Peter Gabriel: Renewed And Redeemed

Peter Gabriel; credit: Nadav Kander i

Peter Gabriel takes Bon Iver's "Flume" and locates its breathtaking grandiosity. Nadav Kander hide caption

itoggle caption Nadav Kander
Peter Gabriel; credit: Nadav Kander

Peter Gabriel takes Bon Iver's "Flume" and locates its breathtaking grandiosity.

Nadav Kander

Thursday's Pick

  • Song: "Flume"
  • Artist: Peter Gabriel
  • CD: Scratch My Back
  • Genre: Pop

On paper, it's a fool's errand: Peter Gabriel, a 60-year-old icon with one of the most distinctively dusky voices in rock, gets down with the young folk by covering the songs of Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Bon Iver, alongside tributes to peers such as Neil Young, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Randy Newman and others. Scratch My Back ought to be the ultimate in inessential vanity projects — an album-length love letter to a star's impeccably curated record collection — but it flat-out isn't. Instead, it actually does what it's supposed to do; namely, do right by both the singer and his source material.

In the spirit of ideas that seem doomed to fail until they turn out not to be, Gabriel works particular wonders with Bon Iver's "Flume," a song that on its surface wouldn't seem conducive to outside interpretation. Justin Vernon's words can be opaque; he tends to sketch vague, poetic images that leave themselves open-ended. How can lines such as, "Only love is all maroon / Gluey feathers on a flume" fit with Gabriel's less ethereal cries?

Remarkably, Gabriel unlocks a new dimension of "Flume." Where Vernon spent an entire album looking inward, Gabriel takes one of its most unassuming gems and locates its grandiosity; for all its plaintive, slow-motion searching, Gabriel's take builds into something ambitious and bold and, well, breathtaking. For a musician whose most recent work has seemed vaguely out-of-sorts — even misanthropic at times — Gabriel sounds renewed and redeemed here. The sheer romance of the song's yearning suits him.

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