Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Regardless of how much criticism Phil Collins has received over the years for his solo career and for "what he did to Genesis", serious music listeners know better, & there's simply no denying that his solo debut "Face Value", which came out in early 1981, is a masterpiece. It's an album that makes good on the theory that an artist does their best work in times of personal turmoil. Phil simply began 'fooling around' as a means to comfort himself in the wake of a painful divorce. Apart from a cover of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" & a retooling of the Genesis song "Behind the Lines", Phil wrote everything here himself, & not only is his songwriting consistently terrific, but you also get a healthy dose of eclecticism. That said, this ain't some run-of-the-mill soft rock or adult contemporary album. Even with all the brilliant songs Phil has written over the course of his career, the first track here, "In the Air Tonight", remains a signature song that's perhaps his most enduringly popular, & for good reason. Although the idea of suddenly switching from a very quiet part to an ear-blastingly loud part was not a new one, the song is staggeringly powerful & was a very innovative production, containing ominous drum machine, creepy synth, atmospheric Fender Rhodes, vocoder, violins, smoky electric guitar, (played by long-time Collins & Genesis cohort Daryl Steurmer), heavily echoing vocals, & of course, those ferocious, booming gated drums. Add to that the haunting lyrics & melody, & Phil`s passionate, tormented wailing on the fade, & you get one of the most cathartic songs ever recorded. But the genius doesn't stop there. Side 1 of the album (i.e. the first six tracks in its vinyl release) is often very quiet, such as on the starkly affecting "The Roof Is Leaking" which seems to be about the hardships of a family living in the US in the mid 1800s, & has Phil's vocals backed by just piano, banjo, & slide guitar. The wistful "This Must Be Love" is a wonderful, mellow love song with excellent backing vocals from Stephen Bishop, whom Phil was a great admirer of--he even slips the phrase "never letting go" into the song, the title of a Bishop song. He gives a finger-snapping horn-laden treatment to "Behind the Lines", & "The Roof Is Leaking" segues into the dramatic, fast paced wordless piece "Droned" which gives way to another instrumental-plus-wordless-chanting track with the feel good "Hand In Hand" (which features a children's chorus). Some pretty adventurous stuff indeed, & not exactly busting with "radio fodder" either--it's easy to see why Phil was surprised at the album's huge commercial success. It seems that "In the Air Tonight" simply captivated the public, & carried the rather uncommercial album. The first song on `side 2' didn't hurt either though--"I Missed Again" was also a hit, & it's a hook-heavy song with bright-sounding horns & containing uncanny, sophisticated chord changes. "You Know What I Mean" is a gorgeously melodic and tender ballad--it segues into the defiant, catchy kiss-off song "Thunder and Lightning", & the following track is the musically & lyrically contemplative "I'm Not Moving", which is yet another gem. The extremely sad, but hopeful love song "If Leaving Me Is Easy" is terrifically soothing --it has atmospheric strings, Fender Rhodes, & high falsetto vocals from Collins--rarely would you hear Collins' voice get this high on record ever again after this album. He then gets psychedelic for "Tomorrow Never Knows"--it's a terrific version, slower than the Beatles version, & has ominous looping drums, & great, punchy Collins vocals. Phil tacks on a brief reprise of him singing "Over the Rainbow"--apparently, this, along with covering "Tomorrow Never Knows" in the first place, were done as a tribute to John Lennon, who died in the same time period that the album was being completed. The production of this album, by Collins and assisted by Hugh Padgham, is masterful & supremely tasteful, & in the end, this album is truly timeless. Phil puts himself into the recording, & he ends up with an album that's oozing with deep feeling and is all the better for it--"Face Value" is a brilliant album from one of the finest artists of all time. Although this CD version is not an "original recording remastered" version of the album, the sound quality is still truly excellent, a testament to how well it was originally recorded. I highly encourage you not just to get this album (if you don't already) since it's absolutely essential, but also the "Face Value" DVD that's part of the "Classic Albums" series--it prominently features Phil himself, including performances from him, & it's a terrific look at the making of this incredible work of art.

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A Beatles fan since December 1980.Now an oral surgeon and music journalist.He lives in Bangkok.