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Peter Gabriel - Birdy/Long Walk Home/Passion album reviews

The good, the bland and the beautiful from Peter Gabriel

The backstory of rock stars turning out dedicated soundtracks is honourable enough though sometimes uneven. While some are bespoke one-offs, others are off-cuts from the multitrack tapes of music already released or diverted from works in progress. With 1985’s Birdy, the bulk are instrumental takes from Gabriel’s 1982 masterpiece, Security. However, there are a number of interesting and highly atmospheric pieces scattered between tracks, the most beguiling of which, Sketchpad With Trumpet And Voice, features the singer in an amorphous, flowing duet with Jon Hassell’s breathy emanations.

While much of Birdy serves to explosively annotate on-screen action, 2002’s Long Walk Home lingers as a largely neutral sound design. With strategic borrowings from his 2000 soundtrack to the live show presented in the Millennium Dome, it shimmers in the heat haze behind the actors. Though both are perfectly acceptable, neither release feels representative of an essential part of Gabriel’s extensive discography. 1989’s Passion is a different story. Developed from his score for Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, it glitters with a vibrant eclecticism gleaned from numerous WOMAD sessions featuring artists including David Sancious, Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N’Dour. They add a lustrous quality that radiates across the entire record. The emotional impact of A Different Drum, whose thunderous drumming gives way to a sublime, uplifting chorus, represents classic Gabriel, while With This Love, baroque and stately, provides another outstanding example of his ability to manipulate a simple, heartfelt melody.

Passion isn’t the sound of supplication or about the transcendent certainties of faith. Rather, it seems to pose a series of questions. As the music opens out, enlightenment and any search for the numinous remain a mysterious and profoundly personal quest. Beautifully packaged and presented on pristine vinyl whose stunning clarity serves the music so well, this album is the equal of any of Gabriel’s ‘regular’ releases.