Lit and Crit
Phil Collins and
Continued from pg. 3
It was all laid bare on Face Value. The album features songs about cold winters with no food and offers lyrics such as the brutally honest and direct hurt of 'You Know What I Mean':
Just as I'd learned to be lonely
You call up to tell me
You're not sure if you're ready
But ready or not, you'll take what you've got and leave
Leave me alone with my heart
I'm putting the pieces back together again.
"I wish I could write a love song," he practically begs God herself in another track.
As we know, the nerves of the gut are their own kind of mind. When it convulses, tightens and makes its plea to stop the pain, we all know it when we hear it. Phil reached into his soul, like any great singer, and confessed to being human, weak, vulnerable. And we empathized. The world responded by giving him a number one album in England and two top 20 singles in America for Duke, and a top 20 single and album for Face Value.
Of course, Face Value features In The Air Tonight, the ultimate song about being a witness to a crime and wanting retribution. Who knows what real event these lyrics might describe, but no doubt it is about witnessing the truth, seeking justice.
This is another theme which Collins would continue to exploit over and over for fun and profit in the 80s and 90s. (In fact, maybe that was another reason for his undoing. Eventually those indignities seemed to become rote and there was no other theme to mine).
The album was smart enough to not just be a weepie, so it also contained some percussion-led poly-rhythmic jams and RnB pop tunes as well. His inspired choice to let his love of horns out of the stable and run was perhaps what propelled his career forward like no other stylistic change. It allowed unabashed pop structures and tunes for his music.
All in all, Face Value is indeed undoubtedly Colllins' best work, though for the next decade he would be able to produce high quality top of the line stuff for the most part. Factly, any listener willing to dip into the music of his period between Duke and Invisible Touch will be rewarded with fairly satisfying listens, though there are some caveats.
What's again important to remember, however, is this: it all happened in real time. I know, I was there. Let me tell you, when Duke and Face Value came out there was no expectation that Phil Collins would go on to have two decades of runaway global success. This was a breakout, and it was fresh. He was not treacle Phil. He was real. His heartbreak was real, and it would become the theme of his life and his music. He was undergoing such a wrenching wreck of a love life that he would turn to the piano again and again to assuage it, and he shared that with us; and we are the better for it.
Sometimes it was melancholic, sometimes revengeful, sometimes foolishly hopeful in that way that only lovers can delude themselves. Well, he had lost of the heart of his first wife, unfortunately, but in the bargain he won the heart of the whole world. (I just hope the millions of dollars he earned from that feat is some kind of a salve on the wound of his inconsolable heartbreak!)
Genesis continued to expand its commercial ambitions and Phil's core themes with their next release, Abacab. Call it breakup album #3. First, there is No Reply At All, a clever RnB hit with horns, a nice bridge, a skittering riff, and a gooey breakdown candy center where the artifice and accusations are peeled away to reveal the self-loathing knowledge that a lover has indeed rejected you and it's your fault. It is indeed on of Genesis' single best songs. Here's Phil, telling that truth as an act of bravery: "Maybe deep down inside I'm lying to no one else but me."
Like It Or Not lacks a hook (it sounds like a Duke cast off) but it is revealing in its passive-aggressiveness: "you're just another face I used to know. But there is still a chance to hold on to our love?" Well, which one is it? He goes on: "It's been a long, been a long long time /Since I held anybody, since I loved anyone." Oh yeah, you better stock up on that Neosporin, baby, 'cause you indeed got burned bad and it's going to take a long time to heal.
Even Who Dunnit, a total throw away, is about his core theme of some kind of unspecified crime and frustrated punishment. Another Record also sounds like a Duke song given its chorusy electric piano-led arrangement but it features that snazzy new gated reverb drum sound courtesy of producer Hugh Padgham. Indeed, on Abacab the production is a step up, punchy and compressed, glossy and thick with double tracked distorted synth riffs mixed low enough to not grate.
It is Phil's drumming and singing which become the focus and thrust of the band at this point, rather than the synths and prog arrangements. There is more rhythm guitar riffing and less soloing, even in the jam songs. Abacab is an uneven album with several throw away tracks and a few that are not quite memorable (in fact, some of the rejects that wound up on 3 Sides Live are better than the tracks they kept for Abacab), but the strong tracks are first rate or acceptably decent.This was the album that crossed Genesis over from rock radio to Top 40 Pop Radio in America, a much bigger audience. As long as he was playing the role of the lovable dork and knew it, we'd accept him.
Now they're even making memes about my blog posts, I guess.
The album had a few nods to the old jam style Genesis (Lurker/Dodo and Abacab) but the second pop hit from the album was that signature Roland 808 sound, Man On The Corner. Here is Phil again feeling bereft of purpose (he is the man on the corner he sings about, clearly) and making the most of his tom fills with the revolutionary Hugh Padgham gated reverb production sound. The world loved it, and why not? It was contemporary in its electro sound and still sounds good today.
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