Phil Collins’ third record was released on February 18, 1985. All four singles were Top 10 hits on the Billboard 100 chart. Certified Diamond in the United States, No Jacket Required is Collins’ all-time best selling album.
Following the shocking turn of events in the last installment of Reevaluating Phil Collins, I’m not sure how I feel going into this one. Given how much I hated Face Value, I was expecting to dig in for a second helping of slag when listening to Hello, I Must Be Going!, Phil’s sophomore effort. Instead, I found myself having a reasonably good time and was, more importantly, compelled by the Phil Collins Lore that seemed to inform the album.
It was a baffling portrait of a high-spirited man being shackled and trampled by a disintegrating marriage. While I may not have adored all of the music on display, I found the whole thing to be ruthlessly fascinating, and could not quite treat it to the critical carpet bombing that I had been expecting to dole out throughout every entry of this series.
Now, tackling No Jacket Required, Collins’ most successful album, I find myself at a crossroads. Will I be able to revert back to simply thinking that Phil Collins is a hacky mainstream 80s boob more worthy of knee-jerk disdain than a fair shake? Or will I continue to be drawn down the melancholy path of this man’s life, tolerating his reverb-laden snare drum along the way?
There’s really only one way to find out.
I know this song. You know this song. Basically everybody knows this song.
Phil does a little “acting” at the top of this video. It is bad. What follows is the 80s-est 80s sound palate I could imagine. It churns and farts along as well as the best pop hits of the era. I want to hate this song, but it has a fine set of hooks once you push beyond the dated production and ultimate pointlessness of its content.
Speaking of the content, when we last left Sir Phil he was meditating heavily on whether or not he cared about saving his failing marriage from distance, alienation and infidelity. “Sussudio” provides the exposition necessary to conclude that in the intervening years, Phil got a divorce and now he’s out prowling for tail. Phil has it bad for a woman apparently named Sussudio, which either means that he’s making it all up and he’s just really lonely, or he’s traveling in some strange circles and this album is going to be a wild fuck-party.
This could be very interesting either way.
Only You And I Know
Well, now everybody knows, Phil. You put it right here on your album.
Holy shit, the drums on this album are oppressive, as are the grumbling bass synths. These songs sound very densely packed and busy. With each successive album, Collins’ sound grows more confident, and one could claim that this track has a “driving” feel to it. The keyboard stabs and shredding guitar solos lend the song a reasonably fun splash of Eau Du Van Halen.
Sadly, this song is all sound and no substance, as I’ve found no reasonable melody to hang onto and now that it’s over I already forget
Long Long Way to Go
I’ll bet there was a day in the early 1980s when this album was being written where Phil Collins said, out loud, the words “I’d like to give this one an Oriental feel”. You could say things like that back then, because back then people knew less about things like being smart and culturally sensitive. He would have gotten ripped on Twitter for it, though.
This song rocks like a really sleepy koi pond on a cloudy day. It is more mood than melody, and seems to be able Phil being annoyed by the fact that he sees bad news on television all the time. It is notable, however, for its very abrupt and bold ending. For this to appear on a record written by Philly Fade-out is a pretty big deal.
I Don’t Wanna Know
Whatever it was that only Phil and one person knew two songs ago, he doesn’t wanna know it now. FYI.
This song features a guitar chug that works wonders in the head-bobbin’ department and the peak-80s transitional riffs are straight up Journey-esque gems. The chorus is constructed well enough, and this track sounds very of-the-time, but in a favourable way.
Most interesting to me, is that this song appears to be about Phil’s ex-wife, who has been talking to people about how sad she is that she blew up her life with Phil (presumably because things went south with her paramour). Phil is like “Hey! Guys! I don’t wanna know about it!” but secretly you can tell that he totally wants to know about it, and is actually loving the attention. I mean, you wrote a whole song about it Phil.
I find Phil Collins’ music more interesting when it is connected to the central narrative through-lines of what may prove to be his masterpiece, Hello, I Must Be Going!
One More Night
Phil’s doing more acting this album, and I could get into that if they cast someone really great as his wife. Here, he’s playing a businessman who got drunk enough at a bar that he decided to pay them extra to let him stay after they close so that he could play with their piano and somehow make it sound like an electronic keyboard.
I know this song. You know this song. Basically everybody knows this song.
The verses are kind of a drag, but the chorus has that gauzy 80s “sexiness” that is kind of always amusing to hear. Also a pretty clutch sax solo, so this makes sense as a single of the time.
More importantly, this song updates us on the Sussudio situation, from what I understand. It would appear that Sussudio and Phil Collins had a one night stand and now she doesn’t want to see him again, and Phil is like “c’mon baby just lemme do that one more time”. It’s funny and creepy and a little sad, but it works into the Phil The Fuckmonster album pretty well because you can’t win ’em all, Phil.
Don’t Lose My Number
A very 80s-appropriate number with a “Love Is A Battlefield” stomp to it and a solid chorus hook. It sounds very familiar to me. While it isn’t mind-blowing, there’s enough going on to maintain interest and I was surprised to hear the very nifty dead-stops in the bridge.
