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Peter Gabriel - And I'll Scratch Yours

Part two. Delay: Three years

Here it is, finally: the second part of Peter Gabriel's song swap project that began with the album Scratch My Back. You can read up on all the details on our information page; let it suffice here to say that after Gabriel had covered twelve songs by various artists in unusual orchestral arrangement these twelve were meant to cover a Gabriel song in return. The first six songs soon arrived, but then things seemed to grind to a halt. The half dozen songs were eventually released for download but there would be no CD.
When Realworld fell very silent about the project after a certain moment nobody thought that the release of the album had been scratched, no pun intended. The song swap project seemed to have fallen through. All the bigger was the surprise when its release was announced all of a sudden in July 2013. Three years later! Though we are getting used to the snail-like pace of Gabriel's work process, he still manages to surprise.
Two of the artists have achieved not being on the album. Neil Young apparently could not get off his rear end while Radiohead singer Tom Yorke did not seem to want to communicate anymore. People around the band spread the word that he utterly disliked Gabriel's cover of Fade Out.

What kind of an album has And I'll Scratch Yours become? Gabriel's Scratch My Back is all of a piece: The recordings were done by a single artist who had even put on a rigid artistic corset. How about the return? The twelve artists on the album mark about the whole scope and range of something that could be termed „pop music“ only very loosely. What they have in common is perhaps more depth and sensuality than one would find with, say, Britney Spears and David Hasselhoff. But is that enough to hold together a whole album?

Let us look at each of the twelve songs individually:

David Byrne - I Don't Remember

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of Listening Wind

Synthetic bubbling and squeaking open the album. Then a falsetto man’s voice. David Byrne takes on the job of replying, as it were, for The Talking Heads, a proceeding we will encounter a second time on this album. The Heads have always been known for full arrangements with a slightly neurotic feel. Their head has now turned Gabriel’s vehement rock number into a kind of detached confusion. Synthetic drums and slightly camp “huhuuuh” backing vocals disguise the desperation of not being able to remember rather than bring it out. A challenge.  The first piece already shows a good measure of independent interpretation.

Bon Iver - Come Talk To Me

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of Flume

Unfocused guitar tinkering is the first we hear of Bon Iver’s version of Come Talk To Me. It evolves into banjo picking and warm synth strings. Several layers of sound are added, the drums come in only after the first chorus. The solemn and haunting feeling of the original is retained, not least because drum licks, the saxophone-like accompaniment and the vocals by several singers clearly stick to Gabriel’s version. Despite some good ideas in the arrangements that vary the dynamics this is not much of a groundbreaking rendition.

Regina Spektor - Blood Of Eden

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of Apres Moi

Regina Spektor also appears to be less interested in content. She reduces the arrangement to drums, bass and piano. Her version is straightforward and simple – the song is well-crafted but does not really translate a message into music. It is a grooving version that slowly rises. In the choruses she sings and plays in an unusual rhythm against the basic rhythm. That’s memorable. A fine and simple version with musical craftsmanship as its approach. 

Stephin Merritt - Not One of Us

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of The Book Of Love

Stephin Merritt, founder and singer of Magnetic Fields (whose sole representative he is here), feels that while Gabriel’s Not One Of Us sounded very futuristic in 1980 his sounded like the 80s. Right from the start there is a kind of plastic synth, an equally relentless and lifeless computerdrummer bangs on, and the chorus is augmented by a high-pitched choir of dwarves. The message is retained, though Gabriel’s howling of a wolf pack has turned into the carefree narcissistic singing of a prosperous flock.
The song wades knee-deep in biting irony and is a most refreshingly irreverent approach to Gabriel’s original.

Joseph Arthur - Shock The Monkey

No direct reply, since there is no Arthur cover on Scratch My Back

Two “guests” make up the number for the dozen return covers on the album. Joseph Arthur was not on Scratch My Back. What we get to hear here is the version of Shock The Monkey he recorded for The Voice Project 2010, thus passing on the baton to Gabriel, who, in turn, performed In The Neighborhood by Tom Waits. Arthur’s Shock The Monkey has its place here as part of a cover project, albeit another one.
The cover versions for The Voice Project are intentionally “quick and dirty” recordings of one-man-performances. A thundering electric guitar with infinite echo is the only thing that accompanies Arthur’s vocals. The result is no aggressive breakout anymore, but rather frozen pain, which is quite in keeping with the song’s intentions. But it does not seem very refined.
It is not a typical Arthur song and leaves a peculiar impression on the album.

Randy Newman - Big Time

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of I Think It's Going To Rain Today

Newman, this versatile musical juggler with a New Orleans touch, has chosen a jazz line-up of piano, bass and drums to accompany his version. Though not particularly extravagant, his version is nevertheless so free that it is hard to recognize the melody. The band play intentionally rough and ready, so they seem like a street band or the Loser combo who want to keep up their old dream of success. The production has more depth to it than first meets the ear.  A peculiar, intelligent version of the song.

