#27 on the 2010 Musical Bacon Calendar
Scratch My Back by Peter Gabriel
There are few musicians that have their strengths dialed in as well as Peter Gabriel. Emotion, dramatic crescendos, whisper-like lows — the man could sing “Row, Row Your Boat” and I’d have to fight back tears while listening to it. Scratch My Back is a collection of songs originally performed and made famous by other bands, covered here through the signature Gabriel filter.
Covering artists as varied as Elbow, the Magnetic Fields, and Paul Simon, the album is full of songs you know the words to but don’t recognize the arrangements. The brilliance of the album was that it was supposed to be released simultaneously with a companion album called I’ll Scratch Yours. With every artist covered on the Gabriel album in turn covering a song of his, it was going to be one of the most interesting projects I can recall in recent music history. But after Radiohead, David Bowie and Arcade Fire asked or were forced to back out of the project, the companion album sadly was put on hold. A few of the covers of Gabriel’s songs have been released via iTunes over the year (Stephin Merritt singing “Not One of Us,” Paul Simon singing “Biko,” Bon Iver singing “Come Talk to Me,” Lou Reed singing “Solsbury Hill,” Elbow singing “Mercy Street,” and David Byrne singing “I Don’t Remember”), but it’s unclear if there are any future songs to be released from the project.
The above video is not a song from the album. It’s a cover by Peter Gabriel nonetheless, this time of Tom Waits’s “In The Neighborhood.” My favorite rendition that Gabriel put on Scratch My Back is his cover of Bon Iver’s “Flume.” It’s absolutely heart wrenching, with every word dripping with emotion.
Some may say that Gabriel’s work is fairly clichéd and formulaic. And I don’t think I could disagree. But I’m also ok with that. I like the direction he takes with his songs, and I thoroughly enjoy going to those places with him. Like my grandfather’s cashmere cardigan sweater that I’m wearing as I write this, these songs are immediately familiar to me, wrought with meaning. And I will continue to come back to them time and time again.