songs. Even he admits "I Don't Remember" might've been influenced by David Byrne and Talking Heads back when he wrote it. And Gabriel's "Biko" sounds almost like it was written for Paul Simon, another pop songwriter with a passion for South African music.

Still, much of the brilliance of Peter Gabriel's songs came from his innovative arrangements and production. No doubt that's why some artists here, like Arcade Fire and Elbow, mostly xerox the originals, which isn't a bad approach. Yet for me, the record's most moving song is a radical re-imagining of "Solsbury Hill," by the late Lou Reed. Gabriel's old friend sounds like a grizzled lighthouse keeper preparing to leave his post, as feedback howls around him.

As for younger artists, Regina Spektor and Feist pull off lovely gender-reversals, while innovative singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur transforms "Shock the Monkey," the first 45 single he ever bought as a kid. Later this year, Gabriel will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. This covers project may be uneven, but it shows an artist still engaged with the present, still thinking outside the box — and who, clearly, still inspires.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The English rock musician Peter Gabriel released the first half of a two-part project in 2010 singing favorite songs written by living musicians like "Boy in A Bubble," by Paul Simon.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "BOY IN A BUBBLE")

PETER GABRIEL: (Singing) The way we look to a distant constellation that's dying in a corner of the sky, these are the days of miracles and wonder. Don't cry, baby, don't cry.

CORNISH: Gabriel called the album "Scratch My Back." Now comes the sequel, "And I'll Scratch Yours." It features most of the artists whose songs he covered, returning the favor by performing Peter Gabriel songs. The lineup includes David Byrne, Lou Reed, Feist, Arcade Fire, Paul Simon and Bon Iver. It's an eclectic set and critic Will Hermes has a review.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: On part one of Peter Gabriel's covers project, all the songs he sang were arranged for orchestra, mostly at tempos ranging from slow to glacial. Excellent songs, great singer, but it didn't always work. On part two, a bunch of Gabriel's best songs are performed any way the contributing artists wanted. So nothing stopped David Byrne from turning a spasmodic, paranoid song about amnesia into a disco party anthem.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "I DON'T REMEMBER")

DAVID BYRNE: (Singing) I don't remember. I don't remember. I don't remember. I don't recall. I have no memory of anything at all. I don't remember. I don't recall. I've got no memory of anything, anything at all.

HERMES: It's fascinating to hear Gabriel's contemporaries covering his songs. Even he admits "I Don't Remember" might've been influenced by David Byrne and Talking Heads back when he wrote it. And "Biko" sounds almost like it was written for Paul Simon, another songwriter with a passion for South African music.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "BIKO")

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) September '77, Port Elizabeth weather's fine. It was business as usual in police room 369. Oh, Biko, Biko, because Biko. Oh, Biko, Biko, because Biko.

HERMES: Still, much of the brilliance of Peter Gabriel's songs came from his innovative arrangements. No doubt that's why some artists here mostly Xerox the originals, which isn't a bad approach. Yet for me, the record's most moving song is a radical re-imagining of "Solsbury Hill," by the late Lou Reed. Peter Gabriel's old friend sounds like a grizzled lighthouse keeper preparing to leave his post, as feedback howls around him.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "SOLSBURY HILL")

LOU REED: (Singing) I did not believe the information. I just had to trust my imagination. My heart going boom, boom, boom. Son, he said, grab your things, I've come to take you home.

HERMES: As for younger artists, Regina Spektor and Feist pull off lovely gender-reversals, and experimental singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur transforms "Shock the Monkey," which the first 45 single he ever bought as a kid. Later this year, Gabriel will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.

Taken together, this covers project may be uneven, but it shows a guy still thinking outside the box, still engaged and who, clearly, still inspires.

(SOUNDBITE FROM SONG "SHOCK THE MONKEY")

JOSEPH ARTHUR: (Singing) Monkey, monkey, monkey. Don't you know when you're going to shock the monkey.

CORNISH: The new collection from Peter Gabriel is called "And I'll Scratch Yours." You can hear the album in its entirety at NPRMusic.org. Our critic, Will Hermes, is the author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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