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Rock - Released February 15, 2010 | Virgin Records

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Considering the slow trickle of completed albums he has released since becoming a superstar in 1986 -- just two albums of songs with vocals, paired with two albums of soundtracks and two live records -- deliberate is expected from Peter Gabriel, so the slow, hushed crawl of Scratch My Back is no shock. What may be a shock is that Gabriel chose to follow 2002’s Up with a covers album but, like all of his work, this 2010 record is highly conceptual no matter how minimal the end result may be. Designed as the first half of a two-part project where Gabriel would cover 12 different artists who would then return the favor by recording their own versions of Gabriel’s compositions -- the counterpart album naturally bearing the title I’ll Scratch Yours -- Scratch My Back divides neatly between six songs from his peers (Bowie, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Byrne) and six songs from younger artists (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Stephin Merritt, Bon Iver, Elbow, Regina Spektor). Gabriel doesn’t dodge familiar tunes, choosing to sing “Heroes” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” but he twists each tune to his own needs, arranging everything with nothing more than piano and strings, a change that’s almost jarring on Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” yet it stays true to the undercurrent of melancholy in the melody. Indeed, all of Scratch My Back is stark, sober, and spare, delving ever deeper inward, a triumph of intellect over emotion -- a noted contrast to almost all cover albums that celebrate the visceral, not the cerebral. Immediate it may not be but fascinating it is, and after hearing Gabriel turn all 12 of these songs into something unmistakably his own, the appetite is surely whetted for its companion piece. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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So

