Peter Gabriel is in a class all his own as a musician. He has helped bring countless talented musicians to global attention, all the while also creating powerful music of his own. His latest outing, New Blood, is a re-imagined set of Gabriel’s classics set to a 46-piece orchestra, arranged by John Metcalfe (and, of course, lovely voices on various duets). At first listen, it’s easy to dismiss this album as simply another, slightly varied, version of a greatest hits album. However, with more listening, one simply finds that in the reimagining, Gabriel has given fans endless new reasons to love a set of truly amazing songs.
Generally, the album serves to bring Gabriel’s voice and his vocals to the fore more than when accompanied by his traditional bands. Though the orchestra contains far more voices in the form of the 46 instruments, its precision lends it a sort of homogeneity that makes Gabriel’s voice pop in a way not previously heard. Interestingly, the orchestra manages to add texture and volume to familiar songs while at the same time pushing one to focus on the voice of the singer himself. This balance truly re-launches songs, giving them a chance to shine in new ways. For example, the ability of the orchestra to be at once spare and rich lets the gorgeous vocals and haunting delivery of lyrics on “The Rhythm of the Heat,” truly shimmer. And on “Downside Up,” the voice of Gabriel’s daughter, Melanie, rides the strings in a sound eerily reminiscent of Sarah Brightman (minus the scoops).
In other songs, the orchestra brings new life – indeed, new blood – to old works. For example, the depth and breadth of sound that one finds only in an orchestra take “San Jacinto” to entirely new heights, soaring along with Gabriel’s voice to unimagined sonar universes. Similarly, the mysteriously sparse accompaniment of “Mercy Street,” easily one of Gabriel’s best works, lends it a tremendous new poignancy.
If you’re looking for new work from Peter Gabriel, this sadly is not it. However, what this does instead is to present a vivid reimagining of a fantastic body of work by one of the musical geniuses of the era, in a world that desperately needs re-imagining.