Peter Gabriel: New Blood

Following the example of his covers album from last year, New Blood has Peter Gabriel rounding up an orchestra to help him essentially cover himself.

Peter Gabriel

New Blood

Label: Real World
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

Last year, Peter Gabriel gave us the superb Scratch My Back, a cover songs album intended to be the first part of a sort of mutual appreciation project. Gabriel’s grand plan was that his record would be later joined by another release featuring the artists whose tunes he reinterpreted, doing him the same favor with his material. However, that intended companion album has since stalled, so for his latest LP New Blood, the musician has decided to pick up the fumbled ball and carry it to the goal line by essentially covering himself.

Incorporating selections from all corners of Gabriel’s solo songbook, New Blood follows the template established by Scratch My Back, offering familiar compositions in new arrangements (once again overhauled by regular Gabriel collaborator John Metcalfe) where rock instrumentation is replaced by orchestral strings, woodwinds, and brass, with piano making occasional appearances. With Ben Foster conducting the 46-member-strong New Blood Orchestra, this enterprise lends itself most suitably to touching ballads and sweeping emotional gestures, so don’t be surprised that certain, more energetic Gabriel staples such as “Sledgehammer” and “Shock the Monkey” didn’t make it onto this tracklist.

Though following similar remits, what mainly separates the two records is subtlety. Scratch My Back was carefully considered, its grandiose moments tempered by an understated delicacy that was found in abundance. New Blood often trades in high drama, inundating much of the record in epic symphonic dread. “Rhythm of the Heat” is dominated by ebbing, thrusting strings that might bring to mind an impending battle upon the plains of Middle-Earth. Later on, “Darkness” is characterized by an ominous march rhythm and pulse-pounding performance by Gabriel that adds hearty slices of danger to its fairy tale vibe.

The melodrama can be overbearing in places, and Metcalfe’s approach threatens to rob many of the songs of their individuality by making them conform to the album’s game plan. Other reworkings simply do not pan out. The record’s overblown reinterpretation of “In Your Eyes” -- the soundtrack to John Cusack’s career-making moment in the film Say Anything -- has no chance of living up to the immortal original. Instead of the sighing, stirring beauty of the studio version, the New Blood Orchestra offers up a rendition that sounds like intro music to a National Geographic TV special, gazelles galloping across the savannah and all. On the duet “Don’t Give Up”, Ane Brun’s choked, mousey groaning are not an adequate substitute for the aching faerie swoon of the song’s archetypal other half, Kate Bush. At the end of the record, the listener is offered “A Quiet Moment”, an entire track of barely audible bird chirps and flowing water that is at best a curious diversion.

Don’t think that all this grousing means that New Blood is deeply flawed, though. There are indeed instances where the orchestral overhauls suit the material quite nicely, like on the already-foreboding “Intruder” (understandably lacking the Phil Collins drum track that virtually launched the ‘80s AOR drum sound) and the majestic sweep of “Red Rain”. On “San Jacinto”, a steady pitter-patter of woodwinds builds up to a chesty body-elevating surge that subsides to a relaxed calm by the track’s end. Although a bonus track, the Orchestra’s take on Gabriel’s first solo single “Solsbury Hill” might well be the LP’s standout; the jaunty upbeat tone of the song is a welcome contrast to the somberness that populates the rest of the record.

What elevated Scratch My Back above mere novelty was that its stripped down arrangements placed the spotlight squarely on Gabriel’s vocal abilities, which carried the album magnificently. Warm-voiced, soulful, and precise at slipping into his higher falsetto range at the right moments, Gabriel’s performances on New Blood are faultless -- in fact, the man sounds better here than he did on the previous LP. Hearing Gabriel at full power at the emotional high-point midway through “Don’t Give Up” is a monumentally satisfying experience. On “Darkness”, he offers of demonstration of his range as a performer, switching from his normal voice to a hoarse, scary growl like some prog rock Jekyll and Hyde.

In spite of his continued exploration of orchestral arrangements, Gabriel’s foray into overly familiar territory for him means that New Blood can’t be the revelation that Scratch My Back was. Maybe New Blood comes up a little short in comparison too because we know what to expect from a Peter Gabriel version of a Peter Gabriel song, whereas the singer tackling Radiohead or Magnetic Fields was bound to offer a new angle. There’s no denying that voice, though -- histrionic backing or not, the man proves once again that he can still handle himself quite capably in front of a microphone more than 40 years since he began his career as a member of Genesis. Though hardly essential, New Blood nevertheless features many fine performances, and there’s room for the record to prove the true depth of its merits upon further listens.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.