Saturday, February 13, 2010

Shlock Value

A new Peter Gabriel album drops Tuesday, called Scratch My Back. It's an interesting project: all covers, and the artists he has covered will be reciprocating by covering Gabriel tunes, to be packaged in the follow-up, I'll Scratch Yours. Included are tunes by David Bowie, Bon Iver, The Magnetic Fields and Radiohead, among others.

I've been a Gabriel fan since I was a teenager, when he was the front-man in Genesis. There is almost no other musician that has consistently maintained such a high level of my respect. I've enjoyed every one of this solo records, been an avid follower of his Real World Records label, and admired his other work in human rights and activism. So, naturally, I was pretty pumped when old my friend Dr. Tom (we worked together at Boogie Records, Toledo way back in 1977, and have been to a couple of Gabriel concerts together) tipped me that KCRW was streaming the entire record (here).

My verdict: it's great to hear that voice again, and refreshing to hear it in the context of some old favorites. I also appreciate that these tunes are all significantly deconstructed, down to Gabriel and piano as the starting point. It's what happens after that where I run into problems. Serious problems.

Gabriel enlisted John Metcalfe (ex-Durutti Column member, who has been enlisted as a string arranger for artists such as Morrissey, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Catatonia and Blur) to arrange all but one song for a full orchestra. Now, I think the possibilities of Peter Gabriel with full orchestral arrangements are quite interesting. Gabriel's work, after all, has always been marked by adventurous instrumentation and sonic experimentation. So it's all the more disappointing to listen to him here with what amounts to a full-on Hollywood Shlock orchestra treatment. Imagine the Boston Pops playing Lou Reed with Peter Gabriel as the singer and you've got an idea of what "The Power of the Heart" sounds like here. I almost didn't make it through that track...

By far the highlight of the album for me is his take on Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." That one is just Gabriel and piano...

When I told Dr. Tom about my reaction, he did not disagree, but felt that the album still had great merit based on the "Jackie Gleason (or Nelson Riddle, for that matter) perspective." He maintains that "a schmaltz approach never hurt anyone" and, in fact, just makes the moments with just voice and piano all the more powerful. He approached the album like "a Friday night home from work, with Frank Sinatra on the CD player" (and I assume a cocktail in hand?). This might explain why I don't own any Frank Sinatra CDs: while I'm on board with the genius of his singing (especially the uncanny swing he had with his phrasing), I could just never get over that Nelson Riddle shlock. Considering that the Sinatra/Riddle catalog is so de rigueur in hipster circles I'm probably in a minority on this.

Which leads me to believe that we are all either just destined to become just like our parents (which would also explain the recent rash of postings about Herb Alpert on this here blog of late), or we are destined to miss out on some really great stuff because we are so busy fighting like hell to resist becoming just like our parents. Which, actually, would also explain why I still refuse to join Dr. Tom and an alarmingly increasing number of my other male friends on the golf course!

1 comment:

Mama E Dub said...

Love the cocktail party image! As to the other, c'mon, are you really so surprised? Peter Gabriel crossed over into wifty-wafty territory years (decades?) ago.