Rock - Released May 18, 1986 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Peter Gabriel introduced his fifth studio album, So, with "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut. "Sledgehammer" propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had enough songs with single potential to keep it there. There was "Big Time," another colorful dance number; "Don't Give Up," a moving duet with Kate Bush; "Red Rain," a stately anthem popular on album rock radio; and "In Your Eyes," Gabriel's greatest love song, which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's classic Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend African music, jangly pop, and soul into his moody art rock. Apart from these singles, plus the urgent "That Voice Again," the rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security. The difference is, the singles on that record were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-'80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it's hard not to be won over by them, even if So doesn't develop the unity of its two predecessors. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1977 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Peter Gabriel tells why he left Genesis in "Solsbury Hill," the key track on his 1977 solo debut. Majestically opening with an acoustic guitar, the song finds Gabriel's talents gelling, as the words and music feed off each other, turning into true poetry. It stands out dramatically on this record, not because the music doesn't work, but because it brilliantly illustrates why Gabriel had to fly on his own. Though this is undeniably the work of the same man behind The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, he's turned his artiness inward, making his music coiled, dense, vibrant. There is still some excess, naturally, yet it's the sound of a musician unleashed, finally able to bend the rules as he wishes. That means there are less atmospheric instrumental sections than there were on his last few records with Genesis, as the unhinged bizarreness in the arrangements, compositions, and productions, in tracks such as the opener "Moribund the Burgermeister" vividly illustrate. He also has turned sleeker, sexier, capable of turning out a surging rocker like "Modern Love." If there is any problem with Peter Gabriel, it's that Gabriel is trying too hard to show the range of his talents, thereby stumbling occasionally with the doo wop-to-cabaret "Excuse Me" or the cocktail jazz of "Waiting for the Big One" (or, the lyric "you've got me cookin'/I'm a hard-boiled egg" on "Humdrum"). Still, much of the record teems with invigorating energy (as on "Slowburn," or the orchestral-disco pulse of "Down the Dolce Vita"), and the closer "Here Comes the Flood" burns with an anthemic intensity that would later become his signature in the '80s. Yes, it's an imperfect album, but that's a byproduct of Gabriel's welcome risk-taking -- the very thing that makes the album work, overall. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released May 23, 1980 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Generally regarded as Peter Gabriel's finest record, his third eponymous album finds him coming into his own, crafting an album that's artier, stronger, more song-oriented than before. Consider its ominous opener, the controlled menace of "Intruder." He's never found such a scary sound, yet it's a sexy scare, one that is undeniably alluring, and he keeps this going throughout the record. For an album so popular, it's remarkably bleak, chilly, and dark -- even radio favorites like "I Don't Remember" and "Games Without Frontiers" are hardly cheerful, spiked with paranoia and suspicion, insulated in introspection. For the first time, Gabriel has found the sound to match his themes, plus the songs to articulate his themes. Each aspect of the album works, feeding off each other, creating a romantically gloomy, appealingly arty masterpiece. It's the kind of record where you remember the details in the production as much as the hooks or the songs, which isn't to say that it's all surface -- it's just that the surface means as much as the songs, since it articulates the emotions as well as Gabriel's cubist lyrics and impassioned voice. He wound up having albums that sold more, or generated bigger hits, but this third Peter Gabriel album remains his masterpiece. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 13, 1994 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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An aural postcard of Gabriel's 1993-1994 "Us World Tour," Secret World Live is demonstrative of this studio perfectionist's ability to produce singular, textured works in any setting. To expand the music's breadth, for the "Us" tour he added noted jazz violinist Shankar and vocalist Paula Cole to his band, and restructured the songs to reflect the more celebratory aspects of live performances. This mix provides Secret World Live with its worldbeat-meets-new age jazz meets-English art-soul sound. The second half of the album incorporates previous hits -- the sexually charged "Sledgehammer," the elegiac "Don't Give Up" (with Cole playing Kate Bush's part), and the anthemic "In Your Eyes" -- into a song-cycle that explores youth and love. It all makes Gabriel's Secret World Live add up to a musical stew that is equal parts William Gibson, Carl Jung, and Fela Kuti. © TiVo
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Rock - Released September 1, 1982 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Security -- which was titled Peter Gabriel everywhere outside of the U.S. -- continues where the third Gabriel album left off, sharing some of the same dense production and sense of cohesion, yet lightening the atmosphere and expanding the sonic palette somewhat. The gloom that permeates the third album has been alleviated and while this is still decidedly somber and serious music, it has a brighter feel, partially derived from Gabriel's dabbling in African and Latin rhythms. These are generally used as tonal coloring, enhancing the synthesizers that form the basic musical bed of the record, since much of this is mood music (for want of a better word). Security flows easily and enticingly, with certain songs -- the eerie "San Jacinto," "I Have the Touch," "Shock the Monkey" -- arising from the wash of sound. That's not to say that the rest of the album is bland easy listening -- it's designed this way, to have certain songs deliver greater impact than the rest. As such, it demands close attention to appreciate tone poems like "The Family and the Fishing Net," "Lay Your Hands on Me," and "Wallflower" -- and not all of them reward such intensive listening. Even with its faults, Security remains a powerful listen, one of the better records in Gabriel's catalog, proving that he is becoming a master of tone, style, and substance, and how each part of the record enhances the other. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1983 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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Although he had thrived on live performance as a member of Genesis, Peter Gabriel waited until he was four albums and six years deep into his solo career -- with the hit album Security and the Top 40 "Shock the Monkey" chalked up to his credit -- before he took the plunge into concert recording with this album. Released as a double-LP and two-CD set (but also later in a single CD "highlights" edition, missing four songs), this is a fine summing up of the artist's early solo years. Most of his biggest hits and key album tracks are represented in tight, inspired performances -- the notes concede that some of what is here was sweetened after the fact in the studio, but the immediacy of the stage performances wasn't lost in the process, and that emotional edge and intimacy give songs such as "Solsbury Hill," "I Don't Remember," and "Shock the Monkey" a sharper, deeper resonance than their studio renditions, fine as those are. It's that side of the performance that makes this release well worth owning, for anyone enamored of Gabriel's voice or songs, even if nothing here wholly supplants the studio originals. And the band -- Tony Levin (bass, stick, backing vocals), Jerry Marotta (drums, vocals), David Rhodes (guitar, vocals), and Larry Fast (keyboards) -- is in excellent form as well. What is lacking is the cohesiveness that one might have gotten from a live album assembled from a single concert; derived from a multitude of shows, the individual songs are excellent unto themselves, but there's little sense (or even the illusion) from song to song of any forward momentum across the album, and that might be the one major flaw here. But this is a suitable capstone to the first phase of Gabriel's solo career, and also a peculiar one in certain respects -- given the effort that obviously went into assembling the album, the packaging is almost minimalist by the standards of live albums and double albums of the era (the LP version even put both platters into a single sleeve). © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Us

