Phil Collins: Going Back

RIYL: Rod Stewart and other recent English artists who have put out cover albums

Those of us old enough to recall when Phil Collins was relevant can tell you that back in the ’80s he dominated the music industry with his musicality (he wrote, sang, produced and drummed the shit out of any record he played on), his cheeky humor, and his ability to transform even the slightest melody into a big hit. Before No Jacket Required, one of his most popular solo recordings was a cover of the Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love.”  It closes out Side 1 of Collins’ otherwise dark second album, Hello, I Must Be Going, and it’s a reminder, amongst those songs of bitterness and heartbreak, that Collins liked to have fun.

It’s 2010 now, the music industry has changed and Collins’ effectiveness as an artist has waned. Although he won an Academy Award in 1999 for a song in Disney’s animated “Tarzan,” the charm and musicality of the artist who was so influential in the ’80s is long gone. What’s an aging artist to do when they want to regain the public’s attention after so much time has passed? Why, record an album of covers, of course. Better yet, why not go back to the same Motown sound that gave him his first Top Ten hit?

On his new album, Collins painstakingly reproduced the sound of ’60s-era Detroit, even flying in some of the Funk Brothers over to England for sessions. Collins succeeds on this level, as the music on Going Back has the same tight arrangements and the appropriate amount of reverb to make you think these tunes were recorded over 40 years ago. Yes, the music is splendid, but how could it not be? It’s Motown. The problem with this album occurs the moment Collins opens his mouth to sing.

Through the years, Collins’ voice has become more whiny and bitter; he just doesn’t sing with the same joy or soulfulness to pull off an album of some of the greatest songs ever written. Because of this, no matter how great the music or production value, the tracks on Going Back are not fun to listen to at all. What should have been a loose, lively party record has had all of the soul squeezed out of it. Motown without soul is elevator music, and I’d dread being stuck in any elevator playing this album in the background.

Motown was the sound of young America; the music jumped off of turntables and into hearts. Collins’ renditions strain to get through the stereo speakers, like dried Play-Doh being squeezed through a colander. If you really want to hear a contemporary artist performing music that has the soul and sound of ’60s Motown, go out and buy the latest by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. You’ll hear soul music done right, and it’ll cleanse your palate of this dreck. (2010, Atlantic)

Click to buy Going Back from Amazon


Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection

RIYL: Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, hunting and killing Billy Ray Cyrus

Bill Hicks has become the trendy name to drop of late when talking about influential comics, and while it’s irritating to see Hicks become a hipster icon, the simple fact is that it’s better late than never for Hicks to find a larger audience, hipster cred or otherwise. Truthfully, it’s not surprising that Hicks didn’t find a larger audience during his lifetime; his material, while rooted in truth, was sardonic and mean. He spoke at length about pornography and fantasized about being an angel of death. He also brewed up material that a million comics wish they had thought of. Using terminally ill people as stuntmen in movies? Genius. Unconscionable, but genius.

This four-disc set (two CDs, two DVDs, one download card) tries valiantly to create some order from the chaos that was Hicks’ brain, saving the political material for Disc 2 and using Disc 1 to talk about everything else. A chronological sequencing probably would have worked better, for two reasons: it would give the unfamiliar a better sense of how Hicks’ material evolved, and it would get the listener more excited as they go through it simply because Hicks is playing to bigger and bigger crowds. Several of these tracks are marked ‘Previously unreleased,’ but many of those are just different versions of bits that appeared on the albums Ryko issued in the late ’90s and early ’00s. There really isn’t a duff bit here, and they even had the balls to include “Worst Audience Ever,” where Hicks ran into a particularly stoic crowd in Pennsylvania, and made sure they knew it.


