Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back

The other day we heard the first sounds from Peter Gabriels’ all orchestral indie rock covers LP, Scratch My Back, with his take on Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage.” Clearly we’ve turned a fine eye toward comprehensively covering this release. For one, Scott’s a huge Genesis/Peter Gabriel nerd; for two, Peter Gabriel’s studio LPs come only once a decade; for three, that tracklist is ridiculous. And beyond all that, this version of “Flume” might just be the album’s highlight.

You know the story: In 2007 Justin Vernon holed up in a Wisconsin cabin writing For Emma, Forever Ago for the benefit, he presumed, of handfuls. Three years on, it’s taken him around the world and earned him honors, although I’m not sure what could equal hearing Peter Gabriel imbue one of your melodies with his all of his unmistakable Peter Gabrielness. It’s an extension of the For Emma story in that way, the idea of this young guy — the youngest on a hero-heavy tracklist — who was singing to himself in the snow so recently now having his song sung by an icon. Another stanza in the poetry of Justin’s story. But the sound of this cover, like the sound of Bon Iver’s album, needs no external narrative to resonate, its affect achieved upon hearing the painterly piano and brass over which Peter first bursts, widescreen, into that chorus. “Only love is all maroon.” But it’s not only love that’s all maroon — so is the heart of this cover album’s cover art. Fitting, somehow. You should hear it:

Download it:

And for all that talk about not needing additional narrative, here is some anyway. With a release like Scratch My Back, it’s worth hearing the perspective of the recording artist, especially when that recording artist is this guy. So here’s Peter on “Flume” and Bon Iver, in his own words (via The Quietus):

Bon Iver was introduced to me by my younger daughter, Melanie, who’s a big fan. When I first heard this track it immediately registered. I tried singing a couple of his songs, but this was the one that I could feel instinctively. The first arrangement that John did was all based around the brass, and although I loved what he had done, it felt too heavy and lacked contrast. Very late in the day I sat down at the piano and tried to find a really simple part for the verses, which then allows the brass entry to have more meaning. There were a couple of lines of lyrics that felt awkward at first, but the more time I spent with it the more natural it became. It is a beautiful song.

Peter’s Scratch My Back is out 2/15 via Virgin. Eventually, he’ll scratch theirs.

01 “Heroes” (David Bowie)
02 “The Boy in the Bubble” (Paul Simon)
03 “Mirrorball” (Elbow)
04 “Flume” (Bon Iver)
05 “Listening Wind” (Talking Heads)
06 “The Power of the Heart” (Lou Reed)
07 “My Body Is a Cage” (Arcade Fire)
08 “The Book of Love” (The Magnetic Fields)
09 “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” (Randy Newman)
10 “Après moi” (Regina Spektor)
11 “Philadelphia” (Neil Young)
12 “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” (Radiohead)

Peter will perform in support of this release on The New Blood Tour. It is “Peter Gabriel, an orchestra, no drums, no guitars.” The dates:
03/22 – Paris @ Bercy
03/24 – Berlin @ O2
03/25 – Berlin @ O2
03/27 – London @ O2 Arena
03/28 – London @ O2 Arena
04/28 – Montreal @ Bell Centre
05/02 – New York @ Radio City Music Hall
05/03 – New York @ Radio City Music Hall
05/07 – Los Angeles @ Hollywood Bowl

Check the WOMAD shop for ticket purchase info. The North American dates aren’t on-sale just yet.


Comments (82)
  1. Mark  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    hahahaha, this is awful

  2. Jon  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Brilliant, this.

  3. I appreciate the effort but Bon Iver’s version is simply on another level.

  4. I’m all about a Peter Gabriel reassessment. This is great.

  5. holy greil marcus  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    I hear this is being used in a new Pixar film about a bear who finds himself trapped in a cabin in the woods. All manner of furry madness breaks out.

  6. I’m really surprised by both this and his Arcade Fire effort. I’m super impressed.

  7. this reminds me of how great that song is performed by bon iver.
    and not covered. that chorus is horrible.

  8. fan  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0


  9. me  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    do not want.

  10. Bill  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Gorgeous. Can’t wait for the full album.

  11. srm244  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    really not so good. really.

  12. timtimx  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    not so hot. Phil would’ve slayed it though. Sorry Peter!

  13. jeez  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    This is the frontrunner for Worst Song of the Year. Sorry, but this is horrendous.

  14. Mad Man Moon  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    That suits him just fine… Who wouldn’t want that voice…

  15. Alan   |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    A brave new bloody album, shows what a great singer he is…Phil who?

  16. Jeff  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Some amazing scoring for French Horns during the chorus, high quality! Not sure about Peter Gabriel though, I always thought the great thing about Bon Iver was the actual vocal melodies which is a bit too altered here for my liking. Top effort here, looking forward to hearing more…

  17. Stephan  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    wow. this is amazing. and I loved the original version, but this is something else.

    and what a shock that people can’t pull their heads out and see how bold this interpretation is. Gabriel never does anything easy.

