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Phil Collins: Face Value / Both Sides

review collinsA x1 cong

It’s not quite up there with Blackadder going over the top or Del Boy missing the bar and falling over, but one truly great television moment was the opening episode of Miami Vice: Crockett and Tubbs drive down a waterfront road in a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, racing to a show-down. The soundtrack that made it great was In The Air Tonight, the ever-popular opening track of Face Value, which even now is impossible to hear without performing a spot of air drumming.

They were both of their time, Miami Vice for the fashion (T-shirts under Armani jackets, loafers) and Collins for 80s production: overly-bright, big drum sounds, synths and drum machines.

Today, we’d probably laugh at Miami Vice’s cotton jackets with rolled up sleeves but Face Value is as good as ever, though this double CD — a re-issue heralding a resurgence of Collins — highlights all that was good and bad about Phil.

Good: in the break-up of his marriage he wrote a cracking album. A little too much self-pity maybe but it was good when it came out and it’s still good now, Collins’s heartache adding a little zest to the ballads and his love of soul adding depth to the other tunes.

Opener In The Air Tonight is as good as Collins — or anyone else — gets, with its droning electronic opening and drum machine before Collins comes clattering in with that immense drum fill.

It’s followed by This Must Be Love, a delicate tune to follow In The Air, then This Must Be Love, with its brass and finger-clicks — he hired the Phenix Horns, who played backup for Earth, Wind and Fire, for this, and the EWF influence is clear. I Missed Again is more Motown, opening with the famous Motown drum fill (no cymbal — the Motown musicians all played in one room at once, and the cymbal would have drowned out another player). A sax solo is courtesy of Ronnie Scott.

While some are based on his marriage woes, other bits are not: The Roof Is Leaking has an American blues feel and talks about maw and paw. Some people moan about the closing track, of a cover of the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows but we always liked it; he’s a drummer so he picks up the beat and ignores all the rest.

It’s a classic album, and if you don’t own it, you should.

The bad: this re-issue comes with a live album and, much as we love this CD, the live stuff epitomises all that is bad about Collins. We bought this, and subsequent albums Hello, I Must Be Going and No Jacket Required, but after that Collins disappeared off into Radio Two (as it was then) blandness. Opener is the Genesis song Misunderstanding, to which Collins adds cluttering brass, and If Leaving Me Is Easy is transformed from a sad pop tune into some kind of aural wallpaper; if it was lift music you’d be praying for the cables to snap to end the misery. In The Air is good though, and Roof Is Leaking less bland.

Also re-released is Both Sides, Collins’s fifth solo studio album, on which he plays everything and sings. He recorded the demos at home and polished them up in the studio. People can mock all they like, but that’s some achievement.

This album is firmly aimed at the AOR market — adult-oriented (soft) rock — and while they’re all quality songs, they’re far from memorable — we couldn’t remember any of ’em before we played this, and couldn’t remember much more afterwards, either. We think Collins claims it’s one of his favourite albums but we’d have preferred re-issues of But Seriously or No Jacket Required. They’re on the way, apparently.

Face Value is a solid classic album, Both Sides less so, but we have to say that Collins stands up really well to some of the mass produced drivel around today, and could easily give bands like Take That a run for their money — and he could write and play it all himself.

review collinsB x1 cong

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