Face Value


Band: Phil Collins
Album: Face Value
Best song: “In the Air Tonight.” Hands down.
Worst song: The version of “Behind the Lines” is kind of bad.

I tell this story a lot, but when I asked my older sister what it felt like to be 30 (on her birthday), she answered with a very simple response: “It feels exactly like 29.”

I tend to agree and find birthdays to be pretty awful. Certainly the arbitrary notion of birthdays in denominations of tens is just that: Arbitrary. Moreover, the general self-congratulations of birthdays doesn’t really attract me.

I turn 30 years old this month. I’ve existed for thirty years, which is approximately what we designate a generation. And I’ve been searching for another project to do, as I often need the regularity and thematic presentation of a project (example: Last year’s best of the decade list).

So, I’m copying ESPN’s 30 for 30 project, in my own little ramshackle way. Instead of doing 30 films — of course that’s not going to happen. I’m not a filmmaker. I’m an idiot that wanks around on the Internet. — I’m simply writing up an album for each year of my life. Because my birthday is in the second month, I’m using calendar years.

The albums aren’t necessarily the best albums of all time; many of the greatest albums of all-time were released far before my birth (coughDARKSIDEcough). Many of the albums won’t be the best album released that particular year. But, each record will be one that is emblematic of the times or emblematic of my life at the time. For my childhood years, I’ll probably just write vague shit, but I’ll try to do my best to give a feel for that time. This will be done week by week, so this project will go on for more than half the year.

Essentially, it’s an obtuse memoir in serial. Which, like everything else I write in this space, is masturbatory on a level that would get me arrested were I to do it on the street in an overcoat.

I was born in 1981. I am the first of my close HS friends to be a Reagan baby. I have a lot of friends who were born between his election and his inauguration, but I was born a couple of weeks after his inauguration.

Charlie’s Angels ran its last episode in 1981. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the top-grossing film of the year of my birth. Chariots of Fire won best picture.

Today is simply a day for introductions, which is to say I’m slacking in choosing or writing in depth about a record today. All told, 1981 wasn’t an epic year for music. Rush’s Moving Pictures was released as was the amazing Dare by the Human League. Rick James’ Street Songs was also released in 1981, containing the amazing “Superfreak.”

But, there’s a certain beauty in the indefensible and 1981 gave us the first solo album from Phil Collins. Genesis’ drummer and, eventually, lead singer released Face Value to some acclaim exactly a week after the day of my birth in 1981.

Collins was coming off a contentious divorce at the time, so the record is darker than it probably should be. “I Missed Again” recounts his sadness, while “If Leaving Me Is Easy” is a falsetto-driven lament.

The indefensible position I take in regards to Collins is this: Phil Collins is an excellent songwriter. Like a lot of music from the era of my childhood, the production on most of Collins’ solo stuff is abysmal. Sure, part of that is Collins’ fault. After all, he is the one that felt the need to put all those horns in there.

Though it is not on Face Value, “Against All Odds” is a similar era of Collins’ career and is the perfect example of my feeling.

The song is a lovely little melody that’s couched in some awful awful arrangements, with nice lyrics and a pretty bad vocal by Collins. Songwriter that he may be, he is not a particularly good singer. So, take away a few of the negatives — slightly different arrangement and far better singer — and you get this:

If Mariah Carey isn’t your bag, then the entire song can be remade, solely leaving the lyrics and chorus melody. As such, we get the indie pop version:

Both are lovely cover versions of a pretty well-written song. Like Bob Dylan — yes, I just wrote that — Collins can write a song, but cannot sing it. Even worse, his arrangements are too much a product of his time (the 1980s).

There is one near-flawless song on the record: “In the Air Tonight.” The album’s opening track is reverb-laden, deliciously dark song that uses the metaphor of physical drowning as an emotional drowning/breakup.

The song, unlike much of Collins’ other work, is arranged mimimally. Being a drummer, the song is beat-driven and the song’s climax is entirely couched on a drum fill that’s been lampooned in advertisements. It’s a song that crazy person Ray Lewis enjoys before games to pump himself up.

But, like “Against All Odds,” the song needs is boosted by another band covering it. Noise rock band GodHeadSilo covered it, as well:

Perfect.

That song is, in some ways, a culmination of what I enjoy in lots of music. The record is an exercise in anticipation, with a striking climax that rewards the listener. It’s a dark song, with production to match; it doesn’t need the rock crutch of guitars all around.

In an odd way, it precurses my love for Panopticon in that it has a similar feel. Which is to say that I’m a complete lunatic. I have problems.

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