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Peter Gabriel: No Guitars, No Drums, All Covers

It's shaping up to be a banner year for Peter Gabriel. The progressive-rock icon just turned 60. Genesis, the band he founded, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gabriel is also kicking off New Blood, a limited concert tour with full orchestra. And he's just released his first solo album in eight years.

Scratch My Back features Gabriel performing a dozen cover songs by younger artists such as Bon Iver and Regina Spektor, as well as more familiar faces like Talking Heads and David Bowie. Gabriel set a single creative restriction for this project: "No drums and no guitars." In the coming months, some of these artists will release covers of Gabriel's songs, as well.

In an interview with Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Audie Cornish, Gabriel talks about the role of lyrics in deciding which songs he wanted to interpret.

"There are so many more things that I love the music of than the lyrics," Gabriel says. "The lyrics was often the reason I didn't do a lot of songs that I like. 'Cause when you actually sort of strip them naked, it's not always that they're going to stand up. You know, some rock lyrics work well in one environment, but don't hold up if you separate them from their roots. And I think all of these lyrics are great lyrics regardless of the music."

Gabriel and his team drastically re-orchestrated many of the songs on Scratch My Back, stripping them down and scoring them anew.

"For me, it's quite a grown-up record," he says. "It's not easy listening. And I love stuff like that: that you don't necessarily like at all at first, but grows on you. And I think some of these songs are like that, or particularly these arrangements.

"And I think it's a record that we see as a journey," Gabriel adds. "I know records are being seen very much as a selection of songs right now. And this is obviously, in its origin, a selection of songs. But I think the way we put it together, it's an old-fashioned album in the sense that you start at one point and end up at another."

Gabriel also talks about recording songs by The Magnetic Fields, Regina Spektor and Paul Simon. He calls Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble," from the album Graceland, "one of the great pop lyrics of the last century."

"We sort of sucked out all the African elements, and you're left with the skeleton, which is an extraordinary thing in itself," he says. "And I think a lot of people, myself included, heard the lyrics in a different way, in a new context."

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