FACE VALUE (1981) ∗∗∗∗½
BOTH SIDES (1993) ∗∗∗Phil Collins’ back catalogue is being reissued at a rate of two releases per month. The first batch under the umbrella release title of Take a Look at Me Now… consists of the Genesis singer/drummer’s 1981 debut solo album FACE VALUE and his introspective 1993 release BOTH SIDES. Both albums have been remastered by Nick Davis and include a second CD containing live versions of some of the songs from that album alongside demos. They also feature recreations of the original album covers.
The writing process for FACE VALUE began in 1979 whilst Genesis had taken a hiatus so Collins could try and patch up his broken marriage. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford took the opportunity to record their debut solo albums (A CURIOUS FEELING and SMALLCREEP’S DAY). When Collins found his marriage was beyond repair he found himself with time on his hands and started writing. The resultant songs were reflective of his state of mind at the time but also drew on his wide range of musical influences. Two of the songs, “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask” (demos of which are available on CD2), made it onto Genesis’ next album DUKE (1980). Once that album and the following tour were complete, Collins took the opportunity to take the rest of his songs and record his first solo album. He used his demos as the basis for the tracks and added instruments in studio with musicians such as Eric Clapton, Alphonso Johnson, John Giblin, Stephen Bishop, Joe Partridge and Daryl Stuermer. The resultant album is the most varied of his career with lead-off single, the stark and dramatic “In the Air Tonight”, a huge hit buoying sales of the album. The song has Collins’ powerful signature drum fill, which has been become part of music history. Although the bitterness evident in the lyrics fuelled the view that this album was a series of open letters to his ex-wife. That view ignores the broader range of songs and sentiments on the album. There is the romanticism of new love found in “This Must Be Love”, the middle-eastern inspired instrumental “Droned”, the aching desperation of “The Roof is Leaking” and the psychedelic rock of his more melodic cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Collins also adds a horn section to the Motown-style soul of “I MIssed Again”, the anthemic, big band influenced instrumental “Hand in Hand” and the warm soul of “Thunder and Lightning”. He reworks “Behind the Lines” from DUKE into a fast and punchy lament. Other songs include the bright “I’m Not Moving”, the piano led ballad “You Know What I Mean” and the late-night saloon-styled reflection of “If Leaving Me Is Easy.” Collins had demonstrated his versatility as a writer and musician and had set the wheels in motion for a decade of hit albums both on his own and with Genesis.
By contrast BOTH SIDES is Collins’ most introspective album. It is his personal favourite amongst his catalogue and this is largely driven by the fact he played everything himself in realising his vision for the songs, which were written with a spontaneity that recalled some of his writing on FACE VALUE. The album is made up of mainly slow to mid-tempo songs which are highly personal and reflective, such as the warm yearning of “Can’t Turn Back the Years” and the hopeful “There’s a Place for Us.” The more up-tempo songs such as the driving “Both Sides of the Story” and the call to arms of “We Wait and We Wonder” take on more generic social and political themes mirroring his approach on …BUT SERIOUSLY. Whilst it is easy to see why this album meant so much to Collins, his uncompromising approach gives the songs a sameness of feel that leaves the listener searching for a sudden change of tempo or a blast of horns (absent from this album). The songs individually are strong, but as a whole the album just needs the variety that is so much in evidence on its sister reissue, FACE VALUE. Whilst the lovely melodic “We’re Sons of Our Fathers” delves into new ground for Collins with a bluegrass feel to it, it calls out for authentic instrumentation rather than synthesized simulation. Many of the songs would come to life more on stage, as can be witnessed on the second CD, which carries some rare live material from the tour that followed. There is a particularly bouncy unplugged version of “Both Sides of the Story” and “Can’t Turn Back the Years” benefits from a lovely worked intro between on-stage musicians Brad Cole (keyboards), Daryl Stuermer (guitar) and Nathan East (bass). BOTH SIDES can be viewed as an album that is less than the sum of its parts, but demonstrating a side to Collins that showed he wasn’t afraid to experiment and work against his public image.