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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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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