I guess I can understand a fair bit of the Phil Collins hatred that - if anything - seems to be growing. The man didn't do himself any favours - allegedly divorcing one of his wives via fax (note: one of his wives; clearly, whatever the fax, a serial offender of sorts). And the artist didn't do himself any favours with nothing really worth hearing in his solo discography in over 20 years. And many of you will probably be quick to point that that is being extremely charitable.
Some Genesis fans prefer the band's earlier, artier albums and place the blame squarely with Collins for taking Genesis to the stadiums, to the mainstream.
Sure you can mock the failures - the No Jacket Required album, as popular as it was, like, say Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (to pick one album of similar standing for the same era) is hopelessly dated. You can laugh at the upcoming Motown album or the Disney work, the foray into releasing a big-band album where he plays jazz versions of solo and Genesis songs. You can talk all day about how awful you think some of his music is - but Phil Collins is talented. And he has done some amazing stuff.
From Genesis and jazz-fusion side-project Brand X through to recording with Robert Plant, John Martyn, Brian Eno, Eric Clapton - to jamming here with Clapton and B.B. King - the backhanded compliment often offered to Phil Collins is to say, almost disingenuously, well he's a good drummer.
Of course he is. But he's also a superb musician, a great singer, a great writer - a clever musical mind with a head for production, a pioneer of drum sounds, and of using drum machines, loops and the combination of live drums over programmed patterns. He is a master of mood and space - and you can hear all of those skills on his debut album Face Value.
I have, for years, felt like I'm the only person that defends Phil Collins. I'll admit that I do not love everything he's done - there's a lot of if I have no interest in at all - but it seems a bit weak to write him off completely, particularly, as so often seems to be the case, based on some cool-card; some idea that Phil Collins was always an annoying twat. So what? Miles Davis was nasty; Ryan Adams is a borderline-lunatic - and Madonna? Yeah - she seems balanced! She seems like a nice person to hang out with!
Phil Collins made some superb music - and if you listen to Face Value you will hear a lot of it.
In the Air Tonight kicks off the record. A song that Genesis rejected. Collins played it, in demo form, to the other members. You either like it or you don't. But it's a perfectly sustained, dark piece of pop music. It builds. And it is a beautifully controlled build, teetering on tension. Collins is singing for a retribution - a retribution that will only make him happy in the sense that he will release some frustration/s. It's a harrowing song, particularly from the songwriter's point of view and in the performance of the singer - surprising, then, that it became so well known. And loved. It really is a lot darker than you think.
From there it's to This Must Be Love and an alternate version of Genesis' Behind the Lines. This Must Be Love subdues the mood built up in the opening track and Behind the Lines gives the first flavours of white-funk, of the Motown influence that permeates parts of Phil's solo discography.
The Roof Is Leaking is another dark exploration in to the marriage falling apart. That's the main theme of the album - it's the subject of so many of the songs, as both chance for exploration and a release of sorts. It then segues to Droned - a superb instrumental that features the percussive dance of an Indian rhythm.
Hand in Hand would become a regular concert opener for Collins (see here); a chance for the band to be featured, as an ensemble. Again, there are a lot of flavours here, multiple voices, huge drums, sharp horn lines.
I Missed Again is a song Collins would rewrite several times across his career. I think he nailed it the first time. A great wee pop song.
Face Value has a lot of movement, a lot of mood and a great flow - another standout track for me is If Leaving Me Is Easy, a beautiful, heartbreaking ballad. And then the album closes with a slick reading of The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows - a tribute to a huge influence.
I first heard Face Value - right through - about 20 years ago (10 years after it was released). I couldn't believe how good it was. So much better than the albums by Phil Collins that followed it. Better, to my ears, than anything released post-Peter Gabriel from Genesis. A clever pop album - one that arcs and dips, one that moves but has a central lyrical theme; since then I have listened to the album regularly - it's a record I never get sick of. And the first thing I think of whenever I feel the need to defend Phil Collins.
I don't feel anywhere near as much of a need these days, though you could probably twist the point of this post into thinking that that is exactly what I am doing here. But I do still think that it's absurd to discount everything the man has done. I rate Face Value as one of very few near-perfect pop albums. A cinematic set of songs - wide in scope, huge in both the actual sound and the evocation, the ideas; proof that you can think big with a three-minute pop song.
But that's me. You probably hate Phil Collins.
So, I want to know why? What made you hate him? And have you ever listened to Face Value - or any of his albums? Did the hit singles do the damage as far as you're concerned? Maybe you don't consider yourself much of a fan of his at all but you do like Face Value - or one of the other albums. If so, which one/s?
Or is he just a good drummer with ideas above his station?
© Stuff, by Simon Sweetman