Acclaimed British rock musician Peter Gabriel is highly regarded in the music industry, known for his work in the progressive rock outfit Genesis as well as an extensive solo career. He is unique in that his music is not restricted to one genre. His repertoire crosses over many genres of pop and rock in albums such as his first four self-titled ones, like “So” and more recently, his album “Scratch My Back,” which consists of cover versions of songs by indie rock and progressive artists with his vocals and orchestra.
Building up from that effort, his latest album “New Blood” takes a similar approach, but features songs from his own discography including his earlier solo albums such as “Peter Gabriel III,” “Peter Gabriel IV,” “So” and “Up,” among others. He arranged each song for a full symphonic orchestra and recorded them with the New Blood Symphony Orchestra. The end product is something beautiful, but the average listener who isn’t necessarily a huge fan of Peter Gabriel probably won’t enjoy this album as much.
Those who do enjoy Peter Gabriel’s music and have enjoyed much of his discography will appreciate this album quite a bit; tracks like “San Jacinto” and “Don’t Give Up” sound much more engaging and compelling with the orchestra backing Gabriel’s powerful vocals.
Gabriel’s vocals are something to note in this album, as they sound more majestic and dynamic than their original versions because they are almost synchronized with the dynamics of the orchestral arrangements. This can be heard in “Darkness,” in which Gabriel growls lyrics like “Flashbacks coming in every night / Don’t tell me everything’s alright” over hushed strings playing ominously and on “San Jacinto,” as he bellows out, “I hold the light!” to a crescendo in the orchestra. His deep, rich voice reverberates speaker systems and is spine-chilling, to say the least.
There are also some interesting touches on this album, like with the track “A Quiet Moment,” which is only the sound of the ocean ambience for about five minutes. It wouldn’t be something to buy as a standalone track, but thematically it fits with transitioning between “The Nest That Sailed The Sky” and “Solsbury Hill.” This helps make “New Blood” a more cohesive album.
Gabriel isn’t afraid to take risks with his music either; the songs that he recreates were already brilliant masterpieces, but he feels the need to make them even better with any influence of guitars or synthesizers, making the instrumentals even sound like grandiose motion-picture scores. An example where Gabriel takes the hit with his risk-taking is “Digging in the Dirt,” the original track known for a funk sound; it is now simple, minimal and somewhat unremarkable.
However, the track “Don’t Give Up,” which was originally a duet with Kate Bush, utilizes Norwegian singer Ane Brun’s vocals, which are stylistically different from the original track, but they still rival those of the original in terms of emotion and delivery.
Overall, Peter Gabriel really outdoes himself with this effort in rearranging many of the progressive rock and pop music he was known for into something even more different in tone and perspective. Production on this album is top-notch; the New Blood Symphony Orchestra is just spectacular in their musicianship. Perhaps a chance to show how beautiful the orchestra is, the deluxe edition of this album contains a second disc with instrumental versions of each track (a nice touch, but it’s not totally necessary to buy unless you are a huge fan of symphonic instrumentals). There really isn’t a bad song on this album, and the orchestral arrangements are just magnificent.
That said, the major drawback with “New Blood” is the accessibility of this album. These songs are essentially rearrangements of classic Peter Gabriel songs that are excellent in their own right, but this album wouldn’t likely be played all too often by casual listeners; it’s more of an album that rewards veteran Peter Gabriel fans with his newer approach to music.
Regardless of the accessibility of this LP, “New Blood” is probably one of the finest albums released this year because of Peter Gabriel’s stunning recreation of notable songs from his solo career and his ability to keep his music fresh and exciting rather than the outdated and somewhat obscure gems that they once were.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5