Reevaluating PHIL COLLINS – Part 4: …But Seriously

Phil Collins’ fourth studio LP was released in November of 1989. It was the best selling album of 1990 in the UK, where it has since been certified nine-times platinum. It produced five top-40 singles and Collins received a Grammy Award for the album track “Another Day In Paradise”. It is one of the best selling albums in British, Spanish, French and German history.

I began this series with a serious chip on my shoulder. I’d spent years loathing Phil Collins and felt pretty certain that he would remain on my shit list until the end of time. I have to be honest, though. Over the last few reviews, I’ve developed a burgeoning respect for Phil Collins. Phil Collins the person more so than Phil Collins the musician, but perhaps the beginnings of what might be considered respect for the music as well. The depths of his pain as he has worked through trials (both real and imagined) is unquestionably compelling. I’ve come much further in my quest to understand this unhinged and broken man than I ever could have expected.

Now, apparently, he was joking the whole time?

The title of Phil’s fourth album …But Seriously implies that his previous work had… all been a gag? A shtick? Some kind of balding, lovelorn synth-laden farce? Well, I feel toyed with. And I’m angry.

I was really hoping to find out what’s going on with Sussudio, and especially with Phil’s ex-wife! Instead, Phil decides to say “Okay, guys. I was joking about listening to people have sex through hotel walls. This is my real music now.”

I suppose I can concede a begrudging respect to Phil’s commitment to lying to us for three full albums, but I move forward in listening to this album filled with suspicion and distaste.

Hang In Long Enough
Get a load of the production values on this video! Taking place on the SS Sudio (fuck you, Phil Collins), this video posits that Phil’s giant shoulder pads allow him to travel back in time to a 1920s cruise ship and… colourize it? Questionable premise. It seems to work, though, because the passengers of the cruise really start diggin’ the song and the performance.

Not me, though. This song is bad. The ship agrees with me, because it decides to sink itself in this video. Wait, what if this ship is actually possessed by the spirit of Sussudio and her heart is broken by the fact that Phil insists on getting serious on this album, so she sinks herself in an effort to die and take Phil with her?

Phil apparently survives, which is for the best given that this is only the first song and I haven’t yet been convinced that he’s really gotten serious. “Hang In Long Enough” is a remarkably tuneless puddle of horn stabs and lyrical nonsense that doesn’t belong on any reasonable collection of songs.

That’s Just The Way It Is
This is not Phil Collins doing that great Bruce Hornsby/Tupac song, so lower your hopes ASAP. It is, however, the first of two duets on this album with the Golden Walrus himself, David Crosby.

Important note: It was pointed out to me by a very smart friend of mine who is a big fan of this series (for some reason) that Phil Collins and David Crosby are dear friends, to the extent that Phil paid for David Crosby’s liver transplant in 1994. That is insane. Good on you, Phil. Your heart is as big as your capacity for self-deception.

This song seems like a very calculated effort to get serious. The video is just a bunch of shots of war and bodies and terrorism, and also shots of Phil being serious, a bass player with a giant beard, and shots of David Crosby that are utterly hilarious.

The song is extremely boring, but relatively melodic. Phil’s thesis with this stinker seems to be that bad things happen in the world, but hey, *shrug*, what are ya gonna do? I don’t know if I would really consider this to be getting serious, as any serious person wouldn’t be so goddamned apathetic and defeatist about the whole thing, Phil.

That bass player’s got a pretty serious beard, though.

Do You Remember
This video is the fucking best. It opens with Phil rehearsing in the studio and then studio man tells him that his root beer float has arrived. And then there’s a fucking ghost woman and a paperboy gets almost killed by a big truck in the extended flashback sequence that comprises the rest of the video.

The song is basically the same song as the last song, largely relying on the same sort of snooze-y electric piano & casio rhythm station beats. This is wimpy stuff in the grand tradition of the gutless 80s ballad.

