A drummer who can sing and is good enough to be the frontman. How many names come to your mind? One of them surely has to be Phil Collins. Though he was essentially a terrific drummer who could also sing quite well, Phil was also a songwriter, composer and a multi-instrumentalist. He joined Peter Gabriel’s band Genesis as a drummer in the 70s before embarking on a solo career in the 80s.
His most successful singles from the period include ‘In the Air Tonight,’ ‘One More Night’, ‘Sussudio, ‘Two Hearts’ and ‘Another Day in Paradise’.
The grand old man of progressive rock turned 69 on 30th January 2020. His versatility with genres and world music has always intrigued me. He later turned too ‘popish’ but his earlier stuff is top notch. His solo debut album, Face Value reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and was critically acclaimed.
A man who knows more about Phil Collins than me is my cowboy buddy, Narendra Kusnur. As always I decided to scratch his head to know more about the artist and also the album in this week’s Album Talk.
Note – Language maybe changed to meet publication’s requirements.
Me: With Genesis, Phil Collins was a drummer first and never composed any songs. Isn’t this the first time he has composed music?
Kusnur: Essentially Genesis was Peter Gabriel’s formation. Line up. Collins was a drummer. After Peter left the group joined the progressive rock trend of the early 70s, this is when Phil took over as the frontman.
Me: Which is really unusual. A drummer taking over as the frontman is not very common.
Kusnur: Actually. There are were few drummers who sing also and he is one of them. Collins did compose a lot of songs for Genesis then on. He decided to go solo as he felt some of his songs did not fit in with Genesis’ style. Collins also went through a bad marriage before he started writing Face Value.
Me: That’s why many songs on the album are mushy
Kusnur: Ya. Specially two of them. ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ and ‘This Must Be Love’. He also tried to incorporate some of his other influences on the album.
Me: He did cover a Beatles song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
Kusnur: That was essentially a tribute to John Lennon. There is no clarity whether he had originally planned to cover the song or it was a tribute. It received mixed reactions because Collins did change the original song completely. I personally did not find it great.
Me: He recorded vocals in reverse and it ended sounding more like a mess. But the entire album is a mix match of genres. ‘I’m Not Moving’ is RnB and Funk.
Kusnur: He has used RnB, Jazz, Progressive rock and a lot of other influences but the essence is slow ballads like ‘In The Air Tonight’ which is a classic. It is one of his top 3 songs.
Me: It featured in a couple a movies too and was a regular in his set list.
Kusnur: A couple of years back he performed it live when he was walking with help of a walking stick. But once he was seated, it was all normal with no sign of ailment.
Me: The song was about depression as he had just had a bad break up
Kusnur: Also he has used a different concept of drumming known as ‘Gated Rhythm’. Producer Hugh Padgham, who had worked with Genesis earlier and also with The Police and Sting, used the reverb effect on the drums at the end of the song.
Me: The song has a super drum roll during the end.
Kusnur: The other song I like is ‘Droned’.
Me: Is that the one with the African sound and influence?
Kusnur: It was more progressive rock meets world music. Phil Collins was highly inspired by a band called ‘Weather Report’. In face the bassist of the band, Alphonso Johnson played on a few tracks in the album. The song also features Shankar from Shakti on the violin and also has done a bit of Konnakol.
Me: He features on a few other songs too but in small parts.
Kusnur: But he is credited and gets his royalties.
Me: Toh theek hai. As long as the money is coming in. Eric Clapton also features on a couple of tracks, one is ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’.
Kusnur: The second one is ‘Roof Is Leaking’.
Me: The only up tempo song on the album is ironically named ‘I Am Not Moving’.
Kusnur: The song is actually moving. The other song with world music influence is ‘Hand In Hand,’ the drumming on the song is mind blowing. It’s got a lot of African chants but sung by an American choir. Then there is a very 80s kind of song..
Me: ‘I Missed Again’
Kusnur: Ya its very RnB which Michael Jackson also did in a few songs.
Me: There is a similarity. Michael is a bit up tempo as he was more about dance and this guy wasn’t. I really don’t know how to categorise Phil Collins in a genre. To release your first solo album, after breaking up with a band, which is so diverse and distinct takes a lot of balls.
Kusnur: It’s a very eclectic album and is one of my favourite Phil Collins album.
Me: Next week back to classic rock?
Kusnur: Let’s do hip hop
Me: Why not rap?
Kusnur: Like gangsta rap?
Find out next week!