Release Date: Jan 7, 2014
Record label: Capitol
On Scratch My Back, the first in a two-part song covers project, Peter Gabriel took 12 songs from 12 artists and reinterpreted them with orchestral instruments. Notables on that list include David Bowie’s “Heroes”, Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, Talking Heads’ “Listening Wind”, Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble”, and Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is a Cage”. For And I’ll Scratch Yours, 10 of the 12 artists Gabriel covered on the 2010 compilation returned the favor as per his overarching vision.
Want a killer tribute album? Put it together yourself. On 2010's Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel crafted orchestra-assisted takes on tunes by his favorite songwriters, including Arcade Fire, Paul Simon and David Byrne. Now his chosen artists respond with excellent covers of Gabriel classics. Arcade Fire warp "Games Without Frontiers" with Reflektor-style dub, and Randy Newman's "Big Time" foregrounds the Gordon Gekko-era tune's satiric edge.
It seemed like a perfectly good, if idiosyncratic, idea at the time. Back in 2010, Peter Gabriel did an album called Scratch My Back which consisted of cover songs of A-list artists. The idea was that those artists would return the favor and cover Gabriel’s own material on an album called And I’ll Scratch Yours. The problem was that the prospect of getting a dozen artists to churn out their own Gabriel homages in their spare time turned out to be a little more complicated than originally intended.
Three years in gestation -- which, in Peter Gabriel time, is a mere handful of months -- And I'll Scratch Yours, the companion piece to the 2010 covers album Scratch My Back, finds most (but certainly not all) of the artists who were interpreted on Gabriel's album returning the favor by tackling the progressive singer/songwriter's back catalog. Not every artist chose to scratch Gabriel's back. Radiohead reportedly were irked by his version of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" and Neil Young followed his own path away from Gabriel, so Joseph Arthur was drafted to contribute an entirely too moody version of "Shock the Monkey" and, better, Brian Eno dug into the dark, unsettling corners of "Mother of Violence.
In 2010, Peter Gabriel released a sublime album of covers. They were all songs that came from the pop world, but Gabriel gave himself the guidelines to perform each one without the aid of guitars or drums. With just an orchestra, piano, and voice in tow, Scratch My Back astounded and confused listeners around the world. Some of Gabriel’s renditions of such well known songs were so far removed from their original versions that only the presence of the lyrics suggested any musical connection.
Peter Gabriel’s latest project didn’t go exactly as planned. In 2010, he released Scratch My Back, his first studio album in eight years, which collected skeletal covers of songs by the Arcade Fire, Radiohead, David Bowie, Bon Iver, and Paul Simon. It was part of a concept where each of the artists he covered would then cover his songs on a follow-up titled And I’ll Scratch Yours.
Lately, I’ve been hearing a cover of a cover of “Mad World” floating around YouTube’s advertisements. Echoing Gary Jules’ take on the Tears for Fears classic, this “Mad World” floats lighter than either ancestor: a smooth piano ballad, gently haunted, perfect for hijacking Feminism 101 to sell shampoo. While Jules might have flatly dethorned the song — there’s something to be said for spiking those lyrics with that beat — his cover at least fits its context, the melancholy reimagining of the ’80s in the 2001 film Donnie Darko.
Here’s a curious story. In 2010, Peter Gabriel released an album of cover versions, called Scratch My Back. On it he tackled songs by the likes of David Bowie, Paul Simon, Arcade Fire and Radiohead, and the original idea was that a companion album would be released simultaneously featuring the same artists covering Gabriel tunes. A nice idea.
That this Peter Gabriel covers record is actually coming out is a minor miracle. The collection was originally due out in 2010 as a counterpart to Scratch My Back, which had Gabriel covering songs by artists such as David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Paul Simon. As envisioned, And I’ll Scratch Yours would have featured those same musicians covering Peter Gabriel songs.
Many veteran artists record cover albums, but credit Peter Gabriel with cooking up a clever concept. In 2010 he released “Scratch My Back,” which found the former Genesis frontman reinterpreting songs both familiar and obscure by artists he admired. Now comes part two, naturally called “And I’ll Scratch Yours,” in which those artists return the favor by covering songs from Gabriel’s repertoire.