Rock - Released September 29, 1992 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Six years after earning his first blockbuster, Peter Gabriel finally delivered Us, his sequel to So. Clearly, that great span of time indicates that Gabriel was obsessive in crafting the album, and Us bears the sound of endless hours in the studio. It's not just that the production is pristine, clean, and immaculate, it's that the music is, with only a handful of exceptions (namely, the "Sledgehammer" rewrite "Steam" and the fellatio ode "Kiss That Frog"), remarkably subtle and shaded. It's also not a coincidence that Us is, as Gabriel says in his liner notes, "about relationships," since the exquisitely textured music lets him expose his soul, albeit in a typically obtuse way. Since the music is so muted, it's no surprise that the album failed to capture a mass audience the way So did, but it's foolish to expect anyone but serious fans to unravel an album this deliberate. Gabriel is as adventurous as ever, yet he is relentlessly sober about his experiments, burying exotic sounds and percussion underneath crawling tempos measured atmospherics -- this is tastefully two-toned music, assembled by a consummate craftsman who became too immersed in detail to make anything but an insular, introspective work. Some gems are easier to unearth than others -- "Digging in the Dirt" has an insistent pulse, "Blood of Eden" and "Come Talk to Me" are quite beautiful, "Secret World" is quietly anthemic -- yet, given enough time, the record's understated approach and reflection becomes its most attractive element. But it takes a lot of spins and patience to get to that point, since this is an album he made for himself, and only those dedicated to the artist will have the patience to decode it. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Up

