With Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel manages to suck the souls out of several of contemporary indie rock’s most beloved anthems. If you ever thought it impossible for a Radiohead, Magnetic Fields, or Arcade Fire song to bore you to tears, think again.
The idea behind the cover album is this: Gabriel covers indie giants, indie giants are so thrilled that the ex-Genesis frontman gave them the time of day that they instantly rush to their basement studios and bang out a Gabriel cover. Then all the Gabriel covers are released on a compilation album titled I’ll Scratch Yours…get it?
Albeit a bit conceited, the idea is somewhat interesting. It would have been refreshing to see an old-timer recognize the music of his kids’ generation, but Gabriel’s minimalist string and piano arrangements make him sound as out-of-touch as his age would indicate. He makes The Aracde Fire’s “My Body Is a Cage” sound like the score to a dramatic montage in a Lifetime movie.
One of the few exceptions, however, is Gabriel’s cover of Bon Iver’s “Flume.” He makes the seemingly untouchable song sound less like the realization of winter-borne melancholy and more like the triumph over it. The off-kilter piano and powerful vocals actually work for Justin Vernon’s rickety acoustic crooner.
But one right move in “Flume” doesn’t make Gabriel’s undertaking a success, and his cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” makes it downright unforgivable. The guitar-driven The Bends closer is reduced to a piano warm-up exercise as Gabriel stretched his vocal capacity to its limit. With this insultingly miserable rendition of a landmark song, good luck getting Thom Yorke to agree to the Gabriel tribute album.
We all know these are great songs…I, for one, don’t care what Peter Gabriel and his string quartet has to say about them.