  18. mike  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    This is perhaps the bravest thing Gabriel has ever done: barely and vulnerably submitting himself to the inevitable disdain and criticism of a younger generation that is generally more concerned with what is cool than what is good.

    • umm  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2010 0

      This isn’t good or cool. So what’s your point!? Because Gabriel is old and does something unexpected it’s a) uncool, and by your definition b) good.

      Nope. This is dumb. Not as bad as the Arcade Fire cover, though.

  19. Alex  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    “For Emma…” was my favorite album of whatever year it came out, and I’m not a huge Gabriel fan, but this cover is absolutely fantastic. If there was any dude who could do a cover like this, it was the right person

    Still, this live version of Flume may still be my favorite:

  20. Justin  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Im a fan of both Bon Iver and Gabriel. I just dont like this take on the song. The original has a rawness i really like. I think by replacing an acoustic guitar with the orchestra it loses that feel. That said, Ive never been a big fan of orchestra arrangements. More of a drums and guitars sort of guy.

  21. Ryan  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    I really like Peter Gabriel, and I like the idea behind this arrangement (a song I also really enjoy), but it’s simple out of his range in this key. He’s straining so hard to hit that chorus, and it just doesn’t sound good.

    Transpose it a full step down and this is probably something I’d listen to again.

  22. daytracing  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Really ready for another studio album. My first concert was Secret World Tour circa ’93(ish) and he’s put out ONE proper album since then. One. And I am not counting this as a proper album.

  23. phtf  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    nice, but it sounds too much like Peter Gabriel

  24. Yacht Rock  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    Michael McDonald’s album of indie rock hits will be much smoother than this.

  25. People who don’t like this must have a pit where their souls should be or just don’t like music as much as disliking things. Sounds like a fun existence that.

  26. Rick Roll  |   Posted on Feb 1st, 2010 0

    This is by far the best version of the song:

  27. dleight  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0


  28. gimme  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    looky here, great song to begin with, and Gabriel does a great cover in his own way/style/take, don’t be so quick to judge, and I’m sure Justin appreciates this cover as well

  29. Well, whether or not you like the cover, the gestalt is that a talented musician who has created legitimate music over the past forty years has covered a current, amazing artist. It’s kind of an act of appreciation, and I think whether or not Gabriel did it justice is less important than the fact that he actually covered it. Instead of, you know, a Taylor Swift song.

  30. j-dizzle  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    kids these days… this is a great cover and I have to agree with murrishmo on this one!

    Hey Peter, thanks for not caving and doing that Jonas Brothers.. preeesh!

  31. ry  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    Love this

  32. eww  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    This is very disappointing. He could have nailed this song with that voice, but this sounds like he came up with his version in about five minutes. That’s too bad.

  33. evan  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    This is stunning. So sparse, so adult. So much space there. Not kiddie pop, that’s for sure (which may explain a couple of these bizarre comments).

    And as for him “straining?” Ryan, I think that’s the point. He could have chosen to do enough takes to put a clean, polished sheen on these notes. (Listen to his other stuff – he has all the range he wants). But here – and elsewhere on this album, from the little I’ve heard – Gabriel is assuming the role of an almost-broken man. The isolation, the diffidence – it is raw, visceral. A pop artist might have posed with this song. Gabriel leaves himself exposed. That’s bold.

    • mf  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

      you’re grasping at straws to explain why he sounds like shit. for a moment, let’s assume that you’re correct though and he put that much thought into letting us hear that he sounds bad these days…then that’s the most pretentious load of self-indulgent bullshit for no reason that i’ve ever heard

      • mf, sorry but your argument is ridiculous.
        since when is expressing honest character in a performance “pretentious” “self-indulgent bullshit”? This take is an objectively well done performance; whether or not you like it, however, is up to you.
        I swear, stereogum commenters can be the worst. so many insufferable trolls.

        • mf's buddy  |   Posted on Feb 3rd, 2010 0

          MF could not be more right. The only defense for this song comes from people claiming to be old enough to “get it” and those who are offering ambiguous praise. It is simply a let down. He does little more than sing the words, the entire arrangement is simple and uninspired. You people must have heard Bon Iver’s original version, so you know that this version is plastic. And 30 year olds, quit playing the age card.

  34. mf  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    terrible. if you can hear that he’s out of his range even in the studio (when he had a million chances to actually hit the notes), just imagine how painful this is all gonna sound live.
    associating yourself with the young folks is an opportunistic move, gabriel, and even though we see right through it, we’d be down if it was actually any good.

    • get gabe-REAL  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

      yeah, range doesn’t last forever. just cause you had it in the 80s don’t mean it’s still around.
      ask morrissey after he’s tried to cover a smith’s song!