Rock - Released September 24, 2002 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Ten years is a long time, especially in pop music, but waiting ten years to deliver an album is a clear sign that you're not all that interested in the pop game anyway. Such is the case with Peter Gabriel, who delivered Up in 2002, a decade after Us and four years after he announced its title. Perhaps appropriately, Up sounds like an album that was ten years in the making, revealing not just its pleasures but its intent very, very slowly. This is not an accessible record, nor is it easy to warm up to, which means that many may dismiss it upon a single listen or two, never giving it the time it demands in order to be understood (it does not help matters that the one attempt at a single is the ham-fisted, wrong-headed trash-TV "satire" "The Barry Williams Show," which feels utterly forced and out of place here, as if Geffen was pleading for anything resembling a single to add to the album). Really, there is no other choice for an artist as somber and ambitious as Gabriel to craft an album as dense as Up; those who have waited diligently for ten years would be disappointed with anything less and, frankly, they're the only audience that matters after a decade. And they're not likely to be disappointed, since this album grows stronger, revealing more with each listen. Initially, it seems to simply carry on the calmer, darker recesses of Us, but this is an uncompromising affair, which is to its advantage, since Gabriel delves deeper into darkness, grief, and meditation. It may take a while for him to emerge from the darkness -- there is little of the comfort of a "Come Talk to Me" or "Blood of Eden," which are immediately soothing on Us -- but there are glimmers of hope throughout the album, even in its darkest moments. Again, it takes awhile to sort all this out -- to unlock the form of the songs, then their meanings -- and it's such a somber, hushed, insular affair that some dedicated listeners may not bother to spin it the appropriate number of times. But those serious fans who want to spend time with this will find that it does pay back many rewards. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 13, 2019 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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Peter Gabriel’s is still unveiling treasures. Flotsam and Jetsam is both a “best of” record and a compilation of rare finds. A few months after his very brief album Rated PG, which brought together the artist’s songs for the big screen, Flotsam and Jetsam comprises three volumes – ordered more or less chronologically – of Peter Gabriel’s career. We find both his well-known hits (Solsbury Hill, Sledgehammer, Biko, In Your Eyes...) and other much more obscure tracks. In the 80s, B sides contained EPs and singles, offering artists a way to share both new releases and remixes and Peter Gabriel was among those to pounce on this format. He also used the opportunity to share songs that were only available in film soundtracks. This compilation unearths tracks that never appeared on official albums and we find some nuggets that would have deserved more attention as their commercial potential seems obvious today: Digging In The Dirt (in its rock version), Walk Through The Fire (also found on Rated PG), Don't Break This Rhythm, Curtains...With 62 tracks and a duration of nearly 6 hours, no one will blame you for picking and choosing from the songs. At times, we wonder if perhaps just one version of the songs (which often come in many different versions) would have sufficed! Especially since his huge hits are already readily available (especially on his album Hit, which boasts many of his greatest songs). Things don’t get off to a great start with his cover of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, itself taken from the highly debatable soundtrack of the film All This And World War II. Few will have the courage to listen more than once to this bizarre situation where the singer is hardly to his advantage… On the other hand, the idea of gathering together his covers is brilliant. We find In The Sun borrowed from Joseph Arthur, Summertime by George Gershwin with Larry Adler’s harmonica, and Suzanne by Leonard Cohen... Flotsam And Jetsam also fills the gaps left by some of Rated PG’s omissions, including the remarkable Signal To Noise and The Tower That Hate People.This relatively balanced album offers an overview of Peter Gabriel’s many styles, from hard rock to electro, chill-out new age, pop new wave, funk and most of all world music, a genre for which he is still one of the most ardent defenders. Though despite this grand unveiling, I Go Swimming, Lovetown, Baby Man, Out Out Out, While The Earth Sleeps are still missing. © Jean-Pierre Sabouret/Qobuz
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World - Released June 1, 1989 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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Passion is in actuality Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, retitled as a result of legal barriers; regardless of its name, however, there's no mistaking the record's stirring power. Like much of Gabriel's solo work, the album is a product of his continuing fascination with world music, which he employs here to create an exceptionally beautiful and atmospheric tapestry of sound perfectly evocative of the film's resonant spiritual drama; inspired by field recordings collected in areas as diverse as Turkey, Senegal, and Egypt, Passion achieves a cumulative effect clearly Middle Eastern in origin, yet its brilliant fusion of ancient and modern musics ultimately transcends both geography and time. Remarkably dramatic, even visual, it is not only Gabriel's best film work but deserving of serious consideration as his finest music of any kind; equally worthwhile is Passion -- Sources, which assembles the original native recordings which served as his creative launching pad. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 1, 1978 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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The pairing sounds ideal -- the former front man of Genesis, as produced by the leading light of King Crimson. Unfortunately, Peter Gabriel's second album (like his first, eponymous) fails to meet those grandiose expectations, even though it seems to at first. "On the Air" and "D.I.Y." are stunning slices of modern rock circa 1978, bubbling with synths, insistent rhythms, and polished processed guitars, all enclosed in a streamlined production that nevertheless sounds as large as a stadium. Then, things begin to drift, at first in a pleasant way ("A Wonderful Day in a One-Way World" is surprisingly nimble), but by the end, it all seems a little formless. It's not that the music is overly challenging -- it's that the record is unfocused. There are great moments scattered throughout the record, yet it never captivates, either through intoxicating, messy creativity (as he did on his debut) or through cohesion (the way the third Peter Gabriel album, two years later, would). Certain songs work well on their own -- not just the opening numbers, but the mini-epic "White Shadow," the tight "Animal Magic," the tense yet catchy "Perspective," the reflective closer "Home Sweet Home" -- yet for all the tracks that work, they never work well together. Ironically, it holds together a bit better than its predecessor, yet it never reaches the brilliant heights of that record. In short, it's a transitional effort that's well worth the time of serious listeners, even it's still somewhat unsatisfying. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hit

Rock - Released November 3, 2003 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Rock - Released May 1, 1986 | Real World Productions Ltd.

