Passion - Music For The Last Temptation Of Christ

Melody Maker - June 10, 1989
By Simon Reynolds


Peter Gabriel is Mr. Middlebrow. Everything he's done has been a coffee table version of the ideas of the moment. In 1980, he provided the anti-trendies with a more palatable version of the angst-rock (he banned cymbals from the session for "Peter Gabriel 3", to get that stark, neurotic Comsat Angel sound). A few years later, "Sledgehammer" was his take on the more positivist, albino sould zeilgeist of the mid-Eighties. Now, it's world music (admittedly, something he helped instigate by founding WOMAD at the turn of the decade). Whaddya bet, next year Gabriel discovers he new rock?

'World" is a humanist construct, a figment hallucinated by Western liberals desperate to re-establish contact with a "real world" that's slipped from view in our media-saturated "culture." Where more interesting avant-dabblers in ethnic music (e.g. Recommended Records, ECM) have been drawn by the conviction that we are all brothers under the skin, that the same human heartbeat is the throbbing essence within all the plethora of diverse world musics.

This ecumenicalism (the belief that all mythologies and religions are simply different routes to the same God) fits perfectly with "The Last Temptation of Christ," itself a monument of middlebrow humanism. It was puzzling that, in the sycophantic sprawl of respect for Scorcese's film, nobody, but nobody, saw fit to irradiate a little scepticism on the film's central premise: the "eternal" conflict between spirit and flesh. I mean, this the eve of the 21st Century; we should have got beyond this by now. And the idea of woman as incarnation of the flesh, of the animal passions that distract Man from his virile spiritual potential... Reactionary tosh!

'Passion" consists of two takes on all this nonsense. The first record contains original compositions by Gabriel, in an pan-cultural, sensurround idiom reminiscent of Bryne and Eno's "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts." But whereas the latter assembled their mantric melange with the cold precision of scientists, from shortwave recordings and import records, Gabriel prefers a less "alienated" approach, convening an ensemble of top players from Pakistan, Turkey, India, Ivory Coast, Bahrain, Egypt, Senegal, etc etc, paying them honest bob, "learning" from them. The second record, "Passion Sources," consist of world-inflected versions of traditional religious music (here Gabriel is latching onto the current interest in Early Music, as exemplified by such highly-regarded Mediaevalists as Arvo Part).

What sticks in the craw is that it is all rather listenable. Beats like Doric columns, a bass sound like the world turning, winding mists of muezzin prayer wails drifting across from distant dunes, a Cecil B de Mille approach to the organisation of sound -- "Passion" at times reminds me of the voluminous vistas of Yello's elegaic instrumentals, or even a Q-reading Morricone. Manipulative but undeniably massive

It probably sounds great on CD.


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