What is exciting about this track, though, is that it would seem to point toward the fact that Phil’s idea of getting serious may actually involve confronting his demons (and those of the world) in a more mature way. This song is definitely about his ex-wife! Phil appears to be applying the message of the previous song to his own experience of pain regarding his romantic life. Bad stuff happens, but hey – what are ya gonna do about it?

I don’t know if this is actually any healthier than how Phil has been dealing with the whole thing on previous albums, but it at least marks the return of his ex-wife as a character. As a fucking ghost in the video, no less. Then the video doubles back and shows that it was all a dream? Like, even the root beer float was a dream? This is serious?

Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
This video opens with a dog having a dream that he is the hero in a silent film, in which he saves a damsel from being run over by a villain in a train. Phil’s videos have gone off of the fucking chain. This video must have been enormously expensive for the time. The remainder of the video includes loads of shots from the dog’s perspective as he watches Phil and his band perform and helps himself to the craft services table. This is bonkers stuff.

The song is recognizable and has a pretty good vintage 80s sound and hooky sing-a-long chorus. It is fine and catchy.

Back to the dog. Perhaps the “something” that happened on the way to heaven was that a man who died in the 1920s was cursed and his soul was imprisoned in the body of a dog. The dog has no choice to wander the Earth until he performs a worthy task that will break the curse, granting him his wings and his entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

For the purposes of the ongoing narrative arc of the Collinsverse, let’s say that the dog has been sent there to convince Phil to stop drinking so much and to let go of the hard feelings that he continues to harbour for his ex-wife. Perhaps even to convince him to get back together with ol’ Sussudio, who is probably washing dishes in some dingy apartment taking care of of a lovechild that Phil is unaware of. Who knows?

It doesn’t happen in the video, though. The dog literally pisses on the bass player’s shoe and runs away.

There are no happy endings in the Collinsverse.

Colours
Phil brings it back down with “Colours”, which is a total bummer. It contains lyrics about people staring into the sun brushing flies off of their face. Yeesh.

“Colours” seems to have that misguided and insincere “activist pop star” vibe that was so prevalent in the era of “Live Aid” and “Do They Know It’s Christmastime“. Pointing to wrongs in the world as a means of inflating one’s own stature and profile while maybe throwing a slice of album sales to a charity or something.

This song is 8 minutes long and contains an African percussion break.

…Seriously.

I Wish It Would Rain Down
Jeffrey Tambor is in this video. Also Eric Clapton. One of them can act.

They really broke the bank making videos for this album. I suppose it makes sense, as Phil Collins was one of the biggest acts in the world at the time. But yeesh. If these videos are any indication, 1980s MTV contained just as little actual music as modern MTV does now that they don’t play any music videos at all.

“I Wish It Would Rain Down” is another sluggish number, reaching to be anthemic and missing the mark entirely. It kicks off with Eric Clapton performing a very Eric Clapton guitar solo and demonstrating exactly why he has forever been entirely overrated. What a boring musician.

This song is a drag, but the video is pretty hilarious. This song is definitely about the ex-wife again, and Phil is definitely just pouring his pain into producing increasingly elaborate music videos.

Another Day In Paradise
Everyone knows this song, so there’s little point in spending much time reviewing it. It is tuneful and iconic. It is also the second appearance of David Crosby, who is currently a  hilarious piece of shit on Twitter.

“Another Day In Paradise” is possibly the most commercially successful guilt trip of all time that isn’t an actual religion. I went to Catholic school here in Ontario, and I think that we actually had to listen to this song in class when they were trying to teach us about social justice. Like we needed the wisdom of pop star Phil Collins in order to put the teachings of Jesus into modern context.

Honestly, though, pointing out to me that some kids didn’t get to play Nintendo did feel pretty poignant at the time.

This song is a classic bummer.

