I Don’t Care Anymore: Witnessing The Career Slide Of Phil Collins

Phil Collins - Going BackPhil Collins has a new record out.

It’s a record of Motown covers; a passion so great that he felt compelled to do an entire album of the same material that prompted him to consider a career in music.

Smart decision: Collins has managed to sell well over 150 million records, he’s won seven Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe awards, one Academy Award, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He captured more Top 40 hits during the 1980s than any other pop artist and helped other musicians chalk up hits during that decade in the role of producer.

There is no question that Mr. Collins chose well for his career path, so why does he sound so apologetic about it in recent interviews promoting Going Back?

Probably because he was such a dick when his popularity was at its peak.

I’ll confess that I don’t know him personally and, aside from a purchase of Genesis’ Duke spawned by a love of that FM radio hit “Turn It On Again” and a dubbed copy of Genesis spawned by his menacing laugh during the chorus of “Mama,” I don’t actually own a Phil Collins album. So when I call Phil Collins a “dick,” it’s based purely on perception and a very healthy fatigue of Phil thanks to all of the overexposure that he created for the good part of a decade.

His choices creatively toward the end of the 80s also suggest that he was more than willing to compromise his talents as a musician in exchange for a complete devotion to mainstream, commercial success.

The recent interviews also seem to relay that Phil Collins knows what you and I think about him, and he is taking some steps at trying to win back some of our good graces.

The question is, “Are we ready to welcome back Phil Collins?”

Why now? The man has sold enough records to warrant ambivalence to what you or I think about him. He’s also done and won almost anything that an artist could ever hope to achieve, so our good graces are useless to further his career.

The only reason I could think of why he still feels the need for some kind of validation from us is because fame cannot provide the creative acknowledgement that other peers are receiving, even the ones who weren’t as successful as he was.

He seems to understand why people laughed at that moment in American Psycho when Patrick Bateman declares how Collins’ lyrics “are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in rock.” It’s because we put Phil Collins on the same level as that movie’s other dated relic – Huey Lewis – and Collins feels that he’s provided work that’s more deserving of praise than the man who helped inspire Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters.”

We laughed at Bateman’s soliloquy because we understood that Collins’ moral affirmation on “In Too Deep” is just a bunch of nice words pieced together for commercial effect. That’s a far cry from the origin of his solo career that, ironically, began as a therapeutic wordplay concerning the misery of the dissolution of his first marriage (“In The Air Tonight“).

In fact, the more successful he became, the less he incorporated elements of his personal life into his melodies. Instead, Collins used cookie-cutter themes and gated reverb drums to advance his success.

He’d like you to ignore this blatant commercialization now.

Yes, the man who has over 150 million copies sold is no longer content with the girth of his sales total, choosing instead to remind you of his work as a session player, a shallow attempt at suggesting that his musicianship should be considered before his oversaturated pop leanings.

Admittedly, his name-dropping is impressive; Collins’ parlayed session work for such artists as Brian Eno, Robert Wyatt, and Robert Plant. Speaking of: Collins was tapped as the drummer for Led Zeppelin on their first official reunion gig at Live Aid, the same event that featured the dopey “Phil Collins will be playing at both events on two separate continents” tag line, like it was some kind of noteworthy accomplishment.

Collins recently commented in Spin that the Zeppelin gig was awful, that it embarrassed him to the point where he considered jumping off the lead balloon, before recognizing how being the dude who thought he was too good to play with Led Zeppelin would be more of a career killer than Buster.

In case you think that it was Collins’ work with Genesis that provided him with all of these opportunities, consider that he was already well regarded even before joining Peter Gabriel and company—playing drums on a session with George Harrison at the tender age of nineteen.

That’s right: Phil Collins has many reasons to not give a shit about what you think, and one of them was that he was hanging out with a fucking Beatle while he was still a teenager.

Yet with all of these accomplishments and all of Collins’ recent half-hearted attempts to get back into my good graces, I’m still not ready to take Phil Collins’ olive branch on artistic integrity. There have been so many misfires in this man’s work for the last quarter-century that it’s hard to give him a pass like I have with Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, or Bruce Springsteen.

There’s still a lot that Phil needs to apologize for, and much of it stems from the sudden air of arrogance that appeared after Collins’ success, starting with …But Seriously and coming into full fruition during his work with Disney.

