British rock singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel has taken what he calls the "scary" step of paring down a new album of cover songs confined to orchestral instruments and his voice.
Called "Scratch my Back," the album is being released in the United Kingdom on February 15 and the United States on March 2. It is Gabriel's first solo album in eight years and features 12 covers of artists ranging from experienced to emerging, including Radiohead, Talking Heads and Regina Spektor.
But it is far from just another album of cover songs, according to the singer who just turned 60 years-old. He said that in return, the artists will reinterpret Gabriel's songs on a second album called "I'll Scratch Yours."
"It's scary," Gabriel told Reuters about the album and an upcoming tour of Europe in March and the United States in May. "But I wanted to do something a little bit different and something quite fresh for me."
Early reviews have described "Scratch My Back" as a poignant, contemplative album that is stripped down to the essentials, featuring just Gabriel's voice accompanied by chamber instruments as well as brass and keyboards.
"I thought we could take away the guitar and take away the drums and just use the pallet of the piano and the orchestra," he said. "Normally I have a thing about how to fix the lyrics or the arrangement, and on this I was really focused on being a singer and interpreting songs, so that was good.
"Some of it is quite stark and empty but from my taste it works better as a whole," he added.
Songs featured on the album include "Street Spirit" from Radiohead, "The Boy in the Bubble" from Paul Simon as well as a slowed down version of David Bowie's "Heroes", Talking Head's "Listening Wind" and Regina Spektor's "Apres Moi."
Gabriel also covers songs by Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Lou Reed, Elbow and The Magnetic Fields, who have already recorded an electronic version of Gabriel's "Not One Of Us" for release on the second album.
The former Genesis singer said his new project was born of wanting to collaborate with the other artists.
"To do a covers album seemed a bit boring to me, so I really thought maybe we could do a swapping process where, 'you do one of my albums, I do one of yours', along with some dialogue and interaction," he said.
Gabriel has made many bold moves in a long career, starting with leaving Genesis, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month.
"It was my childhood, if you like, my teenage years but for some of the band it has been twenty to thirty years ," Gabriel said.
But his career longevity does not mean he is out of touch with the current state of the record business and new developments in music.
"As a young man I always tried to follow what was going on," he said. "Now I just follow the same interests."
(Additional reporting by Sharon Reich; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)