Scratch My Back
was an intriguing mix of covers Peter Gabriel did of some of his contemporaries (David Bowie, Talking Heads) and followers (Radiohead, Arcade Fire). At its best, Gabriel out-bleaked Radiohead on “Street Spirit” and gave new shades to a done-to-death song, lending Bowie’s “Heroes” a weariness that deftly undercuts its romantic optimism. This follow-up record finds most of those same artists tackling Gabriel’s catalog—no small feat, given its diversity and distinctiveness. What’s nice is the artists don’t try to sound like Gabriel. Bon Iver’s take on “Come Talk to Me,” full of banjo, ethereal synth strings and choral touches, could’ve fit snugly on Bon Iver’s last, self-titled album. The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt, another artist fond of varied guises, goes into synth-pop mode for a robotic rendition of “Not One of Us.” Joseph Arthur, an artist Gabriel helped discover, radically recreates one of Gabriel’s biggest hits, “Shock the Monkey,” into an elegy of heartfelt vocals and guitar sound washes. Arcade Fire are such a natural fit for “Games Without Frontiers” that they should rotate it into their regular set. Feist and Timber Timbre reverse the genders of Gabriel’s touching duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up.” And the late Lou Reed smears the scenic “Solsbury Hill” with distorted noise and swagger, giving new energy to the line “grab your things, I’ve come to take you home” and warping another lyric, changing it to “my friends would think I was a slut.” Although some artists that Gabriel covered on Scratch My Back
don’t appear (Radiohead, David Bowie), the artists who do show up, including Paul Simon in a stunning acoustic version of “Biko,” make And I’ll Scratch Yours
more than just a curiosity for Gabriel completists.