He positioned himself as a composer, beyond rock and roll—the bedrock of his existence. When the idea of a Genesis reunion tour began to take hold, he lobbied against a full-on schedule, declaring that his days of heavy touring were over.

Collins admitted as much in a recent Huffington Post article, stating that his career was “grinding down to a halt,” opting instead to stay at home with his two young boys.

But before he does, he wants to be well regarded. He senses that he’s turned into “a caricature,” and he may be acknowledging that caricatures don’t translate well beyond their shelf life. And with no further tours in the works, minimal recordings, and no hint that Buster is scheduled for a cult revival, Phil understands his own shelf life is nearing its expiration date.

He also knows that his peers don’t seem to be suffering from an expiration date as rapidly as he is. Fewer youngsters are saying the word “Sussudio” and nobody gives a shit about the Pump Room dress code that spawned an album title No Jacket Required.

And from what do young music fans recognize Collins?

I’m curious myself.

Do they only know him from Tarzan soundtracks and Disney DVD special feature material? Is their only reference Mike Tyson’s love of the dramatic drum part from “In The Air Tonight” in The Hangover? Do they even know that there was a time when Phil Collins was more than a punch line?

For a moment, Phil Collins was highly respected, and his celebrity opened the door to numerous production opportunities, ventures that proved to be just as questionable as his own sugary decline.

There’s no better example of this than his work on Eric Clapton’s mid-80s records. They’re criminal, unlistenable to the point where they now sound tepid and woefully dated. And since good rock and roll music should be timeless, Collins needs to be vilified for painting Clapton in a weird, pastel-colored straightjacket that had Eric barking, “Had enough! Bad love!” over white funk keyboards and session guitar flange.

Admittedly, it takes two to tango with those production complaints, and if everything would have just ended there, the offenses wouldn’t have even been so great that we needed to even consider forgiving him now.

Perhaps the real crime on top of Collins’ overexposure and over-production is the material released under the Genesis moniker, ironically beginning with their eponymous 1983 release.

Although I have no quarrel with that particular record, I do take issue with what came in its wake: a blurred line between Phil Collins solo artist and Genesis the band.

On Genesis, the band turns a corner from progressive rock to straight-on pop rock. While there’s no law about wanting to make a decent living, there is a sense of duty to the fans that gave you the opportunity to tinker with the formula.

What Collins did with asserting his fame over the band that once auditioned him was not just get them to change their direction. He convinced them to change vehicles entirely.

He now sees how there’s not much of a market for anemic 80s sedans. Collins wants you to remember the muscle car of his progressive youth. He wants to cherry-pick his support resume, and he’d like you to remember that before cartoon characters like Brother Bear inspired him, he found creativity through personal turmoil.

The restoration of Collins’ image began with the episode of “The Making of Face Value” on VH1 Classic’s Classic Albums show. I’m not entirely sure on what grounds Face Value gets such a liberal tag that it qualifies as “classic,” but Phil seems content with its inflated opinion and offers a bit of his own ego in the process, lamenting how he no longer plays “If Leaving Me Is Easy” live, because fans wouldn’t stay quiet during the performances.

It’s moments like this bit of aristocratic snobbery towards his own ticket-buyers, combined with a tenure of soft-rock schmaltz that now take up a larger portion of his career output than the credible work that he’s helped create, that make me question if his heart was even in rock and roll at all.

It was easy to be affectionate toward the everyman drummer who floated from the drum riser directly into the spotlight. And it was easy to tolerate his everywhere-at-once work ethic, mainly because of his cheeky humor and homely looks.

But the fame seemed to do something to his headspace, and in turn, his creative output. It became less challenging, and when he combined that safety with an almost contemptuous view of his previous work (and genre), that has me questioning why he’s become so cozy with it lately.

Not only do I question his sincerity, I can’t find any validity in his more recent work either. In fact, the new record that got him back in front of the press to ask forgiveness sounds like an exercise in self-righteous pandering. Going Back is a record that’s too lazy at attempting to be a late-career resurgence because it’s too busy lecturing us on how they just don’t make ’em like they used to and how Phil Collins is the only musician that can accurately recreate the vibe that triggered his love affair of music.

In nearly every interview promoting the record, Collins tosses around the “authentic” tag a lot. He argues how his quest to make it sound like a legitimate Motown record somehow makes it credible. It isn’t, and shame on Collins for not coming out and saying that potential buyers should begin with the same master recordings that inspired him.

