Recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo in March last year, this is the soundtrack to the New Blood Live In London DVD which was released a few months ago and captures Gabriel performing with a 46-piece orchestra. The film of the event encapsulates all the visually demanding lights, backing screens and the obvious novelty value of such an unusual gig, but the attention on this release is rightly focused on the music.
Any audible flaws that might have been overlooked when distracted by the startling, intrusive visuals will be only too apparent here. There’s also the real risk that the transforming of familiar Gabriel songs into something more suited to an orchestra may only diminish rather than embellish. After all, there are countless bands who have felt that the full orchestral treatment – or even merely adding a string section – would enhance the appeal, only for the resultant haphazard mess to be filed into the category of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’.
Fortunately though, as you’d probably expect from the wily perfectionist, this is a damn near faultless recording of an exceptional night. Where Live Blood succeeds is that rather than simply stapling an orchestra on to the songs, filling in the gaps or having strings merely mimicking the melody, Gabriel has completely stripped down the material, starting afresh and rebuilding them into spacious new pieces that often sound almost unrecognisable from the originals. Take for example Digging In The Dirt, which finds the bass-heavy funk replaced by jabbing staccato strings, or the added effervescence that drives a sublime version of In Your Eyes.
Of course, many of these songs had made their debut as part of his New Blood album, which successfully captured Gabriel’s interpretations of other artists work. Yet performed live there is an added intimacy and intensity which sets them apart from their studio counterparts. Of these, it is the delightfully sluggish rendition of Paul Simon’s Boy In The Bubble – where only the lead vocal melody bears any resemblance to the original – that really emphasises exactly what Gabriel has achieved here.
The covers merely make this album even more irresistible. Gabriel standards Mercy Street and Red Rain are also divine reinterpretations that truly surpass the originals, and the sprightly Solsbury Hill is well suited to the orchestral treatment. Don’t Give Up is similarly elegant and even the absence of Kate Bush (Norwegian Ane Brun provides the female vocals here) isn’t distracting.
Four decades as a recording artist, and Gabriel continues to innovate, startle and impress.