The track appears to be a story-song from the perspective of some woman, but I choose to actually just take the song’s title and use it to apply it to my ever-expanding Collinsverse mythology. I think that this song is actually about Phil getting nowhere in nailing down a second date with Sussudio, so he gets very drunk at his next concert and follows some poor woman around with a matchbook that has his number written inside of it and he won’t let her leave until she takes it.
Aw. Poor Phil!
Who Said I Would?
This song is actually just “Sussudio” but not nearly as catchy. Truly inessential. Inessential as a song, anyway. It is, however, completely essential to the story line.
This song is about Phil Collins stalking the girl from the last song and asking her why she won’t commit to him and she’s all “Guy, I didn’t even for a moment say that I wanted to go out with you. Who said I would?!”
To be honest with you, I feel like most of this behaviour out of Phil stems from the fact that he’s never really confronted his feelings about his divorce. He’s acting out. It is unfortunate, but the truly unfortunate thing is the collateral toll that it is taking on innocent strangers.
This song ends with a robot voice that is very, very amusing. Saves the song.
Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore
Although this song is kind of a stinker generic Phil Collins album track, I believe that we may be witnessing Phil make a little bit of progress in wrestling with the demons that linger within him. He may be focused on Sussudio as he sings this (I’m speculating), but he’s really singing to himself.
Phil is confronting himself regarding his wild post-divorce mid-80s frivolous fuck bonanza lifestyle which (while seemingly fairly unsuccessful) is a cynical response to his own feelings of rejection. When Phil sings “doesn’t anybody stay together anymore?”, he’s really singing “why aren’t any of you women my ex-wife who I wish had never left me and now I am always sad?”
This song isn’t very good.
I can also sing “Sussudio” to this song. Phil has had some good ideas on this record, but he really, really liked one of them.
Who even cares about the music at this point, though?
Phil is really grappling with himself here. He opens up and admits that he needs to put in the work in order to truly heal. He croons:
Now everybody keeps on telling me how to be
And everybody tells me do what they say
Oh I’ll help myself it’s up to me and no-one else
But till I’m ready just keep out of my way
We can see from this that Phil has some friends, which I have been a little worried about, and they’re, at the very least, offering him advice. He is right to insist that any work that needs to be done is his to do, but I’m not encouraged by how aggressively he seems to be pushing them away. Support in times of trouble is absolutely invaluable.
This is tricky territory and there are moments where he seems to be stumbling, but this track seems to point in the overall direction that Phil will try to rise to the occasion and become a whole person again. I’m glad!
Take Me Home
Phil ends “No Jacket Required” with an anthemic synth number and a video of him traveling the world all by himself.
Given that he’s singing about the fact that he’s singing about the fact that he’s been a prisoner all of his life, I can’t decide whether or not this song is a celebratory expression of newfound freedom from depression and self-imposed restrictions. The imagery of Phil singing to no one in front of a variety of landmarks is certainly stark and doesn’t inspire confidence that he’s doing any better.
Also, the end of the video in which Phil says “Honey, I’m home” to an off-screen partner (presumably) of some fashion, who then accuses him of having just been out getting drunk instead of traveling the world fills me with concern that this has been about alcohol all along.
Perhaps Phil is an abusive alcoholic, a notion that puts our current conception of his ex-wife as an adulterous villain into question. To be perfectly honest, I have had concerns about Phil’s grip on things as far back as that weird fishmonger song from the last record. Not to mention the song where he just listens to people having sex through the walls.
There are a lot of upbeat and uplifting sounding songs on this album, and “Take Me Home” is no exception. It is uplifting sounding. This sound, when held in contrast to the roiling darkness that seems to be at the heart of every Phil Collins song is… kind of brilliant, really. This is disturbing stuff.
Sonically, No Jacket Required is a continued refinement of Phil Collins’ pop sound, which grows more potent and confident with each outing. The addition of some of the pop tropes of the time that hadn’t been present before – notably a heavier reliance on harder-edged guitar work on some numbers – further expand the sound and somehow manage to make the album sound simultaneously dated and timeless.
The best tracks on No Jacket Required are the most polished tracks that Collins had released at the time, and remain among his best. The album does contain a substantial amount of filler material, but let’s not kid ourselves – artists like Phil Collins are why Greatest Hits albums were created.
The album does not have as strong of a narrative thread as Hello, I Must Be Going!, and it suffers for it. I found myself having to stitch together the details of the story with very little information, and this lack of cohesion (while perhaps intentional) made for a less compelling tale. That being said, I’m more concerned than ever about Phil Collins’ mental well being.
I had wondered if this album would be a post-divorce “swingers” album, and it did deliver to some degree on that front. I have to wonder, however, if perhaps every woman on this album except for Phil’s ex-wife exists only as a mentally fabricated coping mechanism from the darkest corners of a broken alcoholic’s imagination.
Where else are you going to find a woman named Sussudio?