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Peter Gabriel - New Blood

Coming Back Home: New Blood In Old Veins


"I am going to release another album within 18 months", Peter Gabriel once said, "for I have so much material." He was talking about I/O after the release of UP nine years ago. I/O still has not been released yet, but this time Gabriel has indeed managed the thing with the 18 months. Roughly one and a half years after Scratch My Back he puts out New Blood, another new album. The significant difference: There is no new song material on either album. So we need first to look at why there is such an album as New Blood.


Out of the unbelievable myriad of project ideas it was Scratch My Back that would be realized. Gabriel wanted to cover other artists' songs and they would cover a song of his in return. He decided not to do it the easy way, either: His was the idea to record it all using „no drums, no guitars, only orchestra“. So he drew up a list of songs he was interested in recording. This list had one special factor: Gabriel had all the artists whose songs he would cover promise him to return the favour. There would be his album called Scratch My Back, and a twin album with the working title I'll Scratch Yours. Every full moon in 2010 would see the release of an iTunes single tandem that would consist of a song from Scratch My Back and a Gabriel song covered by the artist who was covered.

Scratch My Back came out in February 2010 and became an unexpectedly big success, particularly in Germany. Fans were excited when Gabriel announced that he would bring the music to the big concert stage. At first only five shows were planned to present the music live with a full orchestra. New Blood was what Gabriel called the project. And he faced a dilemma: Scratch My Back contains 12 songs, roughly an hour's worth of material. So he needed to fill at least another hour with his own material. This was the reason why the show was split into two parts. The first half focused on the new album which was performed in full and without any breaks. The second half had a bit more space to breathe in, but Gabriel did not move an inch from the orchestral concept. The success of the first five shows in Europa that were followed by five equally successful shows in North America prompted him to embark on a European tour in early fall of 2010. Gabriel used the tour to tweak the show, especially the second half, and to add a constant stream of new songs to the set. He still left his biggest hit, Sledgehammer, at home preferring to experiment with songs such as The Drop and Wallflower. The shows were immensely successful and so Gabriel decided to record an album of his own songs with the orchestra. In between the album sessions that, like the live shows, involved conductor Ben Foster and master arranger John Metcalfe, he toured again and tried out yet more new songs. Biko joined the set as well as Father, Son and Secret World, though only North American fans were treated to the latter two. By 2011 Gabriel had abandoned the original concept of playing Scratch My Back in the first half and his own songs in the second in favour of a focus on his own songs.

coverNew Blood, the new studio album, contains 14 tracks, thirteen of which could be heard in at least one of the live shows. Because so many songs were tried out on tour one is bound to miss a number of songs. Signal To Noise, for instance, was the highpoint of every show, yet it is not part of New Blood. You could argue, however, that an orchestral version has already been released on UP. Washing Of The Water is missing, too, but it is available both as a free download and an online stream. Father, Son and The Drop were left off, too, and so are Biko and Secret World that premiered only in 2011. Blood Of Eden is at least available on the bonus CD of the special edition. At nearly the same time as New Blood a related release will come out: New Blood Live In London, the concert film of the shows in London in March 2011 will be available on DVD, Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray. Let us, however, focus on New Blood.

Black is the dominant colour. That was the case on Scratch My Back and New Blood, too, has a cover that is mainly black. Many people have put forward their idea of what the cover actually shows. Marc Bessant, who created the cover, reveals that it is a stem cell on needle point. The motive follows the visual concept of blood plates and cells.

One word of advice for the 14 songs of the standard album: Turn up the volume!

The Rhythm Of The Heat
This song was one of the live highlights. Many could not imagine how this song could work with an orchestra. It is most interesting to listen to the details on the album version where, of course, everything is crystal clear and every nuance is distinct. The multi-purpose venues certainly did not enhance this song with their less than perfect acoustics. The terrific finale of the song is identical to the live version, but far more intense: An absolute hammer right in the beginning.

Downside-Up
Compare the New Blood version to the one on OVO or on previous live shows and you will find that Gabriel deviates quite clearly from what you would have expected. The beginning sounds like always, but the version is very short because it was deprived of the dynamic, rhythmic end that was such a strong part in the live shows with and without orchestra. On New Blood the song ends after the verses with a repeating chant of „pull me in … pull me in!“. Why it was decided to let the song end at this particular point is anybody's guess. At 3:50, Downside Up is the shortest song on New Blood.

San Jacinto
This was the opening song for the second part of the concert. It comes from Peter's popular fourth album and brought on much applause at every show. The studio version is as intense as the live experience. As with The Rhythm Of The Heat it is worthwhile paying attention to how the instruments were arranged. Only at the end of the breathing sequence does the listener miss the visual effect from the live show a bit.

