I worked from home today, and took the opportunity to download the new Peter Gabriel album – New Blood – and listen to it a few times. It’s a collection of earlier songs, reworked and performed with a full orchestra.
It works. In fact, I think that some tracks improve on the originals – the orchestral style suits the music very well. There are moments of serious beauty. Mercy Street, in particular, is gorgeous. I love Gabriel’s work with Genesis. And I’ve seen concert footage which suggests he has remained one of rock music’s truly great performers. But much of his solo work is, for me, a little slow in getting to the point, a little ponderous. I think perhaps he needed the creative forces of the other Genesis members to control him, and bring out his best?
But boy does this collection also emphasise his dark side (not that it’s ever been particularly well hidden). Songs like The Rhythm of the Heat and Intruder ooze threat and menace, verging on the disturbing. He’s always had a fascination with the macabre. If you want to see one of the great rock theatre performances of all time, look at this from 1973.
But if this analysis is right (based I think on the stories Gabriel used to tell between songs on stage, or possibly from old sleeve notes, rather than anything discernible from the lyrics), the subject matter of the song is as deeply unpleasant as the performance is magnificent. I can’t actually bring myself to type the words which describe the story-line.
Of course, he’s not all darkness and shadows. Peter Gabriel is capable of lighter things, and of very different types of theatrical performance. I love this performance of Solsbury Hill.
But to me, what matters more than anything is the man’s artistic integrity. Whether or not the theatre and the costumes, or the flesh-creeping themes, are your thing, you cannot deny that he is authentic. Something rare.
I got into Genesis too late to see them with Gabriel. I did see them in 1982 or 1983, at Wembley Arena, but by then they were starting to go seriously downhill. However, a few years ago I did see this lot, a tribute band called The Musical Box. They’re not just any old tribute band, they have worked closely with Genesis and they reproduce their performances from the early 1970’s note for note, word for word, and detail for detail (including many original props and backdrops). It was a utterly fantastic experience, an unforgettable night.
One final thought on Peter Gabriel. He comes across as quiet and rather shy person. This piece has some interesting comments about introverts and performance. In my own, very little way, I can relate to this. I am a quiet and private person. I particularly don’t enjoy events at which you have to make small talk, and I am often told that I need to push myself forward more. But I am a very good presenter and public speaker. Give me a platform and a subject matter I can make something of and, I am told, I become a completely different person, often causing much surprise.
Why this should be, I can’t even begin to explain.