Song by song, this is a masterpiece of rock and pop. In The Air Tonight offers brilliant tension and release, atmosphere and anger. This Must Be Love has a nice rubbery bass, a lilting melody, the perfect amount of percussion, gentle pads. It's sentimental but not sappy or overdone. Behind the Lines re-imagines Genesis as an RnB outfit, a stylistic watershed that would lead to super-stardom. Hand in Hand is a fun poly-rhythmic workout. You Know What I Mean takes candle-light pop confession by piano into a new era of perfection. Basically, these five songs encapsulate the best of Phil's style; he would rework these ideas again and again over the rest of his solo career.
Behind The Lines is mis-placed in the track flow despite being the sign of Phil's new times. This song should really be track 10 because it could work as the final upbeat song before the big psychedelic closer. Or maybe it could serve as an album opener to signal his new resolve. That said, it is a snappy and interesting re-interpretation. I Missed Again, Thunder and Lightning, and I'm Not Moving are also decent pop songs in this new Earth,Wind and Fire mold.
The Roof Is Leaking begins a medley of sorts which almost strains under the weight of its story (a single man providing for his kids over a bitter winter, short on detail, long on pathos) but holds together due to its sparse piano instrumentation. The drama of the narrator's desperation is balanced by a kind of simple and direct mode of expression mirrored by the way the banjo twangs like a home-made instrument and the piano follows the vocal line so closely and forcefully. There is a kind of grit-teeth determination in the tone; it's for the kids. When the song gives way to upbeat banjo the shift in tempo and tone indeed lifts the spirits.
Droned and Hand in Hand follow, explosions of percussive fury which seem to be a kind of correlative of the frustration felt by the narrator of Roof, all let loose and growing wild with overgrown lush surges of poly-rhythm. That fury dies down into a kind of after-glow of children singing a lovely wordless refrain (Hand In Hand) and pokes at you with occasional bursts of RnB horns. All in all, these songs on Face Value are part of a suite which tells an entire story of hardship and triumph within 15 minutes or so of music. It offers a dramatic arc which is mostly instrumental but which manages to tell its tale with economy, energy, spirit and grace.
You Know What I Mean is a piano tear-jerker of the kind Phil would be able to replicate again and again over the length of his career. This is the original strand of DNA right here. It is lovely in its bare and elegant confession of both hope and hate for the way love twists you up inside.
The only song more wrenching than that one is If Leaving Me Is Easy. It has a nice atmospheric production with reverbed-out falsetto pleas from Phil and some mellow sax cut with an occasional horn jab to the ears to make sure your attention is not wandering. The sound of those stabs are indeed a sonic correlative to a lover's slap in the face-- look and listen to me when I'm talking to you.
To conclude, in some ways Phil Collins' album Face Value is as exposed and beautiful as an artist can be. Sure, there are other artists that have gone there, some before Phil and some after. However, Phil deserves to stand along side the both in terms of sales as well as artistry that will be remembered for some time to come.
Of course, Face Value is really two albums. There is the slow burning one, then there is another album which is all about Phil realizing he can get down with the Earth Wind and Fire crew. That album is good, it has a few pop hits and a few RnB hits and a few rock experiments like Tomorrow Never Knows. Such songs perhaps offer a necessary break from the bleaker songs. Still, I prefer to separate the two albums by changing the running order so that I can listen to only the quieter songs when I want to.
My version finishes with the little snippet of Over The Rainbow which he sings a capella to close out the album. It is a fitting end, the ultimate classic song about hope amidst sadness, just the right soft to conclude a truly great album.