Peter Gabriel introduced his fifth studio album, So, with "Sledgehammer," an Otis Redding-inspired soul-pop raver that was easily his catchiest, happiest single to date. Needless to say, it was also his most accessible, and, in that sense it was a good introduction to So, the catchiest, happiest record he ever cut. "Sledgehammer" propelled the record toward blockbuster status, and Gabriel had enough songs with single potential to keep it there. There was "Big Time," another colorful dance number; "Don't Give Up," a moving duet with Kate Bush; "Red Rain," a stately anthem popular on album rock radio; and "In Your Eyes," Gabriel's greatest love song, which achieved genuine classic status after being featured in Cameron Crowe's classic Say Anything. These all illustrated the strengths of the album: Gabriel's increased melodicism and ability to blend African music, jangly pop, and soul into his moody art rock. Apart from these singles, plus the urgent "That Voice Again," the rest of the record is as quiet as the album tracks of Security. The difference is, the singles on that record were part of the overall fabric; here, the singles are the fabric, which can make the album seem top-heavy (a fault of many blockbuster albums, particularly those of the mid-'80s). Even so, those songs are so strong, finding Gabriel in a newfound confidence and accessibility, that it's hard not to be won over by them, even if So doesn't develop the unity of its two predecessors. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released December 1, 1990 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Greatest-hits albums are a traditional way of buying time for artists between albums. Peter Gabriel's, entitled Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats, arrived in December of 1990, as he was toiling away at the follow-up to his smash So, which was four years old at that point. As greatest-hits albums go, it's pretty good, containing all the hits, plus an effective re-recording of "Here Comes the Flood" and a good new song in the form of the title track. While the sequencing may leave something to be desired -- it is neither chronological, nor as supple as a good mix tape -- it does contain nearly everything a casual fan could want (nothing from the second album, though; both "On the Air" or "D.I.Y." would have been nice additions), making it an effective sampler. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 4, 2003 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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Recorded in May 2003 at a single show in the Round in Milan, Italy, this documents Peter Gabriel's worldwide tour following his Up release. As such, it not surprisingly relies heavily on that disc, with seven of the 17 tracks originating from the album. Only about five tunes in this show can be considered "hits" (conspicuously absent is anything from his second and third albums) but most won't miss the many omissions since the performance is so consistently breathtaking. Gabriel is known for his elaborate, high-tech presentations and this certainly has its share of surprises. To reveal them would be unfair, since much of the excitement in watching a Gabriel show is seeing how his stage act -- here modernized for an in-the-round setting -- unfurls and reflects the songs. But suffice it to say, that unless you were there -- and even then -- Gabriel has plenty of tricks up his baggy black sleeves. Although he begins modestly, playing stark piano alone on an empty stage for a moving "Here Comes the Flood," the ever-present and very visible orange-suited crew, which appears and disappears though trap doors in the fake floor, quickly adds the full band. Split screens display these techs looking bored under the stage, preparing for the next song, a video technique that is overused throughout the concert's 2 1/4 hour running time. Otherwise, the camera work is excellent, if a bit hyperactive at times. Vocal overdubs are kept to a minimum and the 5.1 surround mix is astonishingly vibrant and detailed. One new song, "Animal Nation," is played, but it is not one of Gabriel's best and at nearly 15 minutes overstays its welcome. Also, the band introductions, which are chanted by the audience after the tune, might have been fun if you were there, but wear thin quickly. Still, this is a beautifully and imaginatively shot production caught in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Gabriel sounds great, as do the bandmembers, many of whom, like bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes, are longtime associates. It's a must for any fan of the British star and a riveting performance even for those unfamiliar with his work. © Hal Horowitz /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 15, 2010 | Real World Records Ltd.

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Considering the slow trickle of completed albums he has released since becoming a superstar in 1986 -- just two albums of songs with vocals, paired with two albums of soundtracks and two live records -- deliberate is expected from Peter Gabriel, so the slow, hushed crawl of Scratch My Back is no shock. What may be a shock is that Gabriel chose to follow 2002’s Up with a covers album but, like all of his work, this 2010 record is highly conceptual no matter how minimal the end result may be. Designed as the first half of a two-part project where Gabriel would cover 12 different artists who would then return the favor by recording their own versions of Gabriel’s compositions -- the counterpart album naturally bearing the title I’ll Scratch Yours -- Scratch My Back divides neatly between six songs from his peers (Bowie, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Byrne) and six songs from younger artists (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Stephin Merritt, Bon Iver, Elbow, Regina Spektor). Gabriel doesn’t dodge familiar tunes, choosing to sing “Heroes” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” but he twists each tune to his own needs, arranging everything with nothing more than piano and strings, a change that’s almost jarring on Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” yet it stays true to the undercurrent of melancholy in the melody. Indeed, all of Scratch My Back is stark, sober, and spare, delving ever deeper inward, a triumph of intellect over emotion -- a noted contrast to almost all cover albums that celebrate the visceral, not the cerebral. Immediate it may not be but fascinating it is, and after hearing Gabriel turn all 12 of these songs into something unmistakably his own, the appetite is surely whetted for its companion piece. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released October 10, 2011 | Real World Productions Ltd.

