The more I listen to Phil Collins’ solo work – and, to a lesser extent, post-Gabriel Genesis – the more I have come to respect him, both as a performer and, especially, as a songwriter songwriter. His sense of melody is really strong and his lyrics are definitely above average. I know from Genesis that he is a talented drummer but he also sings with a great degree of passion, he doesn’t really take songs off, and he has greater technical chops that I initially thought. But none of this makes me like him more, because I utterly hate his aesthetic.
I just finished listening to Whitney Houston’s debut album, which is not quite as “It’s 1985, let’s celebrate!” as this record, but it’s still pretty much of its time. It’s not Phil Collins’ fault that I listened to a bunch of 1985 music in a row and got sick of it, but it is his fault that he didn’t zig when everyone else zagged; instead he just zagged as hard as anyone, perhaps even harder. (He is, after all, one of the people who invented the dreaded gated drum sound.) For this record, as much as his earlier solo albums, embraces the sound of 1985. It is among the most ’80s albums I’ve ever heard, from an instrumentation and production standpoint. And it’s a sound I just can’t get behind. (I don’t know that I ever will.)
I imagine what these songs would sound like with him singing them with an entirely different aesthetic, and I think I might like it. The songs are good – they are catchy and sometimes they are affecting. As I said above, his lyrics perfectly adequate, to understate it a little. And he’s a committed singer. Imagine if each song wasn’t drowning in ’80s cliches: keyboard synthesizers, gated and electronic drums, Sting singing backing vocals, smooth jazz saxophone, etc. Yes, occasionally he just sounds like a Prince imitator, but even then he sounds like a less creative version of Prince. (And, it should go without saying that Prince a better musician, too.)
Collins was just way too in love with this sound. I get that it sounded cool in the early ’80s. And, for some people, it sounds cool now, I guess because of how retro or of-its-time it sounds. (Hey, it sounds like my childhood! Great!) But it does not sound cool to me. It sounds to me like a record that is just utterly devoted to the sound of its time, basically the reverse of transcendent, one of those things that could have only been made when it was (in late 1984). If it was historically important for some reason – like it was the first one, which even his debut wasn’t – then I guess I could concede some kind of quality-based-upon-importance argument. But it’s one of numerous records to sound like this, and, to me, it just sounds like generic ’80s pop, a genre that I really don’t like (as you can tell).