Peter Gabriel has worn many hats and countless costumes over his 40-year career. He emerged out of a rising phone booth during his Secret World tour 20 years ago and even rode a bike around the stage during “Solsbury Hill” on his Growing Up tour a decade later. This evidence points to extravagance coupled with invention, without much embarrassment. So it came as a surprise when Gabriel went full-blown orchestral in 2010 with his covers album, Scratch My Back, and again in 2011 with reinventions of his own tracks on New Blood. Both were successful, because the songs were brand-new pictures of a time gone by. The issue with the release of Live Blood is that it comes across as the same photo, with no change at all.
The tricky bit about heaping criticism on this album is if Gabriel had not released both Scratch and New, then Live Blood would be absolutely essential. The string-drenched chorus of “Wallflower”, along with its perfect harmonies, doesn’t just create goosebumps, it practically blows across the hairs on your arm. The dark synths of “Biko” are replaced with strings and flutes that pop like flames from a nearby fireplace. Gabriel’s vocals on the Lou Reed cover, “The Power of the Heart”, are just as powerful as they are on Scratch My Back.
However, all of these compliments can be heaped upon either Scratch or New. You can cut and paste these comments into either one of those album reviews and they would not ring false. More often than not, it’s as though the only production on the record consisted of infusing audience applause and Gabriel anecdotes. The producers and Gabriel have created a near-replica that needs to be heard in person, rather than heard once more on record (it should be noted a Live Blood DVD has been released, and that can be recommended).
In my praise of New Blood, I wrote, “Rather than putting out money-grabbing greatest hits albums every five years, other artists should aspire to do what Gabriel has done here on New Blood.” One can’t help but feel that this is in some ways that dreaded “money-grabbing greatest hits album” done live. It sounds terrific, Mr. Gabriel, but we’ve heard it before.
Essential Tracks: “Wallflower”, “Biko”, and “Downside Up”