Intruder
A song that did not always live up to its full potential. During the tour in autumn 2010 it was right in the middle of the New Blood set, while it even was the opening song in London. This was quite fitting for the show, as the song is not quiet and calm, and so, usually, is the beginning of each concert. The studio version is all the better, though. One has time to listen to it all and enjoy full glory of the distracted intruder sounds combined with excellent vocals. With its breaks and starts, loud and quiet passages, Intruder works better than live.

Wallflower
This was one of the most wanted songs, yet it was played only rarely in the early stages of the show. Wallflower is a jewel in Peter Gabriel's back catalogue. This song really begged to be done with an orchestra. Gabriel has often said that the song is hard to sing; this may be another reason why he initially shied away from performing it on a regular basis. The studio version follows the version that was played live. Melanie gets to sing the end before both voices put the song to rest with the line „I will do what I can do“. A highly emotional moment on a rather deep album.

1In Your Eyes
There are songs that become quite a nuisance over the years, and it is mainly because they have been played far too often. In Your Eyes is one of these – Peter Gabriel apparently found it impossible to leave it out of a live set ever since the first played it on the This Way Up tour to promote So. The New Blood concept offered an opportunity to at least turn the song upside down. The orchestra alternated between dominant, unruly passages and sedate, gentle verse. It is quite refreshing not to have to expect the shenanigans of the live show. So we do not lift our arms before the chorus but listen spellbound to the arrangement and Peter's vocals. Compared to other songs on New Blood he sings this one in quite a contained manner.
Interestingly, during the intro to the second verse the orchestra moves to the background a bit and returns, as it were, only during the chorus. In Your Eyes ends with the bit about „I want to stand and stare again“ - a first for an album version. This is the longest song on the album (07:10).

Mercy Street
What was particularly intriguing about Mercy Street live was the beginning, which was almost percussive. The rhythm has much more class than the kind of fuzzy begining of the studio version. Gabriel sings the first lines with a slight delay, stretching the words, as it were. One may have the impression of listening to a slide guitar in the second verse. It is most impressive how compact and varied an orchestra can sound.

Red Rain
Majestic … Red Rain could be the highpoint of the album. The live version was already much better than most other things and Gabriel's voice was uniquely good and strong on this song. The studio version is sophisticated, strong, dynamic, it builds, grabs hold of the listener and takes them with it. Red Rain is a terrific song without an orchestra, but this here is incredible. Crank up the volume for it! What do you need a rock band for?

Darkness
Darkness was a big surprise on the Growing Up tour where it proved a real eye-opener right after Here Comes The Flood. Many people in the audience did not feel that the song worked at all in the orchestra shows – aggressive rock arrangements are what this song was linked too. If you have seen several shows of the New Blood tour you may have noticed that Gabriel, too, occasionally found this song difficult to do. The team, however, made good use of the longer time-frame they had for the album recordings as opposed to the hectic live show. Again one notices details that remained hidden in the concert. The mood swings are stronger or more gentle, depending on how it fits the song best. Gabriel's song presses in from above during what were the aggressive parts of the original song. It sits on the verses as if on a throne, verses that the orchestra „accompanies“ in forte. One wonders to which degree Gabriel's voice has been enhanced by the wonders of technology and how much his vocal performance really owns to his own singing technique. Interestingly, he sings the beginning not at all quiet but at a normal voice.

Don't Give Up
2The bass plays an important role in the original and in the orchestral version, too, though it sounds less massive. Both voices are carried by subtle string arrangements. A bit of piano comes in by the second verse and some rhythmic instruments while Ane Brun sings the bridging verse. The original version of the song with Kate Bush is considered the standard by which all other versions are measured. However, Ane Brun as his new co-vocalist is a real find. Though they both sing very well on the album they do not reach the intensity of the New Blood live shows.

Digging In The Dirt
The longer he played this classic from his US album the more aggressive did it become – still deeply impressive the version on the Growing Up Live DVD. Trying this song with an orchestra was a risky step, as it indeed changed the whole atmosphere of the songs. Dark and aggressive elements became hectic, loud arrangements. As the song progresses one occasionally suspects that Gabriel sings sort of against these arrangements in order to avoid any kind of harmonic atmosphere. The beginning of the song is actually rather relaxed and unobtrusive. Contrary to what you might expect, the chorus is rather calm, too, with subtle instruments. Those loud and hectic moments where the strings, the brass and the vocals fight each other begins right after the first chorus. Digging In The Dirt works much better on the album than in the concerts, though it cannot keep up with the best songs on New Blood.

The Nest That Sailed The Sky
Surprising though it was as the final encore of the live set this instrumental from the OVO album makes more sense at the end than it would seem at first. It calmed down the audience and sent them home from the show with soothing sounds. The album version has a similar effect (though it is not the end yet), but you may find yourself trying to pick out the notes Gabriel used to play right at the end on the piano.

