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Phil Collins: should we take his retirement seriously?

Phil Collins claims listeners have grown 'sick' of him. Photo: GettyIs Phil Collins really calling it quits? His interview with FHM certainly sounds very final, but we have heard this before. Collins first announced his retirement at an awards ceremony in April 2008, which came as a bit of surprise to everyone, since most people there seemed to think he had retired already. Even at that point, he hadn’t released an original non-soundtrack or compilation album in six years, was living in Switzerland and, in the words of one commentator “was about as culturally relevant as a penny farthing made of turnips.” Of course, it was remarks like that which made him want to quit in the first place.

Oddly, he subsequently announced his involuntary retirement from playing drums in September 2009, which suggested even he wasn’t taking his own retirement plans seriously. So no one was too surprised that he was back in 2010 with an album of Motown covers, Going Back, on which he sang and, er, played drums. Yet during decidedly grumpy promotional interviews, he repeatedly complained about his public image, and suggested he might just walk off into the sunset. It was an odd way to promote an album that people actually seemed to like (it was number four in the British charts). He sounds even more gloomy than usual in the FHM interview, but I am sceptical about whether this threatened retirement will be any more final than his last. Frankly, an interview with a glossy men’s magazine that was presumably carried out a couple of months ago seems a strange way for a superstar to bow out from the world stage. Besides, in today’s veteran-oriented musical landscape, surely the only point of announcing retirement is to facilitate a comeback?

The sad thing about Collins’ remarks is how unloved he seems to feel. For some commentators, his cheeky chappy persona and highly produced, almost plastic soul music had long been a byword for middle of the road musical blandness. But such an assessment is patently unfair. Collins was an outstanding drummer, Genesis were a daring and groundbreaking band (certainly in their early career) and, after Gabriel left, he stepped up to prove himself a charismatic frontman with a very distinctive vocal character. In black urban American music, Collins is a much sampled legend, in part for his hugely distinctive Eighties drum sounds, and in part because they appreciated his very British take on soul music. But it is a strange thing about stars, and perhaps about artists in general, that they are a sensitive bunch, who tune into the backchat of criticism even in the face of their commercial popularity, and allow the pithy put downs of a few to drown out the encouraging roar of the many.

Famous people seem to struggle to grasp that fame doesn’t mean more people love you, it just means more people have an opinion about you. Collins comments reek of self pity. He should just get over it. Music is for life. When he feels like making some again, there will be plenty of people ready to listen. Some of them might even enjoy it.

© The Telegraph, by Neil McCormick

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