And I’ll Scratch Yours
Peter Gabriel has taught us many things and here he shows what should have always been obvious – if you want a really good tribute album to your own work you should build it yourself. That said, this was not without issue; originally meant as the flipside to his Scratch My Back set of covers, And I’ll Scratch Yours was supposed to happen a lot sooner. It’s arrived nearly three years later than intended and a few of the artists didn’t want their back scratched it seems, Radiohead most famously bowing out after hearing a catastrophic Gabriel cover of Street Spirit.
So Peter subbed in a few newbies – Joseph Arthur being a good call because he sounds the most like a young Gabriel here. And though Feist doesn’t do anything to Don’t Give Up that wasn’t already nailed by Gabriel/Bush – or for that matter Willie and Sinead – it’s certainly a decent version, if a little too polite.
Where And I’ll Scratch Yours really works is when Gabriel’s contemporaries decide to not be so polite. Lou Reed all but spits and snarls on the version of Solsbury Hill, reclaiming it from too many movie montage scenes and providing the real musical eulogy – forget Lulu (finally). This is Lou Reed’s final magic moment. Just like his covers of This Magic Moment, Foot of Pride and Imagine Reed here destroys the original but rebirths it too. It’s wonderful even if kinda ludicrous. But that is Lou – nice to hear him oblivious to conventions, playing by his own rules, certainly not playing nice, right up until the end. Hard not to have a slight moment too when you hear him speak-sing with a crack in his voice, and perhaps his heart, “You can keep my things/They’ve come to take me home”.
Paul Simon takes Biko away from being just a chant – not that it was ever just that and makes it more of a song, has it fitting in not with his Graceland stuff but rather the underrated Rhythm of the Saints album and with hints back to his spry acoustic work in the 1970s.
If you ever needed someone to bring out the sarcastic edge in a song it’s Randy Newman. Here his Big Time is the equivalent of what Newman would have wanted when he hoped Frank Sinatra would one day sing his Lonely At The Top.
And Brian Eno turns Mother of Violence on its side, makes it ugly – and it’s then all the more beautiful for it – he’s here as representative for David Bowie, given Heroes was covered on Scratch My Back.
Nothing is bad here – that’s because the original songs are so good. So even emperor’s-new-clothes acts like Arcade Fire can’t fail. And they don’t. They do trace around Games Without Frontiers, nervous as if it’s bigger than them – because it is. But they don’t as such do a bad job. Same with Elbow’s Mercy Street. Really rather gorgeous but kinda bordering on redundant. But then that’s 80% of Elbow’s original material too, init?
David Byrne’s I Don’t Remember isn’t up to much really, but it’s an okay album opener. Regina Spektor does well with the weight of Blood of Eden, Stephin Merritt owns Not One Of Us and reflects, as is the case with Joseph Arthur’s slowed Shock The Monkey, just how much of an influence Gabriel has had.
Bon Iver’s Come Talk To Me is almost the revelation of the album – were it not for Reed’s passing adding gravitas to his proud scribble outside the lines of Solsbury. Bon Iver does that thing you’re supposed to do with a great cover, remind that the original song is fantastic while (also) making it your own. That’s actually no mean feat. Not many ever (quite) achieve that.
Did this need to happen? Probably not – and it might confuse anyone coming to just this album but it does help contextualise – and close off – the Scratch My Back/Live Blood/And I’ll Scratch Yours experiment/statement. And it frees Gabriel up to retire or to start again somewhere else, somehow else. It reminds of the power of a great song and that even just an okay interpretation can get a great song over the line. It reminds that Gabriel is one of the world’s great artists. It shows – this volume, specifically – that Gabriel is an extraordinary songwriter and storyteller.