Run for covers: Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back

Cover versions make me nervous. You have to do something really interesting, really worthwhile and different with a new version of a song, rather than simply re-hashing someone else’s version of it. Pop music is littered with ill-advised, car-crash cover versions of otherwise brilliant songs, not least of which is last year’s X-Factor finalists’ version of David Bowie’s Heroes, which surely dserves an award for reaching new heights of stunning mediocrity.

Which is why Scratch My Back by ex-Genesis front-man Peter Gabriel stands, for me, as an object lesson in how to do covers properly – not least because it includes a cover of Heroes far removed from Bowie’s angst-ridden brilliant rendition, and creates it instead inside a tranquil landscape governed by the accompanying strings. There’s just as much tension straining to be released as in the original, but here it’s tempered by a weary resignation: we can be heroes, but we probably won’t be.

There’s an eclectic mix of artists covered, including Radiohead, Arctic Fire, Bon Iver and Paul Simon. There’s a wonderfully shimmering realisation of Elbow’s Mirrorball, that begins intimately, with small repetitive string ostinati that rotate like, well, a mirrorball, and move to more grandiose, ravishing, surging string gestures.
Talking Heads’ Listening Wind is nervous, edgy, with fragments of phrases shifting and jostling uncomfortably to find their place. Lou Reed’s Power of the Heart unfurls some rich brass writing, whilst Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today strips away strings and brass and sits quietly atop a solo piano accompaniment in a way that’s gently terrifying.

Listen to it on here: you won’t be disappointed. And, if you’ve been witless enough to buy one, take your copy of the X-Factor’s banal, pointless rendition and burn it, it’s dire: shame on you for buying in to the Cowell Leviathan of Crassness.

(Audio excerpts via LastFM).


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