A Quiet Moment
This is the big mystery on New Blood. According to Peter Gabriel's website this is an ambient piece Dickie Chappell has recorded on Solsbury Hill (the place, not the song). There is therefore not much more than birdsong and some wind.

Solsbury Hill

This song was labelled a bonus track, and that is exactly what it is on the album. The mood of the song has hardly changed, it is straightforward and poplike even in the orchestral version. The piano can be heard very clearly, and Gabriel's vocals sound as if he was going 20mph on a motorway. The New Blood version sounds less bombastic, almost diffident compared to the live version. Some pathos is still in order when Gabriel sings „coming back home“ at the end of the song. After all, everything started with Solsbury Hill. And he decided to let New Blood end with it.

The 2CD special edition contains all the songs of the album in instrumental versions as well as the bonus track Blood Of Eden, which was not available yet to the reviewer. Those who order directly from Peter Gabriel will get Father, Son as another bonus track. There will also be a digital release of the album besides the 1CD and 2CD versions. A heavy-weight vinyl LP with a bonus 7“ single will be released in November. The single contains A Quiet Moment and Solsbury Hill. The album will also be part of the New Blood Live In London Deluxe boxset (more information about that on our overview for the New Blood Live releases).

3Old songs, new blood. Peter Gabriel has taken the orchestra project to its limits with New Blood. It is not an easy album and certainly not a record he could have made, for instance, in the early 80s. New Blood is a late work, a summary, and in a way also a new departure by break-out. Gabriel apparently felt so strongly about this project that he left lots of new music in the drawer. New Blood is a reply to Scratch My Back and a decelerator for the musician on the go in Peter. And still this is the album that has made him more active than many people considered possible.
Never before has Gabriel made music that is more brilliant and clear than on New Blood. It is breathtaking to see how much an album that is, at its core, a kind of rehash of old classics and secret favourites, can sweep one away. Those who have seen Ben Foster at the shows may have an inkling how essential he was for New Blood to work. Every note is there, every change in the arrangements is well thought-out, variations are introduced in a tasteful manner, quiet passages inserted where they fit and other parts played loud where it makes sense. New Blood is a rollercoaster ride in dynamics and a very rhythmic offering even without drums and guitars. It is difficult to settle on favourites, and everybody will have their own. Red Rain is a strong contender, Rhythm Of The Heat anyway and even Darkness and Digging In The Dirt, two songs that worked only so-so in the concerts, have great merit here. What is missing? Biko and Secret WorldNew Blood must have come too late for them.


How everybody values the album depends on the legitimate question of the New Blood version vs. the rock version. Opinions are likely to spread very far here. The new version of Red Rain may win this challence, those of Digging In The Dirt, Darkness and Solsbury Hill are more likely to fall behind. The jury is still out on songs like Wallflower, Don't Give Up or The Nest That Sailed The Sky. Other clear winners from the New Blood album are The Rhythm Of The Heat, San Jacinto and Mercy Street. It is, on the other hand, very difficult to compare the two versions of Intruder with each other.

Does Gabriel satisfy the fans with this album? It is probably the album many would have wished for instead of Scratch My Back. And it is the soundtrack for the second part of the New Blood shows when Scratch My Back was still played in full. On the last song of the album, Solsbury Hill, Gabriel sings „I'm coming home“. Has he come home with New Blood or is he still on his way? The circle has closed, he is back at the beginning. Solsbury Hill was the song it all began with, and Gabriel closes his new album with Solsbury Hill. Coincidence? Not likely.

by Christian Gerhardts

English by Martin Klinkhardt
photos by York Tillyer


New Blood: Versions and additional tracks


There will be numerous versions with bonus tracks; fans may not be thrilled about it. Those who order from Peter Gabriel's website are given Father, Son as a bonus, the 2CD special edition has Blood Of Eden as a bonus track (apart from the instrumental versions of the album's first twelve tracks). If you order from iTunes you are given the bonus of Signal To Noise.
It is not certain whether Signal To Noise will be available on its own. The vinyl edition does not offer any extra tracks, but collectors will have to wait until November. The LP contains only twelve songs while A Quiet Moment and Solsbury Hill are added as a bonus 7“ single.


New Blood: Recording sessions and tour rehearsals - other songs


Gabriel will release only a selection from all the possible songs. Hopes that he might release all the songs that were recorded in the Special Edition (as Phil Collins did in 2010 with Going Back) have been disappointed. The following songs were played live and/or recorded but will not be released:

Lead A Normal Life
Washing Of The Water
The Drop
Father, Son
Biko
Secret World



Links
Peter Gabriel - New Blood Live In London - information page
Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back - CD review
Peter Gabriel - New Blood Tour - concert reports

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