Peter Gabriel: And I’ll Scratch Yours

And I'll Scratch Yours
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Artist: Peter Gabriel
Genre: Rock
Label: Real World Records

This concept record, postponed for several years, finally gets two kinds of releases – one last September and one this week. It straddles dissent and harmony, notions that have continuously infused Peter Gabriel’s work.

And I'll Scratch Yours was intended as a companion piece to 2010's Scratch My Back, in which Gabriel approached various musicians' work – David Bowie's Heroes, Radiohead's Street Spirit (Fade Out) – with the intention that they, in turn, would cover his own compositions here.

Some artists declined the second outing, such as Radiohead, perhaps not as flattered by the heroically bleak interpretations of their work. Even so, there's a lot to admire here, not least through the assembly of singular voices such as Stephin Merritt, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, David Byrne, Arcade Fire and Randy Newman.

Some of the younger musicians are perhaps too beholden to Gabriel in tone; Feist and Timber Timbre's Don't Give Up captures the sense of elegance but loses the original's yearning. Justin Vernon sounds muted on Come Talk to Me, while Arcade Fire mainly slope along to military-sounding percussion on Games Without Frontiers.


But the divergences are fantastic. The late Lou Reed sounds positively buoyant taking on Solsbury Hill, with frazzled, braying guitar keeping things loose and light. Stephin Merritt hurtles through Not One of Us with manipulated vocals and speckles of electronica that barely mask the wry menace his baritone betrays. And David Byrne brings an "uplifting clubby treatment" to I Don't Remember, a darkly lit song about isolation.

The best covers punch an original idea into another shape. The vocals on Mother of Violence are drenched in distorting effects by Brian Eno. They are brave and indomitable on Randy Newman's sucker-punch of Big Time. It's heartening to hear Newman, playing the piano as if being chased, stretching his mouth "to let those big words come right out".

Perhaps it's not enough to get inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as Gabriel will be in 2014. Maybe it's enough to continue being inventively creative. And I'll Scratch Yours also reminds us just how strong Peter Gabriel's work is, and piques the interest for what will surely come next.
Download: Randy Newman, Big Time; Lou Reed, Solsbury Hill; David Byrne, I Don't Remember

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture