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RECORD RACK

PETER GABRIEL "Passion." Geffen ***:POP STARS ***** Great Balls of Fire **** Knockin' On Heaven's Door *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Ain't That a Shame

June 04, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

Gabriel knows that what his fans would like from him right now is "Son of 'So."' What he's given them is "Son of 'Birdy."'

His new double album is nearly all instrumental (save for a few choral bits and a little caterwauling on the side, some his, some not). Most of it derives from his justifiably acclaimed score for Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ." Bravely, he's expanded the music to nearly 70 minutes and put this often difficult work out under his own name and a different title (one of the film's working titles, in fact) instead of consigning it to the sound-track section.

The strengths and weaknesses here are much the same as those of the movie: When Gabriel combines a Western sense of melody with a dark, earthy Middle Eastern rhythm--as he does in the three most stirring tracks, "Of These, Hope," "A Different Drum" and "It Is Accomplished"--the lovely result recalls the film's attempt to capture Christ's paradoxically divine and mortal natures. At other times, for all its exotic textures it comes perilously close to being just another synthesizer-heavy "new age" album, suitable for accompanying the occasional wistful wishy-washiness of Scorsese's New Age Jesus.

Gabriel is probably on his most unsure footing when he attempts to completely appropriate foreign styles and scales, travelogue-style. But when he introduces their trappings as elements into his own unique sense of melodic writing, "Passion" plays quite remarkably.

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