Heat on the Street
Someone must have nudged Phil to let him know that his record was turning out to be a big bummer, because “Heat on the Street” brings a little pep to the proceedings. It is a pleasant enough affair, with a spirited gang of backing vocalists and a bass line that the beard-man takes for a walk. The song is forgettable, but nothing to apologize for.

In this song, Phil implores everyone to speak up about the injustices that they see on the streets around them. Pretty canny move placing this song immediately after the “your life is perfect and you should feel bad about it” song. Phil is operating at peak serious right now.

All of my Life
We’ve followed Phil through a great deal of drama at this point, but we have rarely (if ever) taken a moment to consider the fact that this man had small children during all of this. In this very boring song, he seems to be grappling with the fact that he was off making records instead of spending time with his son. In the choruses, though, he seems to be saying “pour me another drink, I need to think about this” instead of, you know, spending some time with his son.

This is really sad, Phil. I think you have a problem.

A bunch of problems, actually. One of the problems is this song itself, because this song sucks.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
This is an instrumental track that illustrates that Saturday Night is like a bunch of energetic horns and Sunday Morning is like a sleazy lounge song. You know, that thing we all know about life.

This album is universal to the human experience.

Father To Son
They must have run out of money for videos, because this one is just a strange super close-up of Phil looking sad and then a bunch of footage from home movies. Shouldn’t have blown all of that video money on the root beer floats and dog piss, I guess.

Trying to make up for lost time, Phil appears to be sitting down his son in order to tell him “Don’t fucking fuck your life up as badly as I have, I am a mess and I miss your mother terribly”. It’s an important message to get across, because it would be a real shame if Phil Jr became the same kind of delusional madman that his dad is.

This song doesn’t land with the poignancy that I expect was intended, but the melody is competent and the only egregious element is the weird trilling bird/flute sounds near the end, which are terrible.

“If you look behind you, I will be there” would be a terrifying lyric in any of his songs except for this one. It is reasonably okay for him to say this to his kids, but can you imagine if he was saying it to poor Sussudio? Jesus.

Find A Way To My Heart
Phil is begging for someone, anyone to reach him. And with this, I finally understand this album’s title. He wasn’t talking about having made up everything else up to this point. He wasn’t even talking about trying to tackle the world’s universal struggles with his music.

He’s saying “…but seriously, guys. I need some help. Please help me. I just spent $80 million dollars on music videos. Help me. Seriously.”

The song isn’t much to write home about, busy and boring at the same time. The background vocals feature some kind of prototypical millennial whoop, though. So fuck you Arcade Fire.

It makes sense that this song would end off an album, but this album was about three songs too long to begin with, so for most listeners, I would expect that Phil Collins fatigue (Philtigue, if you will), will have set in long before they reach it. I wonder how many people have ever even heard it, actually.

…am I the first to get this far?

The Verdict


I was alarmed at first, but the major disaster has been averted. Phil Collins remains bonkers on …But Seriously, and it’s even sadder than it was before because now it involves his children.

This album and its subsequent suite of seven (!) music videos are the highest-profile and most expensive cry for help that I can imagine. This is way more disturbing than whatever it is Shia LaBoeuf might be getting up to recently. Phil Collins in 1989 was on fire. And I mean that in the dumpster fire context, not the NBA Jam context.

Previously, I had felt as though I could root for the guy. Now he’s trying to convince the world that he’s the guy to heal it while simultaneously still pining over his divorce and (by his own admission) neglecting his children.

There are a handful of good songs on here, and I guarantee you that you already know them without having to listen to the album in its entirety. They are ubiquitous cornerstones of the late-80s/early-90s pop music landscape, and I’ll grant them the respect that they deserve.

As another chapter in the ever-alarming saga of Phil Collins albums, …But Seriously fails in its attempts to elevate things in any meaningful sense, but succeeds in being another collection of perplexing mixed messages from a man on the brink.

…but seriously, this is mostly a bad record and I can’t believe how successful it was.

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Author: markmeeks

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