It’s not as if he recorded Say Say Say and The Girl Is Mine, is it? He didn’t cowrite either Do They Know It’s Christmas? or We Are the World. He hasn’t been accused of abusing women or children; and at no point did he step in as a replacement lead singer for Queen, Deep Purple or INXS.
So why the near universal disdain for, if not outright loathing of, Phil Collins?
When his 2016 Not Dead Yet tour – his first in 13 years – was announced, it was met with collective groans, outright mockery and even a Change.org petition. The tour began as a few shows in the UK and ended up encompassing large portions of the world, including, this week, Australia.
In some circles (read: almost anywhere music critics gather to sacrifice young bass players and dance naked around a copy of Pet Sounds), Collins is the apotheosis of blandness and ubiquity, the byword for the bleaching of soul music, the man who killed Genesis and gave American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman a reason, and a soundtrack, to screw and kill.
But for a musician who can count (somehow, perplexingly, but nonetheless quite seriously) Kanye West, 2Pac, Nas and Ol’ Dirty Bastard as fans, how can he be considered almost terminally uncool?
Since I come, if not exactly to praise then at least not to bury him, let us consider the sins attributed to Philip David Charles Collins, once of West London and Begnins, Switzerland, who at the end of this month turns 68.
When chief writer and singer Peter Gabriel left Genesis, and lower middle-class drummer boy Collins stepped up to the microphone, the group of long-haired, costume-and-makeup-wearing, concept album-making, middling-selling, public schoolboys with a reading list went from being darlings of the sort of people who said “darlings of the cognoscenti” to hitmakers for the sort of people the cognoscenti looked down on.
OK, it’s not like Invisible Touch need ever be heard again, nor those baggy suits revived. The synths in Abacab grate more than a Parmesan factory, and there was something unbearably smug about it all. But the 100 million-odd albums Genesis have sold principally came post-Gabriel. So, guilty as charged, he made them popular. How very dare he.
And yet that didn’t stop him playing on often little-heard albums by Brian Eno and John Cale, Robert Plant and John Martyn, and Peter Gabriel. Sure, they mostly didn’t let him sing or write but can’t you gain some cool by association?
He made two post-divorce albums that were bitter, a bit twisted and very bloody angry about his ex, who supposedly heard about the impending divorce via fax (which he denies). What a bastard, right?
Two names for you: Marvin Gaye (Here, My Dear – the contractually obligated, here’s-your-damn-settlement, 1978 fuck-you, whose song Anger was not kidding); and Bob Dylan (1975’s Blood On The Tracks, whose Idiot Wind was not a weather forecast). Next to them, Collins is a mere bantamweight in bastardy.
What about his cover of You Can’t Hurry Love? Note perfect and reviving Motown’s profile for a new generation, but accused of draining any remnant of blackness from it. But again, he was hardly alone in the traducing of 60s classics through the 80s: Michael Bolton anyone? Naked Eyes?
But yeah, fair cop, it’s as bland as boarding school tapioca pudding and a perfect companion to his blancmange take on Groovy Kind Of Love. And the film clip where he plays both Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard to his blue-suited Diana Ross can still scar.
Perhaps the real problem was that he sold too much (around 150 million albums), was around too much, played everywhere, including both sides of the Atlantic for Live Aid, and produced too much. Even he has admitted his presence in seemingly anything that happened in the 1980s would have got up his nose too if he had been watching.
Here’s the thing though: he didn’t force millions of us to buy his records. He didn’t demand we love him and his funny comb-forward.
You might argue he actively worked against the notion, what with his film clips (don’t, I beg you, look up Two Hearts – no, I mean it, don’t), his feature films, his suits, his songs …
Anyway, remember: Collins didn’t release anything as bad as Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s atrocious duets, and their musical reputations were eventually redeemed. Give the bloke a chance.
© The Guardian