Collins intended the title song to be about the people of South Africa finding freedom after decades of oppression and fear. But he found a more personal definition of freedom in it.
"It could easily be a song about me," he said in an interview at Atlantic Records' New York headquarters. "(It's) not freedom from a marriage, not freedom from this or that, but just coming out into the light again out of having been in the woods."
His divorce made him front-page fodder for the rapacious British tabloids, which hounded him throughout the tour supporting his last record, "Both Sides."
"I did wish that I wasn't who I was, because if I wasn't who I was, this wouldn't be on the front page of a newspaper -- I'd just be able to deal with it in private," he said of the ordeal. "I would have given up anything. Nothing that I had was worth it."
On that tour, he met his 23-year-old girlfriend, Orianne, who he's been with for 2 1/2 years. Collins left his native England after the press fiasco; the two now live in Switzerland. He wrote a good portion of "Dance Into the Light" on the road while holed up in hotel rooms.
"When the tabloid hell started, I was very, very happy. I was sad at what had happened, but happy at the prospect of my future," he said. "That is what these songs represent."
Part of his future plans include slowing down.
"Occasionally, I feel like mutinying," he said. "I still love what I do; believe me, this album was great to make and I'm very, very proud of it. But the thought of going on the road for three months does not make me jump up and down for joy like I might have done 10 years ago, five years ago.
"(It's) just trying to get a balance in my life that, apart from the most recent year and a half, two years, I've never had," he said.
He says he'd love to do an entire album of sweet, innocent pop songs similar to "That's What You Said (Spirit of '65)" and "It's in Your Eyes" on the current record.
At 45, Collins looks trim and fit. He wore jeans and a navy silk shirt, and slightly round glasses emphasized his roundish, expressive face. He is more sedate than his public persona would indicate; his sense of humor pops up more sporadically than one might expect.
He did the record without using drum machines. He had gotten a lot of flak for using them on his last few albums, but argues that they were what that particular material sonically needed.
"Sometimes the drum machine sounds create the atmosphere of the song," he said. "Take that away and you may not have something very special at all. I don't feel threatened being a drummer having a drum machine."
He also wanted to prove to himself that he could still physically play the drums. He has a broken bone in his wrist that cannot be repaired because the bone is dead. His doctor couldn't guarantee that Collins would maintain his mobility if the bone were removed.
Collins did some session work and the wrist was fine. But to really prove to himself that he was OK, he took his big band side project on the road after "Dance Into the Light" was finished.
"(It) was a huge mountain for me to climb," he said. "Not only was I having to play all the time, it was a different style. We did two shows in one night in Montreux and it was great -- I didn't hurt at all."
Genesis did a charity show in England while Collins was working on "Dance Into the Light," and it was then that he realized he had to end his creative relationship with keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist Mike Rutherford.
"I felt like an actor," he said. "Out of the four or five songs we did, I'd written the lyrics for (four). I was singing songs which I couldn't say, 'If you don't like this, then you don't like what I'm doing.' (It was), 'If you don't like this, I know, but that was his idea.'
"I really enjoyed some of the time in Genesis; I enjoyed most of it. ... But the older you get, you figure, I don't want to waste my time doing anything that I can't stand up and say, 'This is me.' ... I had great fun for 25 years -- now I'd like to have great fun doing something else," he said.
Some of that "something else" is working on the score for the upcoming Disney movie "Tarzan." Collins is a animation vet, having supplied the voices of the twin polar bears Muk and Luk in the film "Balto."
"I remember sitting watching cartoons with my daughter and thinking, 'Wow, I'd like to do this, because then my daughter can watch it and that'd be me,"' he said. "It's about songwriting, it's not about being hip or unhip -- it's writing a song that is going to last forever."
His daughter went to see "Balto" not knowing about Collins' vocal contribution.
(She was) watching it, and suddenly these two polar bears came on the screen and she shouted out, 'That's my dad!"' he said. "It was a fantastic moment -- that's what I always wanted her to do."
© Associated Press, by Kira L. Billik