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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Peter Gabriel

New Blood

Review by John Pierpoint

Peter Gabriel could be accused of resting on his laurels by producing an album of reworkings of some of his greatest hits – and with an orchestra, to boot! But being Gabriel, he has approached this project with ingenuity and imagination, to produce something quite impressive. This is a beautifully produced record, with excellent dynamics and definition that picks out all the nuances of the orchestra. Gabriel’s voice is neither drowned out by the massed instruments, nor overly boosted above them. His voice has seemingly lost little over the years – all the range and tone is still there, with his trademark gravelly texture still intact. On vocals, he is joined by his daughter Melanie and Norwegian singer Ane Brun. The orchestrations, by John Metcalfe, are at times wildly dynamic, and at others quite subdued, as befitting each song’s subject matter. Some work better than others, and there are some surprises along the way. He is joined on vocals by his daughter Melanie and Norwegian singer Ane Brun.

This is a two-CD package, but CD2 has largely the same material as CD1, just minus the vocals. There is one exception though: instead of an instrumental of "Solsbury Hill," disc two track 13 is a bonus track “The Blood of Eden.” I’m not sure why it was done this way, unless Gabriel thought that a full vocal track would be a good antidote to an hour of purely instrumental listening. Having a purely instrumental disc is a great idea (although I wasn’t even aware that it was a two-CD package until I had it in my hands). While in some cases the instrumental tracks suffer without the melody that the vocals provide, in many cases, these versions stand up well. The overall effect is akin to listening to a film’s orchestral soundtrack album, and I’m sure many of you have bought a hot film soundtrack album and found it a somewhat disappointing experience – often the music does not stand up on its own, divorced from the celluloid imagery. So in that respect, I suppose this disc works quite well. Without the vocals, it’s possible to imagine cinematic sequences for some of the tracks. In fact, I can see many of these tunes being used extensively by TV programme producers over the next few years! One tip to the listener: for maximum enjoyment, play this loud!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at


Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Rhythm of the Heat
This must have been a challenge, as the original song involved extensive full-on percussion at the end. The orchestrated ending is quite spectacular, and in no way attempts to emulate the original. This is quite a success!
Downside Up
The original song was one of Gabriel’s more pastoral moments, and this orchestral version has much the same feel. It’s a nice song, but a bit dull and not in the same league as the others. I’d rather he’d attempted something more memorable like “Moribund the Burgermeister” or “Games Without Frontiers” (maybe next time. . .).
San Jacinto
The orchestra has a good stab at recreating the delicate multi-layered instrumentation of the original – surely one of Gabriel’s best “tone poems,” in terms of letting the music depict the scenery.
This sounds a bit twee in places, with the female backing vocals making the opening wails less creepy and more operatic. Yet it still manages to ratchet up the tension, which spills over as the orchestra executes some biting manoeuvres.
This is quite mellow, with the signature piano sound of this period still intact in the arrangement.
In Your Eyes
This version has a whole new, busy introduction section, which settles down to the familiar opening chords, but with a somewhat stop-start rhythm. The chorus still lifts the song, as in the original, but the effect is more subtle this time. Gabriel’s voice almost loses control in places, and we are reminded how many years have passed since So was recorded. There is no Youssou N’Dour vocal cadenza, but one of the backing singers essays a short eastern-sounding riff.
Mercy Street
This begins with marimbas and percussion over the original’s ticking bells, sounding rich and beautiful. Female vocals handle the “Let’s take the boat out” lines. The chorus slows things down though, losing momentum.
Red Rain
To me, this one was a bit disappointing. The orchestral arrangement is powerful, but compared to the original, it lacks drive, and like “Mercy Street,” seems to lose momentum in places, whereas the original seemed to coast effortlessly. Perhaps I just miss Tony Levin’s swooping bass! Having said that, as the song progresses, it builds in intensity quite nicely, so maybe in time, I’ll grow to like it.
This one has distorted spoken vocals. In places, the phrasing and orchestration reminds me of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, particularly “The Trial.”
Don’t Give Up
Levin’s iconic opening bass line is faithfully replicated, on what sounds like two double basses. Kate Bush’s part is taken by Ane Brun, who has a tremulous, fractured, Bjork-like quality to her voice, but has difficulty executing the longer notes. Gabriel however, still manages the high note in “keep my hands down below” admirably.
Digging In The Dirt
As this song relied so heavily on a quirky drum loop, it was always going to be problematic when orchestrating. Rather than try to emulate the loop, the orchestration is quite intricate and dynamic, making the cut more interesting, but of course losing that essential underpinning drive.
The Nest That Sailed the Sky
This is an instrumental, taken from the OVO Millenium Dome music sequence. I have to hold my hand up here and say that I haven’t heard the original, so I can’t make comparisons. It’s very much ambient music. It starts off quietly, and although the volume increases slightly during the course of the music, there’s very little development. At the beginning, it sounds like either there’s a pipe organ in use, or the orchestra is emulating one.
A Quiet Moment
This track is literally what the title suggests: just the sound of distant birdsong (most notably, an omnipresent skylark), wind in trees and other outdoor countryside noises. While a little bit of this would be a good idea (I’m really into using “found sounds” and field recordings in my own music lately), this one outstays its welcome, clocking in at nearly five minutes. Maybe this would have worked better as a short interlude between two of the more intense tracks, earlier on in the running order. As it is, coming as the penultimate track and lasting so long, it seems more like “filler.” Having said that, Gabriel doesn’t tend to do things without a good reason, so perhaps with a more concentrated listen using headphones, some more detail may be revealed which may have some significance. For instance, halfway through the track, the sounds of what may be distant agricultural machinery and rumbling thunder can be heard. I’ve read on some web forums that the field recording was actually made on the geographical feature that is the inspiration for the next song.
Solsbury Hill
The piano is front and centre in this arrangement. The orchestra is initially down to what sounds like a quartet, giving the whole thing a chamber music feel. On the second chorus, the whole orchestra steam in, to great effect. This is a joyous rendition of the mother of all life-affirming songs!
Disc 2
Rhythm of the Heat
This works really well without the vocals. The slow-burning opening is like a tone-poem sunrise. The big finale would work well as a film soundtrack – maybe in a chase scene.
Downside Up
Stripped of vocals, this has even less relevancy. It’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t go anywhere.
San Jacinto
This has a pleasing effect, swelling up in a dignified fashion to a climax, then ebbing away on the “I hold the line” playout.
The wails of the original version are reproduced on violas. The music has a spiky, thrusting feel, channelling the spirit of Bernard Hermann. Later, it feels like it is emulating a passionate Spanish (or North African) dance in rhythm.
For the most part, this is just piano and what sounds like a string quartet. Without the vocals, it tends to wallow, until the uplifting piano chorus comes in, that is. On the second run through chorus, the full string section comes in briefly, but soon leaves again, leaving just the piano and quartet to finish.
In Your Eyes
The busy chorus introduction sets things up nicely, but once the first verse starts, the minimalist orchestration sounds too sparse without the vocals to hold it all together. The choruses are a delight though. They conjure up the sort of speeded-up urban imagery that appeared on Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi film (and as used repeatedly on many TV documentaries and news items). Shorn of the vocals, the dynamics in the arrangement are thrown into sharp relief.
Mercy Street
The percussion and marimba opening has an interesting texture. This would work well as a score for a psychological drama, sounding at once both optimistic and ominous. Wagnerian horns emerge for the chorus. A flute takes the melody for the bridge to the next verse, which has a more intricate instrumentation than the first.
Red Rain
Without the vocals, the mind is able to concentrate more on the orchestration, which is very much in the vein of Murray Gold’s “Doctor Who” orchestrations, with dramatic, swinging strings. The “Red Rain” chorus sounds overly melodramatic yet also a bit cheesy to me, though. As with the vocal version, it fails to hit the mark.
The opening sounds like the sort of serious hard-toiling music (“row faster, slaves!”) that reminds me of Soviet-era composers like Shostakovich. The quieter chorus moments are very poignant.
Don’t Give Up
Without the vocals, the build-up in instrumentation between verses is more apparent. The “Don’t give up” choruses suffer without a vocal to bind them, but the crescendo on the middle eight is particularly effective.
Digging in the Dirt
The ticking percussion at the start gives this a feeling of time passing (a very useful tool for film and TV producers looking for music to decorate those inevitable montage sequences). The brief spurt of pizzicato later on is a welcome change from an orchestration style that by this point in the CD has started to sound very familiar.
The Nest That Sailed the Sky
As this is already an instrumental on CD1, it seems pointless including it on CD2 as well, unless the idea is to maintain the continuity of listening experience


Blood of Eden
This begins with just a piano accompanying Gabriel’s voice. He is joined by a small contingent of strings for the chorus. The satisfying low thumps of a plucked bass add dynamics to the second verse. On the bridge, poignant horns swell into the fore.
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