Going Back exists because Phil Collins wanted it to and he can afford to do whatever he pleases without worrying about the sales tally. Meanwhile, his longtime label (Atlantic) is betting on the possibility that it will find an audience. They logically assume that it would fit nicely next to Rod Stewart’s American Songbook series and any other Boomer-friendly compilation that matches their roster of superstars in decline with familiar repertoire, hoping that the aging audience will dig in their wallet for one more aluminum disc.

Going Back does nothing to reaffirm Collins’ place in rock’s echelon, and as a result, will do nothing to appease his personal quest to gain our appreciation. Rather than an album that was prompted by his passion for the music, why not make music that instills a passion within us?

It’s clear that Collins is discovering the one thing his money couldn’t buy is self-respect. And with no hint of it anywhere on Going Back, the lack of interest from the pop shoppers should remind him that his quest for artistic redemption is something that is truly against all odds.

Video: Phil Collins – “Going Back”

Phil Collins: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, eMusic, wiki

25 thoughts on “I Don’t Care Anymore: Witnessing The Career Slide Of Phil Collins”

  1. I forgave Phil Collins for all his early 80s shit (which as a tweener I enjoyed at the time) after hearing this episode of This American Life.

    And “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” will always remind me of that girl I made out with at the church overnighter in Livonia (who in my memory looked exactly like the cover model on Vampire Weekend’s Contra). So…yeah.

  2. I don’t know what causes musicians like him to spiral into the useless, mindless oblivion of releasing oldies cover albums. At some point the bubble of fame and money so divorced him from whatever vein of creativity he had that I doubt he could ever find it again.

    He now slouches down the same road as Rod Stewart, who himself has turned into some kind of bad imitation of Barry Manilow.

    Show tunes, old mowtown covers. Big paychecks for backround music in the local Mall. Who the fock cares?

    Sorry, but I ain’t giving that old turd any respect. If you put out some good rock n roll (early Genesis was pretty great) and then piss away the rest of your career hocking schlock to aging baby boomers, you don’t deserve anything but derision.

    Of course, he is part of my Parents’ generation more than my own. Could i ever even imagine a musician of my era failing so horribly as Collins? I don’t see Frank Black releasing an album of 80s top 40 ballads (Imagine him singging “Endless Love”).

    I guess I’ve never really come to terms with what makes people turn into old soggy shits. Since this only seems to happen to mega rich A-Holes, like Collins, I have to believe that it’s the money that leaches the creativity out of them.

    In the mean time, I’d rather listen to the last 7 years of half assed U2 singles than ever think about Phil Collins ever again.

  3. “Face Value” wasn’t a bad album. It wasn’t a great album, but it didn’t make me want to punch him in the back of the head. However, after a roommate latched onto it and played “In the Air Tonight” roughly 6 million times in a 2-month period, I kind of grew tired of it.

  4. Just thought of another crime: Phil Collins is pretty much responsible for an entire decade of terrible drum tone. He invented that whole gated reverb shit with “In the Air Tonight.” Motherfucker.

  5. I was reminded what a dick he is while watching the R&R hall of fame show, waiting for the Stooges induction. Phil spent the entire show looking like someone shit in his Glenlivet. He looked pissed off even as Trey and Phish were paying him tribute.

  6. Not to get all pointy-headed on ya, but Phil wasn’t responsible for EC’s “Bad Love”; Russ Titelman was. Phil was responsible for EC’s “Forever Man”, “She’s Waiting”, and “It’s In The Way That You Use It”. There is one Phil Collins production that is still totally awesome to this day: Howard Jones’ “No One Is To Blame”. The original version is nice, but nothing special. Phil’s version makes it a classic.

    If Phil really gave a damn about respectability, why did he steal a play out of Rod Stewart/Clive Davis’s play book? (For that matter, Michael McDonald’s play book, too.) He released a pandering album of cover versions. Too damn lazy to actually WRITE A FUCKING HIT. Too contemptuous of your potential fanbase that they might actually want something from your own creative font, you want to insult their intelligence, take the lazy way out and cover proven hits which you had fuckall to do with? Nice, Phil. Way to win back my respect. And it’s a shame, because his past has legitimate reasons for us to respect him; “Man On The Corner” is a great pop tune. I still like “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Inside Out”, and “We Said Hello Goodbye”, to name but three off No Jacket Required. For him to pull this crap after he formally retired (bad back), I smell that one of his alimony payments just rose past his comfort level.

