1/07/2014

They Don't Have the Touch

VARIOUS ARTISTS
And I’ll Scratch Yours
[Real World-2013]

Scratch My Back [Real World-2010] was an album of covers recorded by Peter Gabriel and evenly divided among his peers and younger artists. The idea was that those covered would return the favor, hence the respective titles. However, not everyone did: David Bowie, Neil Young and Radiohead are missing here—Brian Eno, Joseph Arthur and Feist, appear in their stead—but the project went forward regardless. Plus, a three year wait for Gabriel-related material is a blessing, so we won’t complain about the turnaround. As for the final product…             

Interestingly, both of Gabriel’s white compadres in the ‘80s African music sweepstakes are both present. What is surprising is that the more dilettante of the two offers up the only vital reinterpretation here: Paul Simon’s “Biko” would still be a breath of fresh air even if it were not preceded by a slew of predictable covers and bad ideas. In the latter camp, the album starts off with fellow African music disciple David Byrne’s disco-fied “I Don’t Remember”, which in his usually capable hands could’ve been a highlight. ‘Fraid not. The likes of Stephen Merritt, Joseph Arthur, Randy Newman and the late Lou Reed follow suit while the rest, for the most part, are held back by their generally reverential approach to the originals, coming across more as alternate versions than reconfigurations. (Elbow’s “Mercy Street” actually sounds like an outtake from So [Geffen-1987]; Guy Garvey’s delivery eerily close to Gabriel's himself.) 

Has there ever been a similar congregation of talent all in one place and with so little to say?

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