Friday, September 16, 2016

Phil Collins 1: Face Value

Some of the songs Phil Collins wrote in the wake of his divorce ended up on the most recent Genesis album, but somehow the demos of the rest were deemed strong enough to form the basis of his first solo album. And considering what Face Value led to, it could be said that said divorce made him millions in the long run. (Not that we’d wish misfortune on anyone, but the man does have his detractors.) While he’d contributed inventive drums to Genesis albums, had done sessions for Brian Eno and even moonlighted in the British fusion band Brand X, from this album forward, he was squarely in the world of pop.
Everybody knows the story behind “In The Air Tonight”, how Phil witnessed a murder, then invited the perpetrator to the front row of one of his concerts, where he told the whole story and instructed the authorities to make the arrest. What people don’t know is that Phil himself was simultaneously apprehended for aiding and abetting a fugitive of justice by not reporting the crime when it happened, and he’s been in prison ever since.
Whatever you want to believe, it’s still a spooky song, with a sound that’s been imitated as a sincere form of flattery, and of course, those gated drums. “This Must Be Love” sounds even more like a demo, in stark contrast to the upbeat jazzy remake of “Behind The Lines”. By ignoring the big fanfare and adding Earth, Wind & Fire’s horn section to follow the melody, we can concentrate more on the lyrics, and choose to play the original again. The crickets that can be heard at the end shouldn’t be considered a critical commentary, but effectively set up the stark tale of farmland woe in “The Roof Is Leaking”, supposedly with Eric Clapton on that dirty dobro. This fades into the excellent instrumental “Droned”, which then morphs into “Hand In Hand”, for which he apparently never wrote words, so they’re substituted by a children’s choir and the horn section. Maybe he realized it was too close to “Follow You, Follow Me”.
The horns are used to much better effect on “I Missed Again”, which was a more obvious choice for a single. We have a weakness for “You Know What I Mean”, consisting solely of piano, lush strings and Phil’s sad vocal, especially since the horns come back on “Thunder And Lightning”, a cloying slice of smooth jazz that nonetheless shows off Daryl Stuermer, who’d graduated from supporting Genesis member onstage to Phil’s main guitarist whenever he was solo. Notice also Phil’s piano composing style, which entails pounding the same single bass note while moving the chords around with the other hand. (Hey, it worked for Graham Nash.) “I’m Not Moving” sounds less produced than some of the other tracks, giving it some well-needed charm, erased by the lounge sax and too-slow pace of “If Leaving Me Is Easy”. Finally, an experiment that shouldn’t work but does is his cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, to which he invents a harmony and inserts various loops generated by Daryl Stuermer and the horns. If you listen closely at the fade, he adds two lines from “Over The Rainbow”.
Even though there is a side’s worth of really good music here, Face Value does not earn a passing grade. As songs, they’re fine, but as an album it misses the mark. But nobody cares about what we think, least of all the modern-day consumers who pounced on this record on both sides of the ocean.
As part of a massive reissue campaign called “Take A Look At Me Now”, Phil reissued his solo albums with the expected bonus discs (and unexpectedly, updated cover photos that reflected the name of the campaign). Face Value’s extras are a strangely sequenced grab bag of demos and live versions culled from various decades. If you ever wanted to hear “Misunderstanding” with a horn section, here you go. More interesting is “…And So To F”, a Brand X number well played by the live band. Of the demos, “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask” tie the album back to Duke, while an instrumental called “Against All Odds” provides another key to the future.

Phil Collins Face Value (1981)—
2016 “Take A Look At Me Now” edition: same as 1981, plus 12 extra tracks

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