Back in 2010, Peter Gabriel released “Scratch My Back,” a collection of hauntingly orchestrated covers by artists like Bon Iver, Arcade Fire and Lou Reed. The idea behind “Scratch My Back” was that these artists would return Gabriel’s favor and redo his songs for a follow-up album to be titled “And I’ll Scratch Yours.”
It took several years, but “And I’ll Scratch Yours” is finally ready and set for release on January 7. And while cover/tribute albums have been relegated to, as NPR’s Stephen Thompson put it, “minor footnotes in a musician’s catalog, ranked somewhere just above live albums, holiday recordings and those greatest-hits packages that tack on one or two new songs,” this record is worth a spin.
I’ve always been of the opinion that a cover should be a re-imagining of the source material, bearing little resemblance to the original. If a cover band can’t be more interesting than the jukebox, why bother?
Think about what Jimi Hendrix did with Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” It is a staple of Hendrix’s catalogue. Why? Because he took a great song and made it his own.
That’s what the artists who contributed to “And I’ll Scratch Yours” have done with Gabriel’s songs. For example, “Come Talk To Me” was originally a grandiose arrangement with African-inspired drums.
On Bon Iver’s version there’s no percussion save for the plink of a banjo until the last minute of the song. Justin Vernon’s vocals sit low in the mix, and there’s a bit more negative space, but the crescendo is magnificent.
“Shock the Monkey,” a fairly straight-forward pop song about love and jealousy, was one of Gabriel’s biggest hits. Joseph Arthur strips the tune down, opting for an atmospheric Moog guitar and his solitary, yearning vocals. It’s stark, but an impressive cover in all regards.
The late Lou Reed’s nasty version of “Solsbury Hill” is a far cry from Gabriel’s cut. Brian Eno’s interpretation of “Mother of Violence” is almost bizarre in comparison to the original.
All the artists on “And I’ll Scratch Yours” honor Gabriel’s seminal works. More importantly, in my opinion, they each put their own unique spin on these songs, breathing new life into these classics.