“No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins.” – Brendan Lawlor, Sing Street
I put that playlist there so that you can listen to the best thing about this album while you read what I’ve got to say about it. On February 13, 1981, Phil Collins released his first solo album, Face Value. It doesn’t hold up particularly well, I’m afraid to say. There are some excellent bits, make no mistake, but overall, this isn’t an album I return to on a regular basis.
“In The Air Tonight,” which was the lead single off of the album is one of those excellent bits. Dark and atmospheric, it has been used in more movies and TV shows to set the scene than any other single song I can think of. It is so overused as a bit of sonic shorthand in film that I can no longer hear the song without picturing a scene (an amalgam, I’m sure, of several scenes) in which a pair of headlights slowly breaks through the steam rising from street grates on a dark monochromatic night. The song was helped along on the US charts by its inclusion in the red hot Miami Vice series back in the day. In fact, Phil actually went on to guest star in an episode.
So, I love “In The Air Tonight.” Everyone loves “In The Air Tonight.” You can’t not love it, particularly that signature drum-fill at the three-minute-thirty-nine mark. But the rest of the record doesn’t live up to the opening track. It’s a bit audacious to put the best song and the longest song on the album as the opening cut, but that’s the decision that was made here. There are a couple other songs that hold up pretty well, including follow-up single “I Missed Again,” but the highlights are few and far between.
It’s unusual for me, in this blog, to take on a record that I don’t love. And I don’t love this one. But I do love a certain iteration of Genesis, specifically from 1980’s Duke through 1986’s Invisible Touch. These albums saw the Collins/Rutherford/Banks incarnation of the band moving further away from their prog-rock roots and into more pop-friendly material while still maintaining an expansive, expressive, experimental aspect that set them apart from other bands on early-to-mid-eighties Top 40 FM. And Phil Collins came off of Duke in 1980 to release this steaming pile of mediocrity in 1981.
Now, in doing a bit of research on this release today, I found out that many of the songs on the album deal with – and were written during – Phil’s divorce from his first wife. I know when I went through my divorce with my first wife, I wasn’t doing my best work either. So I’m going to cut the man some slack on this record. I don’t love it, but I’d like to highlight some of its worthwhile cuts. And, honestly, this album has a four-and-a-half star rating on Amazon and an AllMusic rating of five stars, so my take on this could be way off base.
The blue-eyed soul of “This Must Be Love” is fairly compelling, though it has a bit of a Michael McDonald yacht-rock feel to it. It beats the hell out of the reimagined cover of “Behind The Lines,” recycled from the previous year’s Genesis record, Duke. “The Roof Is Leaking” is a melodramatic metaphor for the death of tradition, the loss of friends, the curveballs that life throws, and coming out stronger on the other side. Its most interesting aspect is the seamless segue, in the closing notes, into “Droned” which is a piano and conga-heavy instrumental in the tradition of the token textured instrumental on each Genesis record. It’s a slow build and a frantic pay off and, in its own turn, segues into “Hand In Hand,” another quasi-instrumental that borrows a few musical phrases from “Follow You, Follow Me,” the first single from the aforementioned Genesis trio off of their …And Then There Were Three… album from 1978.
Side two starts with “I Missed Again,” the second single off the record. Apart from that, the only really good song in the second half is the horn-laden, soul-tinged “Thunder And Lightning.” Normally, I’d put Phil Collins on a list of the least soulful pop stars in the past half a century, but this song works for him for some reason. The album closes with a really interesting choice of covers in “Tomorrow Never Knows” which benefits from a top notch arrangement.
As I reread this, I find myself hoping that I haven’t given the impression that I hate this album. I don’t. It’s a decent album, Phil Collins’s first foray into helming his own project, and it was bound to have some rough spots, especially since the man was going through a rough spot of his own. I still vastly prefer his output with Genesis from the same era, but Face Value, uneven as it is, documents the beginning of a solo career that would hit its artistic and commercial peak four years later with No Jacket Required. That makes it an interesting listen for Genesis and Phil Collins fans alike.