It’s been a few years since Peter Gabriel has released new and original material so his recent covers album Scratch My Back and the new orchestral release New Blood, on which the erstwhile Genesis vocalist works his way through hits such as “Digging In The Dirt” and “Mercy Street”, are welcome in the sense that it’s good to hear his voice again even if we’re not being treated to the next “Biko” or “Don’t Give Up” (or even the next “Sledgehammer”).
New Blood: Live In London combines selections from both his recent albums with results not entirely dissimilar to the albums themselves: Gabriel’s an original talent and his arrangements of Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble” and gem “The Book Of Love” from the Magnetic Fields demonstrate the scope of his originality; his re-imaginings of his own works are refreshing and spare.
But it’s not much to look at.
Recorded over two nights in March 2011 at London’s Hammersmith Apollo with a 46-member orchestra sans guitar, bass, or standard rock drum kit, this single-set DVD lacks the visual excitement we’ve come to expect from Gabriel. Maybe he’s trying to recast himself, age with grace and spare himself the indignity of having to duet with Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift; maybe he’s aware that greatest hits shows are about as exciting as greatest hits albums; maybe he’s just trying something different, just as he’s always done, ignoring expectations and being his own man. That all works great in the aural world but in the visual, especially from Gabriel, it’s akin to dry toast.
A few projections here, some shots of conductor Ben Foster (and, on “In Your Eyes”, John Metcalfe) and the synchronized arm movements of the orchestra there, hardly make for mouth-watering visuals. (To be fair, witnessing Gabriel in Genesis-era stage garb might be equally dull or just plain too weird.)
That’s not to say that New Blood doesn’t have its perks. The usual suspects, including “Don’t Give Up”, “Blood of Eden”, “San Jacinto” and “Red Rain” all sound fine in this setting, Gabriel’s imaginative lyrics come to the fore, his unique vocal phrasing as powerful as ever. The orchestral backing on each of the songs is as well realized as you’d expect. Gabriel’s humor buoys the event along the way that no costume changes or perhaps even a dip into the Genesis catalog could do. (OK, that’s a lie; it would have been great to hear “The Carpet Crawlers” or “Fly On A Windshield” in this setting.)
The three female vocalists featured here, Ane Brun (“Don’t Give Up”), Melanie Gabriel (“Downside Up”) and a special guest turn from Sevara Nazarkhan (“In Your Eyes”), remind us of how well Gabriel has worked with female artists and raises questions about why he hasn’t performed more duets.
As for bonus features, there’s “Blood Donors” which clues viewers in on the 3D version of the concert (available in a deluxe Blu-Ray/DVD package) and other bits and bobs about the Hammersmith Apollo gigs. Hardly revelatory, it also stands as a bit of frustration if you only have the DVD.
Here’s hoping Gabriel’s next visually oriented project is more enticing. It should be given that the man was once a leader in the music video medium.