Phil Collins, 'The Singles' (Atlantic/Rhino Three discs)
The drummer and pivotal figure from Genesis and the '80's and 90's hitmeister revealed on CBS Sunday morning last week that he's in rough shape indeed at this stage of his life. He walks with a cane. His back troubles and wrist problems are so bad that he can't play the drums anymore. He can't play the piano part on his Oscar-winning theme for "Against All Odds."
What he can still do is sing with his sharp, narrow and sometimes off-putting voice. (Nat King Cole he ain't; Bob Seger either.) And his musicality is so profound that the quality that made him one of the biggest pop "brands" of the late-20th century still remains and is evident throughout this three disc set of his singles. It mixes the genuine and wonderful with over-calculating, hit-seeking crassness.
At the same time, even more important for Collins, as 2016 product salesman, is his memoir "Not Dead Yet," where he tells us he's being nothing but frank about his years lost to alcoholism and family neglect. (Somewhat suspiciously, he tells us he can occasionally enjoy a nice glass of wine before dinner. Let's keep silent and hope he's right that he can indeed do what he claims without backsliding.)
I've always thought it apt to think of Collins as a singing composing "brand" of the '80's and '90's as Lionel Richie's brother from another mother. Unfortunately, while Richie's stuff as composer still sounds good, Collins on this three disc set sounds like a loving musician who liked covering others (Martha and the Vandella's "Heat Wave," Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," The Supremes' "Can't Hurry Love") but whose own compositions sharply decline. He lost pieces of his soul in massive, over-produced music far too grand for what it should have been ("You'll Be In My Heart." Because of its unfortunate influence, Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" has a lot to answer for.
Among the stories Collins apparently tells in his book is his informing Pete Townshend after Keith Moon's death that he'd loved to have traveled with the Who. He's just too musical on this three-disc set to get lost completely. But the distance from "In the Air Tonight" to "Sususudio" is a long one. You can understand someone after some of these sessions having a few too many vodkas. To his eternal credit, you'll never wander far from his side while he functions as a singer/songwriter over the course of three discs but you'll definitely entertain a few sour thoughts long before it's over.
3 stars out of four