Liking Phil Collins


“Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you dance a little. Take the lyrics to Land of Confusion. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. In Too Deep is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like In the Air Tonight and Against All Odds. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is Sussudio, a great, great song, a personal favorite.”

This is yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman in the movie version of American Psycho expressing his enthusiasm for Phil Collins to two prostitutes (he goes on at greater, more tedious length in the the novel) right before he has three-way sex with them which he videotapes while Sussudio plays on his high-end stereo and he admires his own body in a mirror. Now, bad reviews are one thing, but you know your critical reputation is low when you’ve become such a metaphor for everything bad about the 1980s that everyone gets the big joke that your music is perfect for a narcissistic psychopath with a black hole where his personality should be, an ideal soundtrack for his life of empty materialism and status obsession with a little torture and murder on the side — he’s also a big fan of Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston.

It almost makes me feel sorry for poor old Phil but then I remember those videos of him and Genesis in their badly-fitting suits with the jacket sleeves rolled up like every old fart rocker that was stinking up the charts that decade and I think of committing shocking acts of violence myself. There was a time when Phil had a certain amount of artistic credibility (he also played drums for Brian Eno, John Martyn, John Cale, and Robert Fripp) but he’s so reviled now that defending any of his work — particularly in the 1980s — feels a little like pointing out that Mussolini wasn’t all bad because he made the trains run on time. The “yes, but…” I’m referring to is his first solo album “Face Value” which — and I know you’re all rushing for the exits at this point — happens to be a pretty great record.

It helps that the album came out in 1981 when he was still just the singer/drummer in a Prog band with his own little solo effort (which he didn’t expect to sell all that much) and hadn’t yet become Phil Collins, the prick who crapped all over “You Can’t Hurry Love” and said he’d leave the country if Labour got in power, and without all that baggage it’s a enjoyably loose and unassuming record and he doesn’t sound like a smug twat. The songs are mostly about the break-up of his marriage and, without wanting to sound like Patrick Bateman, the ballads are often quite sensitive and touching (Sabrina, take off your shoes) particularly “If Leaving Me Is Easy” which is especially gorgeous. I’ve always liked the funky instrumental “Hand In Hand” too (with horns by Earth, Wind & Fire) which has the added bonus for some that he doesn’t sing on it and just plays some rather cracking drums.

So, as George Michael said, listen without prejudice, I swear it won’t make you want to murder anyone.

Download: If Leaving Me Is Easy – Phil Collins (mp3)
Download: Hand In Hand – Phil Collins (mp3)
Buy: “Face Value” (album)

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21 Comments

  1. davy h says:

    I never see this in charity shops but 'Hello, I Must Be Going' and 'No Jacket Required' are almost as ubiquitous as 'No Parlez' (without which no Oxfam is complete). I like 'The Roof Is Leaking'.

  2. londonlee says:

    I nearly posted that one too

  3. Duncan says:

    Londonlee, if you make me start liking Phil Collins, I'll never forgive you!

  4. Anne Bentley says:

    Great post – a ripper. As a sullen teenager, my older sister gave me Peter Gabriel's first album – came as a surprise but she must have heard me say I liked Solsbury Hill and it made me so happy – I felt as though I had art and a brain. Phil from this end of the world was the person who made Genesis bland but I had a copy of Face Value for a while and a second hand record store/opshop/thrift store isn't real if it hasn't got more than two copies of Face Value – it was played to death in Aust'- In The Air Tonight was on the Sunday pop show No.1 for ever (maybe more than ABBA). I had to take my little sister to his concert a lifetime ago and he really was/is an excellent drummer. Maybe there can be a listening moratorium every 20 years like just now… then put it away.

  5. Darcy says:

    Add me to the fan base (Of Face Value at least). Dug it out of Mrs Darce's collection last year to put it on mp3 for our daughter and was reminded of what a great album it is. Must play it to our son sometime and then the whole family could be fans.

  6. Anonymous says:

    let's not forget "i'm not moving!" Nice and minimal

  7. Brian says:

    Yup, still like this. I saw this tour with Chester Thompson ( on drums while Phil sang ) , the big horn section ( not, i don't think, EW&F , maybe Muscle Shoals ) , and Daryl Struemer( sp? )on guitars.
    They got called back for so many encores they had to repeat several songs. No one cared , it was a fabulous show in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
    I also broke up with a girlfriend around this time and she wrote on the LP label " don't ever feel like this ". I think she was referring to " If Leaving Me Was Easy" I still have the Lp and the message.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Other albums I am not ashamed to like:
    1. Frampton Comes Alive!
    2. Roaring Silence – Manfred Mann
    3. Rumours – Fleetwood
    4. Running on Empty – Jackson Browne
    5. Saturday Night Fever OST

  9. iMADEtheBBC says:

    Perhaps it's time for the rehabilitation of Phil Collins.

    I never really subscribed to the hate.

    I'll even suggest that 'I Wish It Would Rain' is not too bad… coming at the tail end of the 80s and featuring Slowhand (I think?)

    What Collins did on his solo album wasn't a million miles from J. Casablanca's recent solo outing except Phil Collins was more minimal and had better songs.

    There I've said it.

  10. John says:

    Please no more [expletive deleted] Phil Colins!

    I suppose some sad blogger has to blog him, but why you? Oops forgot – you once blogged Greg Lake. Silly me. Bookmark deleted.

  11. londonlee says:

    Bye!

  12. JC says:

    !!!!!!!!!!

  13. Brian says:

    that's weird. must live on a narrow boat.

  14. Hoops Hooley says:

    Spot on about early Collins. These tracks are great. (There's more EWF-related shenanigans under the Genesis moniker at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyxMzmXKwhA.)

    Reckon he must have disappeared up his own rear end sometime post No Jacket Required. There was a sort of "fly-on-the-wall" type documentary about the recent Genesis reunion tour on in Beebland a few months ago. He really did come across as an annoying little man…

  15. thedocker says:

    Interesting site, like it.

    Bowie said of his eighties stadium tours that it was his ‘Phil Collins period’.

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  17. Nina says:

    I can’t help but say that I detest Phil Collins. My two grown daughters will tell you that they were adults before they ever heard more than the opening notes of a PC song because the instant I heard him on the radio I switched the station.

    I can’t stand his music, and I can’t stand him personally.

  18. londonlee says:

    Do you know him personally?

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The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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