    Some of his peers say that Phil Collins is a prick. The best is when Phil got drunk at a Genesis gig, and was so drunk that when he tried executing a fancy drum fill, he did so TWO INCHES ABOVE the drumskin. Silly twat.

    1. i met phil collins this guy is not arrogent at all. I had back stage passes and got to met him. He is a very nice friendly person and went out of his way to show me and my friends around back stage. See people like you that probably never even met or listened really to his music that have these crappy attitudes and want to put people down. Get over cause you will never have his suscess or money.. You Loser……

  7. My friend saw him perform at university, which was before he made the big time.

    My friend said he was rude and arrogant and over 30 years later, he still spreads that message around. So maybe that’s where all the bad Phil Collins press has come from.

    He’s probably a really nice person, these rumours have spread like a successfully bad, MLM program!


    1. all that are bashing phil is just mad beacause of the suscess he has had and the money he has made. all of you are just jealous of him in general.

  8. Crap. nothing but pure crap-all of it. Everything Genesis after the departure of Peter Gabriel was pitiful at best. Nothing sucked worse than “In the Air Tonight” except maybe, just maybe, everything else Phil recorded in the 80’s. Now an album of oldies by a crotchety old has-been? Still more crap. NOTHING to see here-move along.

  9. Spot on, Todd: You can’t be remembered as Bill Bruford (or even Terry Bozzio) if you took the path of Rod Stewart. Period. And yeah, we can debate the merits of post-Peter Gabriel Genesis up until the self-titled album–I like some of that stuff and even have a soft spot for parts of Duke and Abacab–and label the subsequent albums as schlock without batting an eye. Having said that, Banks and Rutherford didn’t have to go along with the merger but they chose to let their bandmate’s corny Top 40 sensibilities rub off on them in pursuit of massive financial reward, so I’m not prepared to exonerate them.

    Oh, and Jake, he did exaggerate it for effect, but Collins lifted the idea of the big drum sound on “In the Air Tonight” from “Intruder” off Gabriel’s third solo album (aka Melt) on which he played.

    Btw, that Gabriel album, Scary Monsters, and to a certain extent, Hall and Oates’ Voices was some arty pop music. 1980 was pretty cool, huh?

  10. Todd, I’d be curious to hear what you think of his recent Rolling Stone interview. He echoed a lot of what you said above, but what I found interesting was that to me he came off as really depressed and over ALL of it, including this new covers stuff. He’s moved to like Sweden or somewhere and apparently can no longer play drums due to some serious neck injury he sustained. He has apparently thrown all his passion into – wait for it – his Alamo Collection, which is in his basement (“there’s no basement in the Alamo!”). Apparently it’s one of the biggest in the world. According to the RS interview he wants to just work on that and be known as Philip, not Phil, and not have anyone tell him he’s ruined music any more. That Does suck if that’s true about the drums.

  11. I haven’t read the Rolling Stone interview. I haven’t read Rolling Stone for years; I called and canceled my subscription when I received a copy of the mag with the Olsen Twins on the cover. No shit.

    But it doesn’t surprise me, because from what you describe it sounds like what I read in other magazines. It’s a drag that he can’t hold a drumstick-I thought it was a back surgery result-as I will acknowledge his abilities behind the kit.

    What does surprise me is that he’s bummed about the new covers album. Is he upset that it hasn’t sold shit or that he did it? Is he claiming it was label pressure? He sure sounded like it was all his idea on some of the press he did for it. Tell me more.

    I just watched that video that Jake added for this article. Wow. That was really bad, and I couldn’t notice how depressed he looked after reading your comments. He doesn’t look like his heart is in it at all-and it wasn’t just the song choice.

  12. My friend Jerry pointed out in a comment on Facebook how weirdly arranged and psychedelic “I Don’t Care Anymore” is and I’ll be damned if he’s not totally right.

  13. If Phil Collins wanted to redeem himself, should have done it in the 1990’s. 80’s was more Pop/Pop Rock decade. 90’s was more of a Rock decade. A lot of musicians from the 60’s and early 70’s were not that great in the 80’s. Especially the second half of the 80’s! Then in the 1990’s the “poppiness” and lack of inspiration for many was stripped away again and those old Rockers were more straight up Rock/Blues Rock again. Eric Clapton for instance. Both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were a lot better in the 90’s than they were in the 80’s. (Although I liked the Firm. Live material at least.)

