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


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