Arcade Fire - Games Without Frontiers

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of My Body Is A Cage

Drums rattle and guitars creak, as Arcade Fire's version of Games settles somewhere between stomping aggression and dull lack of emotion. The march of the soulless. It is more energetic than the original yet stays close to its sterility in a way. This may be because central motives reoccur, e.g. the whistling interlude or the female voice for „jeux sans frontières“.
Nice groove, nothing excellent. Considering that it looked for a long time as though they might not participate we are quite glad to have Arcade Fire.

Elbow - Mercy Street

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of Mirrorball

Elbow pick up on the slightly lost mood of Gabriel's version and reduce it to an unobtrusive synth flow, quiet drums and simple piano chords. The outcome is even more of a mystical meditation than the original. They also paid very much attention to the polyvocalist choruses. Though they keep an eye on the original Elbow offer a deep and independent version.

Brian Eno - Mother Of Violence

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of "Heroes"

No, Brian Eno is not David Bowie. When Bowie did not feel like it, Eno scratched back – quite legitimately so, since he co-wrote Heroes. Early rumours had it that Eno wanted to do In Your Eyes. What he actually covered was the less prominent Mother Of Violence. Good to see that Gabriel's rather overlooked second solo album is represented this way, too. Eno warps this simple guitar piece into the droning soundtrack of a science fiction horror movie. Soundloops, rattling drums, dark spoken vocals, experimental sounds and a thickening arrangement make this a directionless thunderstorm – an evil version.

Feist feat. Timber Timbre - Don't Give Up

No direct reply since there is no Feist cover on Scratch My Back

Feist is the other artist who jumped into the breach to make up the dozen. In 2012 she joined Gabriel's Back To Front tour as a special guest to sing Don't Give Up. Now she has recorded the song with the help of Canadian folk band Timber Timbre. Interestingly, the roles have been reversed. Feist sings the verses while the male voice offers the encouragement and support. At first there are few instruments, in fact, just a reduced rhythm track. Lots of space. Later the arrangements tighten and there is a kind of Irish violin solo in the middle. No inner necessities makes themselves known. It all sounds fine, accomplished, modern.

Lou Reed - Solsbury Hill

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of The Power Of The Heart

It is admittedly a risk to hand Gabriel's most confident and progressing song to a kaputnik like Lou Reed. There is no happy affirmation of life; the man on the hill is rather swamped with the noise of society. Still this cloud of sound may trigger an electrifying detachment. Plus, Reed's spoken vocals only appear to be emotionless. The common Genesis fan is nevertheless unlikely to want to hear this version every day.

Paul Simon - Biko

Reply to Gabriel’s cover of Boy In The Bubble

That this song would be done by Paul Simon, by the artist who introduced African musical culture to a broader Western audience, was rather obvious. Perhaps too obviouss. So the song Peter Gabriel covered also comes from an Afrophile record of Simon's, but do we have to put so much stress on this link? At least there are no drum-based dancing rites here. Simon focuses on folk guitar with some tender choirs and a warm cello solo. A simple, straight version.

All in all

The fact that there are two „guests“ on the album sort of spoils the concept of „I cover you, you cover me“. An album with just ten tracks would have been fine, too.
Apart from that the overall topic is variety. There is no musical cohesion, and so this collection of cover versions is not much different from any other. Well, with the exception that the artist in question has selected the artists who would cover him. What they have done with his songs is, at times, excellent. It is not likely, though, that this CD will be listened to from end to end very often. The versions are simply to disparate.
The supplement to Scratch My Back takes a different approach than the first part, but it is worthwhile listening to.

By Thomas Schrage, English by Martin Klinkhardt

Release formats
And I'll Scratch Yours will be released in various formats:
- single CD: (to follow) | amazon-uk

Bundled with Scratch My Back (digipak)
- double CD: (to follow) | amazon-uk

01 I Don't Remember (David Byrne) 3:41
02 Come Talk To Me (Bon Iver) 6:20
03 Blood Of Eden (Regina Spektor) 4:36
04 Not One Of Us (Stephin Merritt) 3:58
05 Shock The Monkey (Joseph Arthur) 5:47
06 Big Time (Randy Newman) 3:39
07 Games Without Frontiers (Arcade Fire) 3:25
08 Mercy Street (Elbow) 5:44
09 Mother Of Violence (Brian Eno) 3:04
10 Don't Give Up (Feist feat. Timber Timbre) 5:35
11 Solsbury Hill (Lou Reed) 5:25
12 Biko (Paul Simon) 4:18