    I could name more but I bet you could too. Phil Collins on the other hand messed up in the 90’s. He should have played straight up Rock N Roll then. Or had Genesis go back to their roots. I even bet if he flat out copied Grunge in a 1995 album or something, it would have held up better musically than his 80’s crap and he’d have more respect. But he didn’t even have to do that. He could have done some classic Rock tracks. Maybe even R&B.

    I also think his attitude has something to do with it. When people aren’t confident and happy, people can detect that, He obviously doesn’t feel good about his work now, for whatever reason, so others probably won’t either. Not to mention, he’s too bitter and trashes bands Led Zeppelin. Big mistake! Which, by the way, I saw the gig. It was rusty by all the members. (They haven’t played on stage since they broke up.) But I blame Phil Collins for really screwing it up. He obviously did not rehearse at all! You can really tell. Phil thought he could pull off the gig like it was nothing but he failed to understand that drums in Led Zeppelin is a serious position. Not just something you can drum through for fun.

    I think the guy needs to find a new hobby. Something that really makes him happy. Maybe even meditate or something. He’s obviously not happy in the music biz. He shouldn’t be stuck there. He had success. He should be proud of that since most people can’t say the same. There are people out there who do like Phil Collins’ music a lot still. He should focus on them. In fact, a lot of musicians that were around 20-30 years ago aren’t trying to gain acceptance anymore. They just do it for the love and for the fans who stuck by them.

  14. The guy looks like George Washington. Which was probably why he was popular for a few years. But looking like him and being an icon are two different things.

  15. He always seemed like a dick. His comments slamming Led Zeppelin’s poor performance at live aid was the ultimate affirmation of his DICK-DOM. IT’S A FUCKING CHARITY PHIL. Plant came off a late night performance from a string of shows & had no voice. Page flew in on a red eye… It was pure chaos, no monitors, no rehearsal, and no noe could hear a fucking thing. Phil has the disgusting balls to say: “he felt like walking off stage.”?? That is a lie! Watch the video, he had the biggest hard on the whole time he was playing. He forced his schmaltzy self into the act … If anything he is sour that he could never be as good as Bonham, and that Zep didn’t sign a reunion contract on the spot, whisking him into the drum chair. He is a bitter old DICK

    1. phil does not suck and music is wonderful and you all have been comparing him to Led Zeplin which you should not because it not the same kind music. But he did play with them on stage and it was actually Robert Plant that messed up because he was drunk on stage and tried to blame phil for messing up on the drums which he didn’t. It was him he drunk as hell and sounded like shit.and was even off pitch and by the way i there to see it my self……..So don’t compare them to each other and I do love robert plant also. All these people in music business have always hated phil collins and just got eveybody hating on phil. they are really to blame noone else.

  16. You guys are bashing Phil way too much. He has done more for rock/pop/fusion/etc. then many other big performers today. He has also acted in movies and TV. He guested on MIAMI VICE, he starred in “Buster”, “Balto”, “Frauds” , “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “A Hard Day’s Night” (Honest!). I saw him in a Genesis concert and it showed that he is probably the World’s Greatest Drummer. However, due to that spinal injury resulting from his decades of drumming he made his “…Goin’ Back” album as a “tribute to roots”. He did play on it but the sticks had to be taped to his hands because he can’t maintain a good grip on them anymore. The honor of World’s Greatest Drummer now goes to Neal Peart of RUSH. Phil has worked with some Motown musicians during his career. Phil Collins masters the “white soul” genre because he doesn’t try to sing “black”. He has a high pitched, almost squeaky voice that instantly identifies him as a white Briton. Still, he knows the notes of soul/R & B/funk and he can shape it up around his singing. Like the Talking Heads esp. during the period of 1979 – 1986, Phil Collins is a white dude who doesn’t mess up black music. As for the “light rock” or the soul-sucking “adult contemporary” I’ll take Phil ANYDAY over that Hootie and the Suckfish, the alley cat outside in a thunderstorm Celine Dion, church bazaar discovery LeAnn Rimes, screechy Katy Perry, Justin Tinkerbell, and all those wimp-ass pop tarts. Whatever Phil Collins gets into, he can rock it and rock it good. With that and with all the huge benefits and charity events he’s been involved with, he should be granted knighthood. And the same goes for the amazing always-innovative Peter Gabriel.

  17. What a piece of shit is this chronicle! Does someone pay for you to write some kind of shit like this? Get a life and try not to be jealous of someone else’ s talent and glory.

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