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Lit and Crit
An Apostles Guide
Continued from pg. 5
To the ears of pop radio programmers it now seemed that Genesis was infallible and their self-titled album went into heavy rotation everywhere across the land with track after track released as a single. Simple, conventional, catchy.They were in their prime by them, and the music is quite listenable if you like pop though it is not the best album in their oeuvre; it sometimes borders on easy listening. Still, we didn’t know any better. We found it acceptable as the soundtrack of our teenage hormonally spasmodic social events.
It's Going To Get Better was a standout pop track, and Silver Rainbow works (despite dumb sexy strawberry fields style lyrics), but this album exposed the newly gleaming machine that was indeed being fabricated underneath the fleshy outer layer of the band. It was at this point they obviously started thinking of product placement and TV and movies as extensions of their "brand" as often as they did the next chord to play. Mike Rutherford was even writing hits on his own with Mike and the Mechanics.
Since they had made their bed of money, so to speak, they had to lie in it. Well, that's what a few giant mega hit records will do to anyone over a few years! You've got a lot of mouths to feed depending on you, it's a juggernaut. Deals have been struck which demand it all keeps lumbering forward for years.
And at least for a few more of 'em, it worked like a well oiled android version of Phil's love life. The movie soundtracks produced hit after hit and the song Against All Odds was a standout in the Face Value mold. Even Separate Lives worked.
Then came 'No Jacket Required', his fifth and last divorce-influenced album, an instant best seller. It brought more poppy TV songs about witnessing crimes, more piano songs about begging for love and comfort, more songs about broken hearts.
It was heavy on RnB numbers that zinged out of your speakers like a punch in the face. His ballads, sometimes pulled from the same grab-bag that produced all the others, continued to work their wonders for the most part. The Roland 808 drum based songs got their due; one of them was even quite good even if a little hackneyed: Take Me Home. He was cranking out music at this point, so much so that there are several good b-sides and demos that all share that soft Rhodes and 808 sound from the era as well.
Of course, the lyrical fires were cooling by this point --some 10 years after the initial divorce and with millions in his bank account-- so some songs on the album again had lyrics that sounded like a pitch for an episode of Kojack or the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop II.
This album, tragically, also contains the biggest earworm of his career, 'One More Night'. It is a song so simple and repetitive (23 repetitions of the title phrase for crissakes) that it became ubiquitous on radio. At the time it was obviously the apotheosis of what he was about. Perhaps the song indeed burrowed so deeply into everyone's psyche in the mid 80's that the dude finally just had to be extracted out with forceps for the health of the patient.
The band's next album would be chock-a-block full of more music in the 'Genesis' mold, with a little more guitar and a few more nods to the electro minimal 8 minute jam. Invisible Touch the song is pure pop ingratiation, but overall the album was at least a little better than their last. There were no clunkers like Illegal Alien, for example.
While its themes are better explicated by the American Psycho than I could ever manage, we can add the observation that this album is what you get when the subject of Phil's divorce has been wrung out and is too far back in time to truly inform the emotional tenor of his singing.
Bereft of that touch, Invisible T was the first demonstration of what happens when Phil Collins runs out of subjects in his own life to sing about. He will use his fame to do some good for the world. Thus, he pens Land of Confusion. This is perhaps the closest he ever got to writing lyrics that were impactful without being personal. Even the electro-drum sound has life and energy. It is indeed the exception that proves the rule, since it seems to have some urgency and directness.
The rest of his work after this, though, become tainted with a little too much emotional cubic zirconium. He could always conjure up that timbre, but now it wasn't personal.
Still, give Genesis and Phil Collins some credit already, ok? Remember, in real time, as each album was being written, produced, packaged and sent to radio stations, there was at least some doubt. Would this be the one that failed? Could he keep all those balls in the air? Would they continue to keep rock radio entranced in the age of MTV?
The answer was yes. Again, the pop songs are all top of the charts earworms that could not be ignored, even if they seemed to offer some ersatz emotion and a repetition of the 'modern' Genesis tendency to stretch a song out to ten minutes or so without adding much of any harmonic complexity.
In the end, they proved themselves yet again on Invisible Touch. That drive to serve up the revenge cold to his ex-wife was now leaking into problems with his second marriage, yet he wasn't singing about it as much as delivering retribution with the calculated precision of the professional.
He would never be as naive and vulnerable again but give the guy some credit. He was able to pull another rabbit or two out of his hat during the latter part of his golden years with an alchemical recipe that continued to fizzle as it released the last of its energy.
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