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Phil Collins Is One Of The Most Important Musicians Alive (And We Don't Care If You Disagree)


The entire discourse of Phil Collins is so vast that it's difficult to know where to start. An apparently normal guy, with a normal name, yet an utterly divisive figure and more often than not, a complete buzzword for everything that's naff.

A man who achieved staggering success before being shunned as uncool, out of touch and irrelevant. Only to suddenly gain respect from an unlikely source of hugely credible hip hop acts. Yet never rose to either the praise or criticism and went off to pursue his own agenda, making his last record an album of Motown covers specifically because they were songs that he loved as a child.

We can only assume that the reason for Collin's constant rejection by snobs of music is because they're scared. Terrified of his briliance and artistry, the bones that make him one of the best songwriters for generations.

In a ShortList interview, no lesser figure than KISS frontman Paul Stanley said of Against All Odds: "It's all emotion, and it's all vulnerability and in that track he... eviscerates himself. It's pretty stunning in how he just tears himself open. That kind of desperate vulnerability... to be able to pull that off is terrific. The song ends beautifully and I love it. There's always grander songs or more heroic songs but sometimes the most difficult thing is to reveal the self."

It's a beautiful summary of a song that is utterly powerful, desperately sad, and truly brave - and just watch his performance of it at Live Aid; it's every bit the equivalent of Adele's famous Brit Award crowd-silencing version of Someone Like You. And he wrote all of it himself, unlike Adele who opted to bring in the songwriting help of Semisonic man Dan Wilson.

Collins is an intensely honest, and open songwriter. Debut solo album Face Value contains two more songs of this ilk in the form of the beautiful If Leaving Me Is Easy and, of course, In The Air Tonight - a song so open that Collins improvised the lyrics, saying "That frightens me a bit, but I'm quite proud of the fact that I sang 99.9 percent of those lyrics spontaneously."

As an artist he's often accused of being 'middle of the road', critics attacking his smooth production and lack of edge. Yet how many middle of the road artists can you name that write ten minute-long concept songs about the railway workers of the 19th Century and put them at track three on their album (Driving The Last Spike from Genesis' We Can't Dance)?

How many artists at the peak of their popularity (apart from the likes of those hip hop artists who idolise him) made an entire album with zero outside involvement, playing every single instrument - including the bloody bagpipes - and still made it a success (Both Sides)? How many hit songs do you know where the drums don't kick in until 3 minutes and 16 seconds (In The Air Tonight)?

And, while we're at it: that drum sound. Have you heard how loud the drums are mixed on No Son Of Mine? It's like listening to a metal band. The gated drums of doom, invented by Collins, widely imitated, but never bettered. Where do you think the likes of M83 got their love of giant tom fills and drums-at-the-forefront? Look no further than Phil. A man whose recording catchphrase was surely: "What this song needs is louder drums."

A studio genius; just watch the making-of Face Value documentary and you'll see a brilliant mind at work.

Never afraid to experiment, he brought in a horn section due to his childhood love of soul music - a move considered controversial at the time - and incorporated textures such as violins, vocoders and drum machines, despite his own brilliance in the latter area.

Then there's his incredible live band featuring the likes of Daryl Stuermer on guitar and God, aka Leland Sklar, on bass. If you've never heard of the latter guy, just take a look at his Wikipedia page and check out the people he's played with. And bear in mind that's a selected discography. It is an utter joke.

The only way you get this calibre of musicians playing in your backing band is by wowing the eyebrows off of your peers and gaining their respect. Collins has been doing it since day one.

Crucially though, it's when backed by such music royalty that it all really comes together, where you really get a sense of what Collins is about. In a live setting it's clear that he's simply a (very talented) music fan. He loves music and that's all he cares about. Just look at his outfit: grey slacks and a shirt that fashion forgot. A pop star stylist today would have a heart attack if they saw that (and never mind what in God's name the backing singers are wearing).

But who cares? It's functional. And, besides, nobody in his crowd care what he looks like because that's not what they're here for. They come in their tens and tens of thousands to hear him play. And to sing emotional, affecting, honest, powerful songs.

Take a look at me now, and I'll tell you: if loving Phil Collins is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

The Take A Look At Me Now... series, featuring all eight of Phil Collins' solo albums remastered, with bonus tracks and new artwork is available to preorder now - visit www.philcollins.com for more details



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