by Jeff Hahne
All too often, artists are offering reissues, remasterings, re-releases and anniversary editions of albums that might add a few B-sides but little else in the way of anything substantial. When I first heard that Peter Gabriel would be reworking some of his music, I didn't expect much as my initial thoughts were of remastered songs in some sort of greatest hits format. New Blood completely destroys any of those ideas.
Instead of taking the easy way out, Gabriel has re-imagined his music in the purest sense of the word. New Blood, a 14 track CD was released in October and followed by New Blood Live in London, a concert DVD of 22 songs in the same presentation.
On both, Gabriel is backed by an orchestra that brings new life to his music without the presence of a guitar, bass or drumkit. The orchestra enables not only new depth in the artistic vision of Gabriel, but intricate layering when appropriate.
"The Rhythm of the Heat" kicks off the CD (it's much later in the live set) — sparse drums and a conga back Gabriel's strong vocals as occasional cellos give the song its pulse. It's more barren than the original. As the the music builds through the nearly six-minute track, an orchestral torrent is eventually unleashed.
"Digging in the Dirt" starts with a simple, hypnotic click as the orchestral maneuvers slowly swell beneath them instead of the electronic pulse of the original. As with most of the album, this is not a matter of the orchestra simply playing the notes you've heard before, but rearranging the structure in its entirety.
Even the infamous "In Your Eyes" is given an update that makes you all but forget John Cusack hoisting a radio over his head in Say Anything. Sparse and upbeat, Gabriel takes a more laid-back approach in his vocals, soaking up some of the sap that's developed in countless plays of the original. The only song that comes close is "Solsbury Hill," and even that has been hit by a wind of fresh air.
The DVD enhances what's heard on the CD through visuals and a greater understanding of just how many people are involved — 46 in the orchestra, to be exact. Filmed over two nights in March of 2011, the video, at more than two hours long, includes additional songs such as "Biko" and covers of Regina Spektor's "Apres Moi," Lou Reed's "The Power of the Heart" and a toned-down heartfelt take on Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble."
Breathing new life into the music is an understatement. There isn't a single moment when the listener can say, "This sounds exactly like the original."