Review Summary: “Lower. Lower. No, too low, higher.”
Multiple reasons come to mind, as to why Peter Gabriel decided to start this project. The idea of it was simple, Peter Gabriel would cover a handful of other artists and in exchange they have to cover some of his material. Intriguing enough, isn’t it" It could be that Peter doesn’t have anything new to say and wanted to justify not making new albums with this, it could be that this was an actual idea he thought was good, it could be that he felt a fading relevance and therefore this was supposed to serve as an attempt at reconnecting with the audience. Either way, here we are with an album of songs that for the most part were not built for Peter’s voice or style of music.
That last statement is true of pretty much any cover song that exists. A song that is written is written for the purpose of use of one particular artist and therefore is ideally supposed to be performed by that artist only. Other incarnations will most likely be just off-beat and rather musically shapeless. You could really count all the good cover songs in the world on fingers of one hand. There’s your Cash/Reznor “Hurt”, there’s your Dylan/Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” and there are a couple of others that are more or less arguable. And there is also Peter Gabriel’s rendition of Bowie’s “Heroes”.
Yes, if there is anything in this deep well of water that swims like dolphins can swim, it’s this cut. Its slow building atmosphere with string arrangement resulting in a powerful crescendo is by far the most powerful moment on the entire album. However, Peter keeps reusing the same shtick over and over all throughout the album, even in the moments that don’t fit it at all. Bon Iver’s “Flume” stands out as the most awkward moment on the record, where Peter howls with his crackly voice, while the music subtly builds into nothing, really. Such is the turning of a calm Magnetic Fields guitar ballad “The Book of Love” into orchestral wankery.
And the remainder of the record is pretty much just like that. It’s a boring build ups that lack the flare of their original versions and eventually misplaced explosion at the end, all the while Peter showcases that his vocal abilities have deteriorated beyond repair. But believe it or not, those strangely over-the-top misshaped cuts are the better part of this album, for tracks like Lou Reed’s “The Power of the Heart” or Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” both sound more like sudden blimps of two or three piano chords and Peter’s –I can’t believe I have to keep bringing it up– rusty voice.
This covers' compilation is a mess at best and an awkward detour at worst. The idea of exchanging your songs with other artists for theirs is actually nice, but the execution is lacking. It actually seems as though Peter recorded this album in one sitting live somewhere with only the budget-limited orchestra to help him out, which would explain the instrumental sterility of some of the songs. Then again, I think I just cracked the mystery of why this exists. It’s not because Peter’s relevance is fading, nor is it because of no new ideas. It’s because he’s bored and he wants to have some fun. So one day he took to the studio and recorded a bunch of his friends’ songs he liked himself the way you would do something like that in a karaoke, except pricier. And because he’s a superstar (of questionable influence) he offered his equally bored friends to do the same. So in the end, we have a bored man making an album that has exactly the same mood as its perpetrator. It’s boring. Full stop.