      • Very interesting how people (including myself) are sooo convinced about their totally opposite opinions… But, one objective thing I can say regarding Peter’s voice and this is a “professional” observation coming from a professional musician, like myself: Peter’s voice is actually better then aver before in these days, It’s gotten even fuller and more precise and, yes!, with more extended range!! And by the way this is normal… people don’t know that, because of human anatomy, male voice gets better with aging whereas, unfortunately, female doesn’t… Besides these technical matters, I love what Peter did here… Very challenging for himself and the listeners… Of course!!! That’s Peter’s way!!! Thanks Peter, great job as usual!!!

  35. evan  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    No straws, MF, i know something about the making of the record. Gabriel said it himself.
    He did some songs in very few takes. And if you’d heard him sing live recently, you’d know his range is intact. This was obviously a choice, and it makes it more interesting.

    And as for the adoption of personas in songcraft – call it pretentious, or whatever other angry spew you’ve got welled up there. Artists do that, and in this case, it’s effective.

  36. Ryan  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    It’s not always about hitting the note; it’s about hitting the note at a pitch where your voice sounds good, and this song is pushing it.

    Like I said in my previous post, I’m a big Peter Gabriel fan, but he’s never hit that kind of range without sounding a bit thin and strained. Both he an Phil Collins used to double their vocals a lot on studio recordings to mask any deficiency in the performance (or, rather. enhance the take), and then transpose their material down for live shows. All of the recent Genesis stuff was three half steps down in key. You just can’t help it.

    As far as releasing really raw, soul-bearing vocal performances? I can get behind that, but not when I think it would sound better more restrained. Gabriel is free to interpret this song however he chooses; but if I’m producing this, he’s doing it either a full step down or staying in the same range as the verse (which I thought sounded great).

  37. BECK  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0


  38. trev  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    I’m not getting the trolls here. yeah peter’s voice sounds *horrible*. so horrible that they keep trolling the site to repeat this bullshit. right.

    seriously, this is powerful stuff. I hope the rest is as good.

  39. Mel  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    So gorgeous. So potent. Highlights everything that is unique about the true talent that is Bon Iver.

  40. mf  |   Posted on Feb 2nd, 2010 0

    troll, yes, i’m the troll because your opinion should be interpreted as fact.
    all i’m saying is: the cover really blows because it’s clear that Peter Gabriel, who normally chooses to sound polished, has chosen to let us to hear the real him. It’s the fact that he made that choice that makes him vain and pretentious. Was it because the song is so raw? so personal? so, so (sniff, sniff) PAINFUL!! And it hurts him. It hurts Peter Gabriel to even sing it. The way a method actor actually *becomes* his character.
    God it hurts him so much.
    “No!” Peter Gabriel screamed at his producer. “No, I will not do that take again. No you may not tweak it in post-production. Not this time. Do it to my other songs, but this one, this one is too raw, too personal. The world should hear, nay, the world NEEDS to hear, how raw this song really makes me. I may be an artist, but I’m also human. People need to be reminded that I can get raw too.” decisions about when to be raw and when to be polished are, in a word, pretentious.
    if you think that’s what being an artist is about, you’re most likely misguided in many other things as well.

  41. frankie v  |   Posted on Feb 3rd, 2010 0

    I wouldn’t have thought I would enjoy PG at this point, but I’m interested to hear more of the covers. It’s nice to hear something underproduced.

  42. annie  |   Posted on Feb 3rd, 2010 0

    Lovely! Spare and beautiful!

  43. pains me to say, but...  |   Posted on Feb 3rd, 2010 0

    I just heard his version of Boy in the Bubble, and it is just as lifeless as Flume. He really took all the good qualities (except lyrics) out of these songs. Horrible what he did to the melody of BITB. That sucks, I have always loved PG’s music, but this is not good.

  44. jopo  |   Posted on Feb 3rd, 2010 0 enter UPC: 634904045012 then enter code: XXZ23M23J2 enjoy! your welcome. FUCK A GABRIEL

  45. DJ  |   Posted on Feb 4th, 2010 0

    Amazing cover, beautiful vocal delivery, lovely arrangement. Wow.

    On another note, what a load of twaddle:

    “decisions about when to be raw and when to be polished are, in a word, pretentious. ”

    On top of that, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Gabriel’s vocal takes are usually untreated and raw, like this

  46. kevinthegreat  |   Posted on Feb 4th, 2010 0

    Instantly HATED the Arcade Fire cover posted the other day. Instantly ADORED this. I hate not knowing what kind of crowd-following hipster I am. *mad*

  47. mike  |   Posted on Feb 5th, 2010 0

    Gabriels one brave sucka to attempt to cover this song. Amazingly, he pulls it off brilliantly. The arrangement by itself is quite beautiful too.

  48. Greg Bennett  |   Posted on Feb 5th, 2010 0

    What the fuck? So terrible

  49. Alex Cho  |   Posted on Feb 6th, 2010 0

    Emotions vs Polish.

    Maybe some listeners ought to stick to their vapid pop trash.
    Loved this.

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