Because of hearing loss, Phil Collins won't be touring behind his new album. But the 1980s icon might be on the road to success once again.
For Phil Collins, the creaky ride to the top started again courtesy of You'll Be In My Heart - the Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning theme for Disney's 1999 hit Tarzan. But health and family will keep that ride slow and uphill for a while.
Collins, in town yesterday to promote his recently released CD Testify, said the new album stands with Face Value (1981) and Both Sides (1993) as some of his best work, but the 51-year-old singer - a ubiquitous superstar in the 1980s - clearly doesn't expect to burn up the charts or score huge critical points this time. "Anything that happens with this record is the unexpected. I don't fit in with the music business any more," Collins said in a disarmingly cheerful tone."I actually did think about whether I should make another record. What is the purpose? I don't need the money. I don't need to be put up on a pedestal so people can go ..." and here, Collins pantomimed a person shooting a rifle at a target - with appropriate sound effects.
"I don't know why I put myself through it. I won't bow to current trends and do something that fits in with everything else."
Collins has clearly succeeded on that not-fitting-in count. Testify is vintage Phil, sure to delight fans of golden-era discs like Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982). Its bubbly songs and ballads, with a generous helping of synths and programming, could easily pass for 1980s recordings.
The lyrics, many of which reflect fatherhood and domesticity, came through Collins's unorthodox technique. "I start with a musical doodle. I will sing whatever the music moves me to sing. Then I write down what I've sung and that will become the bones of the lyrics. In the Air Tonight is the classic example. I didn't write anything down - all the words were totally improvised. And that's the one that has the big story about it, and yet there is no story. I was angry and bitter and going through a divorce. That's the only story there is."
Collins readily acknowledged that in terms of sales, his last two studio albums - Both Sides and the 1996 release Dance Into the Light - "didn't do what everybody else thought they'd do: get bigger and bigger and better and better, which you're supposed to be in this business.
"When Tarzan did so well, I started to feel that clanking of getting on the ride again and going up to that first part - and that's kind of where I am now. If the album does well, that would be fantastic."
There won't be a tour to bring the new material to the public - and it's not because Collins is being a prima donna. A viral infection two years ago claimed some of the hearing in his left ear. "I've been advised (touring) could be a little dangerous, by four or five doctors. When I saw the last professor at the House Ear Institute in L.A., I said, 'Well, what about touring?' He said, 'I wouldn't if I were you. It's an uncontrolled environment and it could affect this hearing or damage the other ear, which is 99-per-cent (good). So it just made me think, 'Why do it?' " Occasional shows are not out of the question, he said.
Nor does the hearing problem affect his recording schedule. "I don't use headphones in the studio anyway. I work with speakers and I sing into a microphone. I wouldn't trust myself to mix something, though. My days of producing other people are gone. They're finished." A stage version of Tarzan and two Disney flicks, Tarzan 2 and Brother Bear, for which Collins wrote both songs and score, are in the works, he said.
Collins has children from previous marriages ranging in age from 13 to 30, but he cited his 19-month-old son, Nicholas, from his third marriage, as another reason to stick close to home. "I'm not going to drag him around hotels. I'm going to do it the way dads usually do it this time.
"Things would happen and I'd hear about it on the phone. 'He sang! He sang!' 'He said "I love you!" '
"I'd get home and go, 'Say "I love you." ' 'Oh, he's way past that.'
"The whole idea of me being there as much as I can, for him as a dad, is something that I really look forward to," Collins said. "And we're trying for another one. We've decorated the room."
© Montreal Gazette, by Bernard Perusse