After dressing up as a flower and pushing art rock to theatrical extremes, Peter Gabriel has lately emerged from his home studio in a new, somewhat depressing guise: as a chunky, Billy Joel-style piano man dutifully delivering the hits. Filmed last year in hi-def at the O2, ‘Back to Front’ is a full recitation of Gabriel’s 1986 pop masterpiece ‘So’ (with a couple of cuts, including ‘Big Time’). The singer’s stage moves are identical to the ones that thrilled his fans decades ago, as can be seen from intercut ’80s-era concert footage. The gimmick feels nostalgic, but maybe this 64-year-old has earned it.
Still, while Gabriel’s spooky sense of drama has dissipated, his music remains stellar. He’s reassembled his touring band (including monster drummer Manu Katché), and their versions of deeper cuts, like a funky take on ‘No Self Control’, impress. Interviews with the players, a touch generic, emphasise their emotional connection to Gabriel’s back catalogue. This backward-glancing perspective might have been better employed to chart the star’s influence and admirable lunge for political significance. Frankly, let’s hope the ‘Sledgehammer’ guy gets this phase over with soon and returns to his main thing: looking ahead.