In his new album, "Testify", Phil Collins sounds content, if not downright domestically blissful. And why shouldn't he? Here's a typical day in the life of this British prog-rocker-turned-pop-superstar: Get up. Walk the dog. Work on music in the garden studio. Eat lunch. Make more music. Play with the kid. Eat dinner. Watch the telly. Go to bed."I've got to be honest - it's a great life," said Collins, 51.
He and his wife, Orianne, live in her homeland of Switzerland with their 18-month-old son, Nicholas. In the summer, they go boating on Lake Geneva. When they want to unwind on winter weekends, they retreat to their chalet in the Alps. And yet Collins still gets bummed out every now and then. Blame it on the Swiss youngsters who upstage him on the ski slopes.
"Over there, you learn to ski as soon as you can walk," he said. "You see kids hurtling past you who are 3 or 4 years old. It's very depressing."
"Testify" is his first all-new solo effort in six years. It's filled with love songs inspired by his Swiss missus (including the pulsating title track) and tender odes to their boy.
"I'm known as the guy who sings about being unhappy . . . because some of my songs came out of divorce or an unhappy place," Collins said by phone from the New York City offices of his record label, Atlantic.
His string of hits includes such chart-topping tear-jerkers as "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" and "Separate Lives." His 1981 solo debut "Face Value" (featuring the breakthrough single "In the Air Tonight") was inspired largely by the end of his first marriage. The album "Both Sides," released in 1993, foretold splitsville for him and his second wife. Collins tied the knot for the third time with Orianne in 1999. They met five years earlier, when he was on tour.
"The unhappy side of my life has been exaggerated," he said. "It wasn't like I got married twice before and I hated it all the time. Even 'Face Value,' which is called 'the divorce album,' only has two or three sad songs, maybe four at most. But I have to say, the new album is very optimistic. It has loads of happy love songs, rather than sad love songs."
In a separate interview, "Testify" producer Rob Cavallo described Collins as one of the nicest legends he ever met. "Phil writes from the heart," Cavallo said. "He's such a caring guy, a fine man with a beautiful family. This record is all about his love for them."
Collins composed most of the material on "Testify" on computers, updating his mass-appealing pop-rock sound with subtle electronica flourishes. The first single is a cover of "Can't Stop Loving You," a hit for Leo Sayer in the '70s. The Collins remake doubles as the theme song for a new Toyota ad campaign. Collins said we're "way past" the days when musicians were accused of selling out if they licensed tunes for commercial tie-ins, adding: "Every tour nowadays is sponsored by somebody."
Just don't count on seeing him mount a major tour to promote the new album. Doctors advised him against it after a viral ear infection two years ago left Collins with partial hearing loss.
"I don't think I'll ever do a world tour again," he said. "I'll do a week here in a theater, a week there in a theater, maybe. Being in the middle of loud music and 15,000 people whistling, shouting and screaming is a really high level of noise. It's not worth the risk."
Collins has plenty of other projects to keep him busy. He's working on a stage adaptation of "Tarzan," the 1999 Disney blockbuster whose soundtrack by Collins won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy. He also is composing music for a direct-to-video Tarzan prequel and another Disney feature film, "Brother Bear." Collins returned to his hometown of London in June, joining Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne, Eric Clapton and others for an all-star concert at Buckingham Palace in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's golden jubilee.
Back in Switzerland, Collins and exiled country-music diva Shania Twain are practically neighbors. "We live within 20 minutes of each other," Collins said. No, they haven't jammed together. "Actually, I did bump into her at the airport," Collins said. "Claude Nobs, who runs the Montreux Jazz Festival, has been trying to get us all together for dinner. Mutt Lange [Twain's husband and producer] is a private guy. I've never met him. I don't know why they moved to Switzerland. I know I moved there for love."
Collins has yet to hear Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Home," a new tune built on a sample of his '80s hit "Take Me Home." In fact, Collins hadn't even heard of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Cleveland's famous hip-hop sons. He promised to check them out. Collins was flattered when his songs were covered by Lil' Kim, Brandy and other rappers and R&B singers on "Urban Renewal," a tribute album released last year in Europe. A U.S. release is planned for early next year.
"It kind of makes this person - i.e., me - who's super uncool and middle of the road look a bit hip," Collins said, laughing.
Hip or not, he has sold 100 million records as a solo artist and another 150 million records as an erstwhile member of Genesis. He joined the band as a drummer in 1970. Five years later, he added lead vocals to his duties after frontman Peter Gabriel quit. Collins said it would be "great" to have Genesis inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame someday.
"But I don't lie awake at night thinking about it," he said. "I didn't know you had to get voted into the rock hall. I thought it was automatic, if you'd been around long enough."
Collins left Genesis on good terms in 1996. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of a reunion tour with himself on drums and Gabriel (who performs Tuesday at Gund Arena) on vocals. But Collins isn't sure if getting back together to focus on songs from the band's early days with Gabriel would satisfy fans partial to the group's Top 40 tunes from the '80s and '90s.
"Peter said he would do it if I played drums," Collins said. "But what would people get? You can't expect Peter to sing 'Hold on My Heart' or 'I Can't Dance.' So it would be what Peter did when he was with the band, which is a pretty small box of CDs. I know a lot of people want that. But not as many people want that as they think they do. If Genesis fans could decide exactly what they want, then maybe Genesis could give it to them."
© Cleveland Plain Dealer, by John Soeder