“A certain kind of Passion” - Peter Gabriel’s new album reviewed by Ted Sayers.
This is the first album to be released by Peter’s Real World studio which is a multi-million pound investment in HIGH technology recording equipment. Passion is in fact a double album of music used in (and some of it not used due to lack of space) in Martin Scorsese’s highly controversial film: The Last Temptation of Christ.
The album contains contributions from some of the biggest names from four continents (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be an Australian unless you know better!) which is a rather apt way to launch the studio as the main aim of it is to open a hi-tech doorway to World Music as it has become known.
The buyer should be aware that this IS film music and therefore its priority is to create a certain atmosphere at set points in the film for which it was written. Those who have seen the film will obviously have had a preview of most of the album, but it is far better to judge the music in this form; that is, without the visual distractions.
The film may have been controversial but it was, in fact, an excellent film with some salient points . It is a study of Christ’s divinity and humanity and was nothing short of stunning whichever side of the fence you are on - even if you are ON the fence! I said at the time that Peter’s music for the film gave it amore Islamic/Middle Eastern feel rather than Christian and to be honest, that was ideal - don’t forget that the Christian faith was non-existent at this time (and Islam was still a long way from coming into being either - AH). The world was a dark place and Peter’s soundtrack totally succeeds in evoking this.
The reason we have waited so long for the album is, I am sure, partly down to Gabriel’s perfectionism. Peter does say in the sleeve notes that he feels that the album stands up by itself aside from the film. Nevertheless, this is film music and there are no Sledgehammers or Games Without Frontiers. In fact the tracks are almost entirely instrumental except for the Gabrielese provided by Peter, Youssou N’Dour and others. While it contains some of Peter’s best work it is very uncommercial.
The track titles are reference points to certain parts of the film. The Feeling Begins is the album opener and it starts at the same point in the film where Christ, whilst realising he is not ordinary, can’t reconcile himself to his divinity. The track grows and is fairly atmospheric being a good clue as to what is to come. Gethsemane is a short piece which opens with some very eerie flute samples played by Peter. All one and a half minutes are quite terrifying which is apt for the track’s title.
Of These Hope was previewed at the Human Rights Now Amnesty concerts last year. This, along with Lazarus Raised and the reprise of Of These Hope form one piece of around eight minutes which is one of my favourites from the album. The three pieces are highly rhythmically orientated but there are some quite extraordinary contributions from Shankar, David Rhodes on douhle violin and guitar respectively. Peter’s flute whistle is some of the most haunting music I have ever heard, it almost sounds ghostly in parts.
In Doubt positively throbs with menace as the theme of doubt returns. The vocal section is again terrifying. I found myself beginning to wonder if I was being entertained or frightened. Side One closes with another of the album’s high points: A Different Drum. This track evokes hope and lacks any of the menace previously present. Gabriel’s voice provides a rhythm section to Youssou N’Dour ‘s superb voice here. As a whole, the track is dominated by some percussion loops and the aforementioned vocals. A surprisingly full sound for a piece so instrumentally bare.
The feeling of menace returns for Zaar which is derived from a traditional Egyptian rhythm performed to fend off the Devil. The middle section contains an almost joyful keyboard piece. Definitely another high spot. The album’s theme of doubt returns in Troubled. Again a very sparse piece mainly consisting of some very strong percussion and the voices almost providing the track’s rhythm. Open is one of the two pieces not entirely written by Gabriel. This being co-written with Shankar. It has a rather open-ended and ambiguous feel, allowing the listener to feel what he wants - quite literally “open”. Before Night Falls opens with finger cymbals providing a rhythm before a melodic ney flute and then Shankar’s double violin comes in. With This Love is totally out of place. The oboe and cor anglais give the piece an entirely English feel. Amongst all the Middle Eastern instruments they stand forlorn.
The opening to Sandstorm portrays the calm before the storm. Various drums build from within, the calm menace. The second piece which again was co-written, this time with Mahmoud Tabrizi Zadeh is Stigmata. It brings sharp images of a voice calling from the top of a minaret. Again, the track is very sparse, using only Gabriel’s voice, the Prophet 5 and Zadeh’s kememtche. The kememtche is used throughout to versatile effect. The album’s title track again calls up the image of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer atop a minaret at sunset but sadly the track is a little long. The use of a choirboy at one point is surprising but it gels nicely with the Qawali voice, this is the longest single piece on the album and you have to remind yourself that this is film music. The throbbing undertow seems to promise something but the end only brings a feeling of anti climax. Another surprise is a choral version of With This Love. Again, it sounds too English for the rest of the album but this is possibly a good thing as it is not ineffective.
Wall Of Breath feels precisely like that, being almost a single sounds cape. Breaking into The Promise Of Shadows is chaotic as doubt rears its ugly head again. The piece eventually finds order in itself but it feels almost too late. Disturbed begins almost confidently but you can feel the mood break down with the arrival of the surdo and tabla and doubt grips the piece eventually carrying it off. The penultimate track takes its title from the final words of Christ on the cross - It is accomplished (Consummatus est). It Is Accomplished carries a piece of piano which almost rings like a bell of joy and victory. This is the closest to any traditional Gabriel and the aforementioned piano section carries echoes of Red Rain. On the whole, this really does carry a feeling of victory over all the doubt. Finally, Bread And Wine feels like a quiet celebration of this final victory. The hope which springs from the final two pieces is almost tangible.
Considering that this is only Peter’s second attempt at a full film soundtrack
(Birdy being the first) it is a remarkable achievement, the music consistently
capturing the moods of the film. On the whole the album manages to stand up
as a separate entity, but is the required compliment to the film at the same