15
Nov
11

Peter Gabriel: “New Blood”

Peter Gabriel (eye)

For my first blog ever, how about a new album by Peter Gabriel? Now, before you write this off, allow me to offer my two cents as to why I love his music so much, and why you should give him a shot:

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Write-Off PG…

  1. How can you write-off an artist who’s been listed as a major influence in an enormous and varied list of acts, including: PHISH, IRON MAIDEN, RUSH, THE KILLERS, RADIOHEAD, SARAH McLACHLAN, and QUEEN.
  2. Ever hear of a band called Genesis? Peter Gabriel started the band in 1967 and led it until he left to pursue a solo career.
  3. Although he’s 61 years old, he can still perform anything from his catalog, and well.
  4. He’s done so much for charity and for world music, including founding WOMAD.
  5. As with so many great artists, what you’ve heard on the radio is NOT even a decent representation of his catalog.

Why I Personally Enjoy PG…

  1. His song lyrics actually have meaning. Gabriel is a true artist, and his songs reach across the human experience of emotions, from jubilant to depressed, from anger to love, from helplessness to hope, from inquisitive to pompous, and everything in between. On top of emotional, Peter’s lyrics are also quite intellectual. This is music to think to, with lyrical meanings not always instantly presenting themselves.
  2. Musically, Peter Gabriel is anything but fluff. The production quality of a PG album can only be described as meticulous. Gabriel’s painstaking attention to details always shines through.
  3. The craft with which Peter Gabriel layers multiple instruments and tracks provides an aural feast. If you want proof, check out the album “So” – a masterpiece of production by PG and Daniel Lanois (U2, etc)
  4. As a musician and a music teacher myself, I greatly enjoy his harmonic and melodic creativity, not to mention the rhythmic complexity. If you enjoy good musical writing, you will find it tough to get bored with a Peter Gabriel playlist.
  5. He’s an artist in the truest sense. With seemingly no care for what the mainstream might prefer, PG has released songs and albums that play more like works of art than manufactured packages for the masses. To appreciate Peter Gabriel’s music is to appreciate art.

New Album: “New Blood”

New Blood album cover

Ok, so on to the new album, “New Blood” released a few weeks ago. I recently heard an interview with James Wolcott on NPR, speaking of his new book and his column in Vanity Fair. James said the most important characteristic of any critic is to be true to the original reaction to what you’re critiquing. So, I’ll start there…

My First Reaction: I was enraptured. But, I must admit to you the circumstance within which this “rapture” took place: as an album of Peter Gabriel songs put to orchestral arrangement, it was serendipitous that I was listening to high school band arrangements at the time I purchased the album. The colors and harmonies being performed by the New Blood Orchestra on this album seemed, at the time, an incredible tapestry compared to the limits of high school band music. Combine that with the fact that I already love Peter Gabriel, and the fact that I saw this tour live in Saratoga this past summer, and Voilà!’ – rapture. To be fair, any true Gabriel fan will enjoy this album. He goes deep enough into his catalog to rejuvenate some deep cuts, while avoiding radio-play regulars like “Sledgehammer.” And those odd balls like me – classically trained AND already a Gabriel fan – will instantly fall in love with this, just because of the characteristically emotional performances by Gabriel coupled with the professional orchestral performers and high-quality arrangements.

For the PG Noob: This part’s for you: the passer-by, the ones who know this guy via “Sledgehammer”, “Shock The Monkey”, and “Big Time.” Not only will you likely tire of the relative drum set-less texture (only 3 out of 16 tracks have any membranophones at all), the relatively unknown track list (save “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”), and the poor order in which the tracks were arranged. If, however, you are up to the challenge of braving these “elements” and mining this work for its gems, I have a few suggestions:

First, know that this is an orchestral album; so turn up the volume on your stereo. Otherwise, you’ll miss some key ingredients to the texture (something those of us who listen to art [aka “classical”] music are already used to). Once you’ve turned it up to ’11’, start with “Intruder.” Not only is it the best track on the album, it’s got a lot of energy – something a lot of these tracks intentionally lack. Next, I’d follow it up with these: In Your Eyes, San Jacinto, The Rhythm of the Heat, Red Rain, The Nest That Sailed The Sky, and then Signal To Noise. I’m not sure it’s a good introduction to Peter Gabriel, but this is a good sampling of what’s being offered whilst avoiding some striking potholes on this particular album. OK, noobs can cease reading now. 🙂

The Full Review: It’s one thing to put your music to orchestral arrangement – something we’ve seen done (often badly) many times before. But what Gabriel’s done here is taken his songs and given them a true, unsurprisingly detailed treatment with co-arranger John Metcalf.

The Good: On New Blood, Peter has expanded his “pallet”, if you will: a full orchestra of instruments, as compared with his usual electronic sounds, guitars, and drums. Remember that an orchestra can get louder, softer, higher, and lower than a regular rock band. On some tracks, this actually works to uncoil the original intent of the song, sadly. On others, it heightens it to amazing new levels. This happens on “San Jacinto”, “Intruder”, and “Signal To Noise” to a point where I am removing the original tracks from my playlist and replacing them with the New Blood versions, which sound like how the song should have originally been set. “San Jacinto” reaches new levels of contemplation, “Signal” new levels of intensity, and “Intruder” new levels of scariness. Thankfully, “Wallflower” finally gets the treatment it always deserved; a song about tortured victims of human rights, the “Security” album version – with its low volume and seemingly uncharacteristic hurried production quality – never did the song justice.

One thing that is so very cool on this album: a track called “A Quiet Moment.” A simple recording of gentle wind blowing through the breeze coupled with unobtrusive birds, “Quiet” is a wonderful pallet-clearing track that relaxes the senses and allows the listener a break from the powerful and extreme texture of a full orchestra (something most rock fans are not used to). It’s a clever move by a clever artist.

The Bad: “In Your Eyes”, “Solsbury Hill”, and “Mercy Street” arrangements are both kind of take-it-or-leave-it quality. There are better versions of each already in the PG catalog. They were probably thrown on the album for nostalgic purposes.

The Ugly: There are some real losers on this album: “Don’t Give Up”, “Downside Up”, “Darkness”, and “Digging In The Dirt” are all tastelessly done, in my opinion (a shocking thing for me to even admit). Right when this album’s version of “”Don’t Give Up is ready to become a classic arrangement, enter Ane Brun’s awful vocals. She sounds like a grandmother trying to find pitches. Just hideous, she ruins the track. “Downside” is completely unneeded, as the live version on Hit is eponymous. Plus, it ends before the “kick-in” section, which totally disappoints. “Darkness” has contrasts that are so violent they literally hurt the ears (a seemingly sophomoric use of the orchestra’s dynamics, tastelessly out of character from the rest of the album). Finally, there are very cool harmonic, rhythmic, and even melodic changes that work to actually augment the original versions. But I just can’t stomach the melodic change to the vocals in the chorus of “Digging”- it lessens the emotional effect of this otherwise striking song.

In The End: Although the average Joe will probably not stomach this album, this AverageJoe enjoyed it thoroughly. The Gabriel fan will find a few gems, but likely struggle without the usual guitars and drums.  3.5/5 stars

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2 Responses to “Peter Gabriel: “New Blood””


  1. November 15, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Gabriel played live on the Dave Letterman show this past Wednesday with an abbreviated version of the New Blood Orchestra. Earlier the same day, they performed in the Ed Sullivan Theater for a 68 minute mini-concert, which can currently be viewed on the CBS website. The performance in the afternoon was decent, but the female vocalists (not Gabriel’s usual sidekicks) hurt the performance. The performance of “Red Rain” on the Letterman Show was the best of the day for Gabriel and the orchestra. The interview with Dave is normal for Gabriel: he’s relatively closed off, which doesn’t make for great interviews. All the stories Peter has to tell, he tells through his songs.


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