Just a few hours ago Rolling Stone launched a free stream of Peter Gabriel’s latest, Live Blood, which doesn’t officially come out until next week. The album, recorded live at London’s Hammersmith Apollo last March, is a sprawling double-disc opportunity for the legendary songwriter to preen in front of a live audience. These arrangements of songs from 2011’s New Blood and 2010’s Scratch My Back, with the added “benefit” of a 46-piece orchestra, prove to be a case-study in overindulgence.
The real issue with Live Blood is that we’ve heard the material before. These arrangements are not significant improvements on the re-imaginings we’ve already heard on his two most recent albums. Set the gigantic orchestra aside and there’s little left but a bloated money grab.
It isn’t even particularly relevant as a live album, since we already have Peter Gabriel Plays Live, which showcases his music when in his touring prime. That double LP remains among the best rock recordings ever put to vinyl. Live Blood, however, leaves the most energetic songs for the end, to be heard only by the most ardent fans. “Apres Moi,” his Regina Spektor cover, hints of the raw power the orchestra could provide. But it isn’t until we reach “Red Rain,” “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes” near the end of the second disc that the album comes anywhere near success.
Perhaps it is time for Peter Gabriel to put aside his greatest hits and get to work on a proper follow-up to 2002’s Up, his most recent stab at new material. These orchestral indulgences only back up the theory that the living legend hasn’t done anything of consequence since 1986’s So. Long-time fans will know that isn’t the case. Still, it’s a shame to see someone with such untapped potential to innovate choosing merely to tread water. When an artist can’t let go of his past, he’s doomed to forever miss out on the future.