It is a syndrome among many people my age +/- 3 or so years to have gone through the following stages regarding Phil Collins:
In our childhood - Acceptance. He was everywhere and his songs were neither remarkable nor unpleasant. He was like a muted wall color. Always there, rarely noticed.
In our teens until our mid-20s - Revulsion. He was very much the embodiment of inoffensive, vanilla 80s adult contemporary and the antithesis of everything Joe Strummer stood for.
In our early 30s - Guilty Pleasurism. The resonance is mostly nostalgic, but we cannot help but rock out to “Two Hearts” and may have even purchased a greatest-hits collection.
In our late 30s and on - All-Out Fanaticism. We came around to the fixture he was in the simplest times and decided ultimately that to be that inoffensive, vanilla, and still as infectious almost 4 decades later, he has to be a genius.
This is to say that for people of a certain age, Phil Collins means a great deal. There is definitely something about him that elevates his legacy above Richard Marx’s or Bruce Hornsby’s. His songs are not cool. He is certainly not cool. Nor is he good-looking, which is practically his brand: pasty, bald. And yet so many of us are completely obsessed with him.
I remember back in the late 90s when I guess you could call Phil Collins a still-contemporary artist (I think he was exclusively doing million-dollar tracks on Disney soundtracks at that point), Pete told me that Phil Collins was once cool. I challenged him on this notion and he said that it was the connection to Genesis. “You mean the ‘We Can’t Dance’ guys?” Yeah, evidently Peter Gabriel was their lead singer once upon a time. And they were weird. Like, much weirder than “Sledgehammer.” We would only discover much later exactly how cool he was, having played drums on Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). This was a big wait-what moment for us.
How did this happen? He went from associating with prog/art/experimental 70s acts to that moment in American Psycho* when Patrick Bateman goes on a several-minute monologue about how great Collins’ body of work is post Genesis’ 1980 album, Duke. He dismisses their earlier work as “too intellectual,” but in praise of Phil’s later work, says his solo stuff is “more commercial and therefore more satisfying,” calling “Sussudio” out as “a personal favorite.” In other words, a film character emblematic of all of the worst features of the 80s LOVES Phil Collins.
*American Psycho was released in 2000. I was 21 years old, so I was still in the Revulsion phase of the Phil Collins Cycle of Children of the 80s. The scene in which he went on about Phil Collins was my favorite of the film, followed closely by the internal monologue about business cards’ paper color, type, weight, and font.
My friend Eddie is a pioneer in the transition from Guilty Pleasurism to All-Out Fanaticism (amazingly also a feature of yesterday’s post on Sugar’s “A Good Idea”), having been well under 30 when he caved and he caved more spectacularly than anyone I know, basically turning his love of Phil into a personal brand. Eddie aggressively doesn’t give a fuck and sometimes it even seems disingenuous, as if he’s just a contrarian. He isn’t and it’s really hard to explain why I’m so sure about this. The best I can do is to say that he has absolutely nothing to gain from exaggerating his love for Phil Collins. He doesn’t joke about it or do anything cheap like putting out hammy covers of better-known Phil Collins songs. He just really loves Phil Collins in a very pure way. He was definitely instrumental in Pete and I getting over our discomfort with loving Phil Collins.
“Against All Odds” was another one of those iTunes that I downloaded right after I learned it was possible to legally download individual songs off the internet. I don’t know when I first heard the song. Released in 1984, it wouldn’t have been familiar to me from my parents’ radio-listening, I would have been too young. My high-time would have been closer to 1988 and the aforementioned “Two Hearts.” I have some recollection of competently performing it at karaoke in college before Mariah Carey’s cover was released, but I believe there was some turning point in high school when this song clicked with me.
