This is fun. I get to review two different Phil Collins records a few days apart. While it was interesting to revisit Face Value earlier this week, it’s just a pleasure to be listening to the excellent No Jacket Required today.
Four Years after Face Value, Phil released No Jacket Required on February 18, 1985. Much of it grew out of experimentation and improvisation, as the master drummer became more enamored with electronics and drum machines. It ended up being the biggest commercial success of his career. It went to Number One on the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and stayed atop the U.S. charts for an astounding seven weeks. All of the singles were big hits, as well, with the exception of “Don’t Lose My Number,” which cracked the Top 40 but stalled at #33.
When I recall this album, the first thing I remember is the horns. They’re huge. “Who Said I Would” and #1 single “Sussudio” are defined by their horn lines (although the latter is also partially defined by the fact that, musically, it’s a direct rip-off of Prince‘s “1999“). The horn section is Phenix Horns, originally EWF Horns, who were best known as Earth, Wind & Fire‘s horn section. Phenix played on Collins’s first two albums as well, but never as front-and-center as they were on No Jacket Required. And while the horns sounded terribly out of place on Face Value’s remake of “Behind The Lines,” they shine here, claiming these numbers as part of their domain.
The best song on the album is a toss up between lead single “One More Night” and deep cut “Long Long Way To Go,” which is ostensibly a reimagining of “In The Air Tonight,” but an excellent one with Sting doing backing vocals. Unlike his 1981 solo debut, however, this isn’t a case of the excellence of one song overshadowing the rest of the album. This is a five star effort front to back and I’m surprised by how good it is and how well it holds up each time I listen to it.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this was the biggest seller of Phil Collins’s career and it cemented his status as a TransAtlantic superstar. He’d had viable hit singles off of his debut and follow-up, Hello, I Must Be Going, but nothing that approached the cohesive whole that is No Jacket Required. And though I recognize the credibility of the revisionist backlash against Phil Collins (he did Disney’s Tarzan, fer chrissake!) and, in particular “Sussudio” (I just read an article online today that named it one of the ten worst songs ever), I respectfully disagree. Part of it is probably that this came out at the pinnacle of my formative music-buying years and, with five singles, it was everywhere for all of 1985. However, I also think I could be newly introduced to this album today and still be impressed by what it has to offer.