Fear and Loathing of Phil Collins (Now with a Lot Less Loathing)

When Phil Collins first started releasing records outside of Genesis 35 years ago, rock fans were pretty cool about it, especially after they first heard him play one of the most famous drum fills in history.

Ba-DA ba-DA ba-DA, ba-DA dum dum

If you can’t get enough of those smacking toms, please enjoy this.

But as the 80s wore on and Phil moved more MOR, our patience was tested.  While “Sussidio” was silly and “Easy Lover” was merely annoying, “Take a Look at Me Now” turned Phil into an adult contemporary superstar.

And the hits kept on coming, too. For a while, Phil was ubiquitous as a Kardashian. After a while, rock fans just tuned out. And when Phil announced his retirement a few years back–carpal tunnel syndrome, the scourge of so many drummers, had taken it toll–rock fans shrugged, if they paid any attention at all. His music had long become the foundation of so much dad rock that we’d stopped thinking of Phil.

But now Phil’s wrists seem to be in better shape. He’s back–and as the New York Times points out, the fear and loathing that once hung abut Phil like a bad smell isn’t, well, as smelly anymore.

For many who were blessed to enter adulthood during the 1980s, it seems as if that decade will hover over us forever, its synth-pop bleats and recycled doomsday sound bites accompanying us into the twilight. Today, that feels truer than ever, as we all welcome back a familiar face: Phil Collins, the amiable sprite of pre-Internet pop. (Both the fairy-tale and computer-graphics definitions of “sprite” apply.) Emerging from semiretirement, Collins is launching a multimonth campaign of remembrance. He’s reissuing eight of his solo albums, including the four blockbusters — “Face Value”; “Hello, I Must Be Going!”; “No Jacket Required”; and “ … But Seriously” — that blanketed the 1980s, selling a combined 24 million copies in the United States alone and generating seven No. 1 singles. He has announced that he’ll record new music and launch a tour. Come October, he’ll publish his autobiography.

It’s good timing. For many, many years, Collins was pegged as the embodiment of bloated, Boomer dad-rock, with waning album sales, a jazz big band and weak covers of Cyndi Lauper and Leo Sayer songs. Lately, though, he’s been the subject of countless revisionist think pieces in which writers valorize his technical gifts as a drummer for the prog-rock pilgrims Genesis, emphasize his collaborations with Brian Eno, identify him as the secret patriarch of hip modern trends or express their incredulity that older generations ever denigrated the man’s output in the first place. How did this successful, gifted musician ever become such a whipping boy? Why were his treacly ballads and mild toe-tappers picked out as the ultimate symbols of consumerist vapidity? Was it just the cheap envy of older critics — so unlike today’s enlightened listeners, with our democratic embrace of pop that surgically strikes the pleasure centers of the masses? These windmill-tilting arguments have been trickling out steadily in recent years, following the lead of hip-hop tastemakers and Collins fanboys like Questlove and Kanye West. These days, you speak ill of Phil at your own risk.

Read the whole article here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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