Peter Gabriel (Scratch)

(1978), 6/10
Scratch continues an indecisive beginning to Gabriel’s solo career. Instead of every song shooting off in a different direction like the debut, this sophomore album tends towards anonymous faceless rock. Despite the contributions of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, who produces and plays guitar, and bassist Tony Levin, both idiosyncratic virtuosos who you’d expect to add personality to the project, Scratch often sounds like a mainstream late seventies rock album. Fripp insisted of a fast recording process, at odds with Gabriel’s usually meticulous approach, while Gabriel’s vocals are also unusual – his voice is low in the mix and harsher than usual. Scratch has its moments; the pair of opening singles are both strong, and largely forgotten from the Gabriel catalogue; ‘On The Air’ uses a Who-like synth loop and crashing guitars, while ‘D.I.Y.’ has a great bass riff. ‘White Shadow’ is easily my favourite song here; the mainstream rock sound actually helps the song, with haunting synthesizer tones, dramatic piano punctuation, and a memorable guitar riff in the chorus. It’s noticeably more intricate than most of the other material, and could almost have fitted on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The other great song here is ‘Exposure’, built around Fripp’s soundscapes and a memorable Levin bass-line – it’s weird and inventive in a way that most of these other songs aren’t. Elsewhere, songs like ‘Indigo’ could have been interesting with better arrangements, but tend towards generic under the unhelpful arrangements and production. Gabriel would find a more compelling direction with his next album, rescuing a career that was quickly sliding into irrelevance.

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