Phil Collins recently announced that he’s planning a big comeback and, as you may have heard, not everyone is excited about this. Yes, more than 3,000 people signed a petition in the hopes of making Phil Collins go away forever. Apparently the thought of the guy who sang “Sussudio” going on tour or recording a new album just makes their skin crawl.
Hey look, I get it. Phil Collins has never been cool. Before “Macklemore” was the go-to punchline when you needed to evoke a lame musician, it was “Phil Collins.” That’s how it’s been for years, and I don’t expect it to change now. But I’ve always been bothered by the paint-by-numbers Phil bashing. It just seems way too easy, and it seems to reflect an ignorance of the work he’s actually made. If the only things you know Phil Collins for are “Sussudio,” “A Groovy Kind Of Love,” and the Tarzan soundtrack, of course you’re going to think he’s a huge dork. But there’s so much more than meets the eye!
The version of Phil Collins that people talk about when it comes to hating him showed up in 1985, when he released his third solo album, No Jacket Required. Before that point, Phil’s work, both solo and with Genesis, had a decidedly arty edge, as we saw on moody solo tracks like “In the Air Tonight” and “I Don’t Care Anymore,” along with Genesis classics like “Turn It On Again” and “Abacab.” But No Jacket Required went for an unabashedly pop sound. The result was a massive smash album, as “Sussudio,” “One More Night,” and “Take Me Home” dominated airwaves. Now, on a personal note, I actually like a lot of these songs, but I can understand why they’re not for everyone; Phil had abandoned every aspect of his prog-rock past, and was making some of the schmaltziest music around. Personally, I’m not above downing a glass of red wine and having a good cry to “Against All Odds,” but that’s not for everyone, and I can’t blame you if you want to roll your eyes at this particular incarnation of Phil.
But what I don’t get is why this is the only version of him that anyone seems to want to talk about. Collins’ reputation as a giant dork comes entirely from his reign as the schlockiest pop star of the ’80s and early ’90s, but there’s a whole other aspect of his career that seems more or less ignored. Why is Phil always the “Sussudio” guy, and never the “I Don’t Care Anymore” guy? And if we’re talking about his time with Genesis, why mock him for Invisible Touch when we could be praising him for A Trick Of The Tail? The Phil-hate that inspired this petition seems to be focused only on the most readily-mockable periods of his career. The whole thing just seems narrow-minded, and frankly a bit reductive.
The biggest reason to support a Phil Collins comeback is the feeling that his story isn’t really finished; that there’s a final chapter to his career that needs to happen. His last album of original material was 2002’s Testify, and since then, he’s just quietly existed in the background. He came out of the woodwork for Genesis’s reunion tour in 2007, and an album of Motown covers in 2010, but that’s it. I’m curious about what road he might go down for a potential new album. Would he make a straightforward pop album in the vein of No Jacket Required? Or, could he go the classic “cool old dude” route, and do something more like Johnny Cash’s collaborations with Rick Rubin, or Glen Campbell’s last few efforts? If he goes in the latter direction, he could reclaim his image, and give a rebuttal to those who think he’s a tired joke. If he works with the right people, Phil Collins could completely change how people view him.
Frankly, the anti-Phil Collins petition just makes me want him to record a new album more. It’s unfair that he’s turned into such a punchline, and that his best work is ignored so that we can mock his cheesier stuff. While he’ll probably never be cool, Phil Collins is a far better songwriter than he ever gets credit for, and if he comes out with a strong new album, that point could be hammered home once and for all. The cool kids may never appreciate Phil Collins the way I do, but to quote the man himself, I don’t care anymore.