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Almost every one of Peter Gabriel’s best-laid plans winds up going awry, and so it was with Scratch My Back, his 2010 collection of orchestral covers of some of his favorite songs. He had hoped to have the artists he covered return the favor by interpreting his songs but that project never got off the ground, so he pursued New Blood, an album where he turned that orchestra upon his own songs. New Blood is in every way a companion piece to Scratch My Back; it’s cut from the same aesthetic cloth, it's austere and cerebral without being chilly, it finds emotion within intellect. Some songs aren’t considerably different tonally than the original versions -- this is particularly true of the So material, with “Mercy Street” and “Red Rain” seeming no different in their transition from Synclavier to symphony -- but the ones that are heavily reworked, such as “San Jacinto” and “Intruder,” are startling, rearrangements that seem to give the songs a new set of bones. New Blood isn’t always as astonishing but that’s fine: the faithful adherence to melody on “Don’t Give Up” and “In Your Eyes” functions as something of a palate cleanser, and even when the album isn’t risky it’s always quietly absorbing. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released February 15, 2010 | Real World Records Ltd.

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Considering the slow trickle of completed albums he has released since becoming a superstar in 1986 -- just two albums of songs with vocals, paired with two albums of soundtracks and two live records -- deliberate is expected from Peter Gabriel, so the slow, hushed crawl of Scratch My Back is no shock. What may be a shock is that Gabriel chose to follow 2002’s Up with a covers album but, like all of his work, this 2010 record is highly conceptual no matter how minimal the end result may be. Designed as the first half of a two-part project where Gabriel would cover 12 different artists who would then return the favor by recording their own versions of Gabriel’s compositions -- the counterpart album naturally bearing the title I’ll Scratch Yours -- Scratch My Back divides neatly between six songs from his peers (Bowie, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Lou Reed, David Byrne) and six songs from younger artists (Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Stephin Merritt, Bon Iver, Elbow, Regina Spektor). Gabriel doesn’t dodge familiar tunes, choosing to sing “Heroes” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” but he twists each tune to his own needs, arranging everything with nothing more than piano and strings, a change that’s almost jarring on Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” yet it stays true to the undercurrent of melancholy in the melody. Indeed, all of Scratch My Back is stark, sober, and spare, delving ever deeper inward, a triumph of intellect over emotion -- a noted contrast to almost all cover albums that celebrate the visceral, not the cerebral. Immediate it may not be but fascinating it is, and after hearing Gabriel turn all 12 of these songs into something unmistakably his own, the appetite is surely whetted for its companion piece. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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OVO

Alternative & Indie - Released June 13, 2000 | Virgin Music UK LAS (S&D)

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In 1997, Peter Gabriel was asked to pilot a visual project for London's Millennium Dome. OVO is a work based on the intersecting problems of race relations, environmental concerns, family issues, and fairy tales as allegories, violence, and more. And keep in mind that this was to be a visual piece. Gabriel, to meet the challenge for CD, added a ton of multimedia to the musical soundtrack: there is a drawn storybook, The Story of OVO, a view of the installation itself from every angle, and many stopgap notes, drawings, and the like. For the soundtrack, he enlisted the help of collaborators such as Elizabeth Fraser, Neneh Cherry (whatever happened to her third record, the one she did with Tricky?), Richie Havens, the Black Dyke Mills Band, the Electra Strings, Paul Buchanan (of Blue Nile), Adzido, the Dhol Foundation drummers, and Iarla Ó Lionáird from the Afro-Celt Sound System. Needless to say, the music is all over the map, from a rap version of the "Story of Ovo" to an Irish jig to Gabriel's percussive culture plundering soundscapes and new songs (including a truly dull rework of "Digging in the Dirt") to Eno-like ambiences to folk songs and new songs with Havens and Ó Lionáird singing like the opposite ends of a heavenly choir and Liz Fraser soaring over the Dhol Foundation drummers. It sounds awesome doesn't it? It should be. But it's not. OVO sounds labored, choppy, and pasted together, like it is the soundtrack to a visual installation, and feels incomplete without it. This is not a project like Passion was or even Birdy; it's a pastiche that attempts to be as ambitious as the installation project. And it is ambitious. Unfortunately, musically it isn't consistent enough to sustain the listener's interest for the entire length of the recording. It is a curious project with moments, but is most likely for hardcore fans only. © Thom Jurek /TiVo