Fans will want this collection for the DVD material. Disc 1 contains some early (as in 1981, when Hicks was 19 years old) routines, mostly recorded at the Comix Annex in Houston. Hicks was still finding his voice during this period, and for a show in Indianapolis in 1985, it looks as though Hicks’ new idol was Steven Wright, as he delivers his material in a monotone voice. (He’s also wearing a news boy cap, just like his friend Sam Kinison.) The material he had written then wasn’t great, but it’s still interesting to see what stuff he went through before he settled on talking about Jimi Hendrix cutting Debbie Gibson in half with his cock. And speaking of Kinison, one of the two Houston gigs from 1986 literally screams Kinison, from the constant yelling to the trench coat. The money piece from Disc 1 is the poolside interview with Hicks from 1988, where he speaks of Kinison’s permanent banning from a local comedy club, inspiring the birth of the Outlaws.

Disc 2 features the rare “Ninja Bachelor Party,” a delightfully silly 30-minute martial arts spoof film Hicks shot over a period of eight years, along with a series of bootleg clips of Hicks in Austin in the early ’90s. The bootlegs are just that, shot from the back of the room and frequently out of focus, but it also features the best material on either DVD, and it’s fun to see the Relentless and Arizona Bay material acted out. It doesn’t quite serve as the definitive collection of Hicks’ work, but it’s not called The Definitive Collection. It’s The Essential Collection, meaning it’s all must-own stuff. Just be prepared to seek out the rest of Hicks’ essential material. (Rykodisc 2010)

Click to buy Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection from Amazon


Kevin Hart: Seriously Funny

RIYL: “Def Comedy Jam”, Mo’Nique, “Soul Plane”

If you’re a fan of stand-up comedy, you’d probably be right not to expect comedic gold from someone who starred in “Soul Plane” alongside Snoop Dogg and Tom Arnold. However, low expectations can actually be beneficial, and Hart’s latest CD, Seriously Funny, manages to be reasonably funny – certainly funnier than any sober viewing of “Soul Plane” or just about anything else in the diminutive comic’s film catalog.

Over the course of an hour-long show taped at the Allen theater in Cleveland (aired as a special on Comedy Central and also available on DVD), Hart spins fairly standard but still moderately amusing yarns about married life (the sex gets boring), having children (parenting is hard), relationships and coming to terms with his own lack of toughness. The biggest laughs come from a bit in which he watches his father get beaten up and an extended sequence in which he explains how to storm out of a domestic argument correctly. His style of comedy isn’t especially original – stand-ups have been mining these topics since the dawn of creation, but Hart strikes a decent balance between the familiar and the slightly racy. His jokes are mildly profane on occasion, but won’t cause jaws to drop like much of the stand-up work of legends ranging from George Carlin to Eddie Murphy or even new jacks like Aziz Ansari. If you’ve watched a couple episodes of “Def Comedy Jam,” it’s very likely that you’ve heard some permutation of these jokes before.

The issue with comedy albums is always the fact that some of the jokes are inevitably visual, and thus fall flat in recorded audio form. That’s occasionally the case here. However, despite the hindrance of not actually being able to see Hart, it’s a credit to him that a good chunk of his jokes still fly. Seriously Funny doesn’t totally live up to its title, but it’s good enough that we can easily picture him starring in a family sitcom a la D.L. Hughley or Damon Wayans someday. (Comedy Central 2010)

Kevin Hart MySpace page


Bill Engvall: Aged and Confused

RIYL: Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Blue Collar TV

Bill Engvall aoppears to be an all-around good guy, and as one of the few clean comics working today, we take no pleasure from saying anything less than flattering about the man or his work. But it must be said; Aged and Confused, Engvall’s new album, is just…fine. It isn’t particularly bad or good – it just moseys along in that safe zone of zip lines, annoying kids, embarrassing naked stories and, something that will definitely appeal to his core demographic, colonoscopies. It’s all harmless enough, and the crowd at Chicago’s Vic Theatre lapped it up. (It is also, thankfully, free of Engvall’s catch phrase ‘Here’s your sign’ bits.) But the painful truth is that it’s just not terribly funny. Borrow it from the library, listen once, return it, and your Engvall fix will be complete. (Warner Bros. Nashville 2009)

Bill Engvall MySpace page
Click to buy Aged and Confused from Amazon


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