Great artists defy categorisation. Is Bob Dylan a folk, blues, country or rock musician? The Beatles didn’t confine themselves to pop, they also included classical and reggae, among other diverse elements in their music.
The Who displayed their ability to create charming pop in Sell Out, and would soon create one of the great ‘heavy’ albums of all time with Who’s Next. Others would be The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
Phil Collins, through his association with Genesis and his solo pop career, is linked to both genres. More than this, he is one of the few who has managed to find mass appeal from both audiences. If Genesis had three #1 albums on the UK charts, he has had eight #1 songs on the pop charts. While Genesis has sold upwards of 30 million albums, Collins has sold over a 100 million. So, you would assume that he was both, a pop and rock star, right? Wrong.
Collins has always been a mass artist, which only means that he has always taken a business-like approach to his work. While part of the Peter Gabriel-Genesis, he participated in the band’s extreme prog-rock tastes, with songs such as the 22-minute ‘Supper’s Ready’ and the double concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. In retrospect, it seems like Collins was never into what Gabriel had planned for the band.
Subsequent Collins-controlled albums, starting with … And Then There Were Three…, were only prog-rock in so far as they contained solos and were sometimes over five minutes in length. In other respects, however, it fails to conform to the style. The ballad ‘Follow You, Follow Me’ was the first single and it even received airplay on adult contemporary charts. In one interview, Collins even admitted that he wrote the song because he wanted to get women interested in their music. It worked, of course. The album reached #3 on the charts and stayed there for 32 weeks.
Next was Duke, which made clear that Collins planned on turning his back on prog-rock completely. This one went platinum, just like the two albums they released after this – Abacab and Genesis. Despite the self-titled album, the songs weren’t even a progression of Peter Gabriel’s work, but mirrored Phil Collins’ solo career, only with heavier arrangements.
But, being the profit-oriented musician, he also knew his target audience. Therefore, the songs that rock fans were more likely to accept were included on Genesis solo albums (like ‘Invisible Touch’). However, songs that would rival the work of Glen Mederios and Shakin’ Stevens, like ‘Sussudio’, ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’ and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, were included on his solo albums.
Unlike other musicians like Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur) and Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures) whose avatars are different from each other, Phil Collins remained the same profit-oriented musician, whether with Genesis or his solo career.
Collins will, however, always go by the figures, which show him in very good light – 150 million albums, several #1 hits, seven Grammys, an Oscar. We, on the other hand, agree with those who agree that like most artists who write music for the masses, Collins’ music hasn’t aged well.
In its review of one of his nineties albums, Entertainment Weekly stated: ‘Even Phil Collins must know that we all grew weary of Phil Collins’; and of his last album, Testify, one reviewer said, ‘Testify is a perfect album for anyone who still treasures ‘Face Value’, ‘Hello, I Must Be Going’ and ‘No Jacket Required’.