Virgin / Realworld, 1989
It's often a good move for a musician to do a soundtrack album, which gives them an excuse to break free from the constraints of the structured song. Peter Gabriel got a chance here to make some of his most interesting music to date for Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ". He mixes together a sound that's world music in the truest sense - independent of any restraints of time and geography. But the album doesn't come across as a mish-mash or a collage of styles, it's more a unified work in a completely personal idiom.
The textures he creates are very much focused on rhythm, percussion and drones, used for huge tribal crescendos like on "The Feeling Begins". The cast list of the album uses a huge number of the world music usual suspects, including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Youssou N'Dour and Shankar. Suitably it's the Middle Eastern elements that come across strongest, in some of the breathy folk wind instruments, evoking the film's dusty desert setting. When the insistent rhythms are turned off, it's for a very good reason, such as "With This Love", a simple and beautiful tune on an oboe. In a masterstroke this is later reprised memorably by a boys' choir. Most haunting of all is Nusrat's hugely-ranging vocals on "Passion", accompanying the film's crucifixion climax.
Of course there's still a connection with Gabriel's mainstream work, as evidenced by the hands-in-the-air pop choruses on "A Different Drum" and the uplifting finale "It is Accomplished". The sophisticated productions that adorned the 80's adult pop of "So" are not so far away as you might think. Electronics and sequencers are used subtly with perfect timing to give depth and colour. Some interesting Fairlight sampler effects are put to spooky use, like at the start of "Gethsemane".
It's a longish movie, and this soundtrack might sometimes be too long for isolated listening, but it's absorbing and original stuff.
August 12, 2004