This catalyst may have been the result of seeing this weird-ass music video* in high school at some point. I know very well that it’s mostly clips from the forgotten film that shares a name with this immortal song. As they do sometimes, they tried to weave the recording artist responsible for the featured song on the soundtrack into the film-clip-heavy music video. I have never seen Against All Odds the film because it’s supposed to be a stinker but now that I’ve written this, I feel like I need to find 90 minutes to get this out of the way. Phil had nothing directly to do with the film so they got creative. Our first glimpse of the man himself is only of his lips, a low-fi cut-out underlaying an Aztec-inspired (??) mask of some sort. I think it has something to do with the plot of the movie. The mask-thing fades and we get a clear shot of Phil Collins in all of his pasty, bald glory, singing directly into the camera in front of a backdrop that can only be described as red-tinted rain. The clips of the film don’t help me understand the plot of the film at all and having just skimmed the film’s Wikipedia page, I can say it’s because the plot of the film is wildly all-over-the-place. There’s football, snorkeling, possibly heroin addiction? Anyway, much as I love it, I’m not going to go into a play-by-play of the music video because you’re free to sit down and watch it if you want to spend your time doing so. I do need to mention the iconic (perhaps only to me) neon triangle, which at one point ¾ of the way through the video forms around Phil Collins as the camera zooms out to a wide shot. Under the neon triangle there’s a rippling effect as if there is an otherwise invisible shallow pond lying beneath. Then it goes away, fades into more random stuff from the movie (I think the Jeff Bridges character is a pro football player which is a topic of emphasis in the video even though most of it seems to take place at a resort in Mexico), but then the triangle comes BACK like 10 seconds later, but this time there are clips from the movie in each of the regions of the screen, separated by the sides of the triangle. In the middle, there’s a waterfall, with Jeff Bridges above it, Rachel Ward to the left, and James Woods to the right. I'm delighted to see this is the frame in the thumbnail on this post. It might be one of those things that would have been really tough to do and expensive at the time, but I don’t think so. I just think the director sucks. The use of neon and colored rain is so clumsily 80s, I don’t know what to do with myself. I think I need to take a walk.
*I usually try to link the official “video” from the artist’s YouTube channel even if it’s just the album cover because there *is* no video. I do this because I don’t want to post a video from one of those psychos who work really hard to make their weird-ass videos look like official ones. I did not observe this practice in the case of “Against All Odds” because I wanted to promote this weird-ass video, which was official in that they’d play it on VH1 once upon a time. The video was posted by Peter Lippman, the production manager. I think he’s probably weird in an un-fun way because on his channel I also found the video for Charlie Daneils’ 2008 video “I Believe In You.” About Charlie Daniels, Lippman says: “Charlie expresses the patriotic spirit & greatness of America in this video! It's always a pleasure working with Charlie! Not only is he a GREAT fiddle player, he is also diverse, unique and sings songs about what's important in life!” OK, Pete.
I feel like I need to end this at some point and I haven’t even really talked about the actual song, so I’ll wrap it up with that. The thinking man’s choice for best Phil Collins is easily “In the Air Tonight,” a VERY fine song and probably my second or third favorite, but as easy as it is for me to identify how corny “Against” is, but I do love it so much. It starts very quiet, with Phil doing his vulnerable sad-man thing. Then the beat (of sorts) drops. I wonder if it’s because Phil’s a drummer that he does this so often, bringing the drums in late. He brought them in famously late for “In the Air” and then kind of chickened out on this follow up. I think it’s the kind of thing where he couldn’t help but use it a second time on an emotional power ballad, even knowing it’s a bit of a weaker version of the same thing.
The way Phil takes us through enduring heartbreak isn’t novel but I find it really touching for some reason. I guess I’m not alone because the two most notable cover versions are done by Mariah Carey and the Postal Service, both of whom I consider to be legit *artists*. I have not read the Phil Collins memoir. I downloaded it, but couldn’t even get through the introduction because his narrative voice is so loathsome. I understand that this was a good decision because my instincts were correct and he does not come across very well, which is so strange because he’s so bald and pasty, you’d have to assume he’s a good guy. Phil wrote “Against All Odds” after his divorce with his first wife, the details of which I’m not really familiar, but I would guess there’s probably real emotion in it. Despite not experiencing any real breakups in my life, I somehow also find this really personally touching. I think maybe because I’ve always fell back getting revenge by living well, even though it often strikes me as the coward’s solution.
HOLY FUCK, I HAVE WRITTEN THREE SINGLE-SPACED PAGES ON PHIL COLLINS. I have more to say but need to get on with my life now.