A series of orchestral teasers for Peter Gabriel’s ‘New Blood’ record. The New Blood Orchestra recorded versions of Peter’s songs for a forthcoming album at Air Studios in June. The arrangements are by John Metcalfe and Richard Chappell led the team magically capturing the audio with the lovely people at Air. For more information on the album release and live dates visit petergabriel.com.
When the O2 Arena was infamous as the Millennium Dome, Peter Gabriel’s music for its central show was one of its redeeming features, but the experience still left him feeling bruised. So he was brave, this weekend, to bring a new concept to the same venue. Scratch My Back, his most recent CD, is a set of cover versions, all performed with an orchestra. “No guitars, no drums,” runs its severe rubric.
The first half of the concert ran through the CD, in order, note for note and fault for fault. Some songs, notably Bowie’s “Heroes” and Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble”, are enervated by being stripped of pomp and swagger, although the former had a colourful passage of Reichian pulsing strings. Elbow’s “Mirrorball” has contorted melodies through which Gabriel would have sailed in his days with Genesis, but the kitschy orchestration muffled the key line: “We kissed like we invented it.” “The Book Of Love”, which in any case walks a fine line between the sincere and the sardonic, was trampled to death by headache-inducing cartoons.
But a couple survived. “My Body is a Cage”, originally by The Arcade Fire, had its relentless oppression screwed home with tiny taps of the triangle, while the backdrop flared with pictures of a throbbing atomic nucleus orbited by barbed wire. And “Listening Wind”, a newly topical Talking Heads song about insurgency and terrorism, grew spiky staccato string polyrhythms.
Earlier this year New York musical manager Peter Mensch played a guessing game with a round-up of recording executives in London. He travelled across the ocean with an enigmatic white-labelled compact disc, and invited the assembled bosses of Universal Music to identify an anonymous performer in cover versions of songs by Leonard Cohen, Band of Horses, Jefferson Airplane and others. The bands Mensch represents include Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, so the sagacious suits were expecting to hear primal howls or rapped invective. Instead they puzzled over a voice of bewildering versatility which punched out the seditious protests of Willy Mason’s “Oxygen”, sounded raw and sexually avid in Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, then turned crazed and curdled in a demonic reverie composed by the Mars Volta, an American group based in Mexico whose sound is classified by those who know as post-hardcore krautrock.
Mensch paused the playback to enjoy the stupefaction in the room. “Could it be Annie Lennox?” someone weakly volunteered.
“Guys,” said the burly and exuberant Mensch, “don’t you have a classical division? Maybe in the basement somewhere? OK, here’s a clue. She’s signed to your label already!”
Bemused glances were exchanged. Mensch tormented them for a while longer, then quietly announced: “It’s Renée Fleming.”