Tag Archives: Genesis

Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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“Home By The Sea” Is A TWILIGHT ZONE Episode Written By Genesis

Genesis has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but a pleasure nonetheless. I’m not sure how you feel about Genesis, but I have an odd fascination with the band. In fact, I think I love them. It’s not like I really had a choice in the matter, I grew up in the 1980s thus the band is encoded in my DNA. My love for the sappy, syrupy Phil Collins-era eventually led me to the darker, stranger stuff generated in the 1970s when the band was led by Peter “Shock the Monkey” Gabriel. I can (and do) defend a lot of bands, but Genesis has always seemed indefensible, even to me.  Having one of the periods most famous drummers and then using the then-fashionable drum machine on your records? Egregious.

But amid the  puppet music videos, the drum machines, and embarrassingly earnest love ballads, Genesis never really stopped being a prog-band at heart. Even long after Gabriel had vanished from the band Genesis would tuck weird (and lengthy) progressive rock songs onto their albums. These songs no doubt confused the average pop fan who bought their records for the radio singles. Worse, however, these progressive artifacts always seemed to bring the band’s albums grinding to a halt (even though many of these songs are quite good). I find it interesting that a faction within Genesis fought the good fight to keep the band weird even as they were churning out mega-pop hits like “Invisible Touch.”

"Spoooky"

“Spoooky”

As the 1980s wore on, Genesis evolved away further and further from Gabriel’s version of the band replacing his cold theatricality for Collins’ affable charm. And yet, even as they basked in the neon glow of the mainstream (read: MTV), the band continued to make strange music that the public enjoyed.  I’m not 100% sure, but I have the feeling that the majority of people consuming Genesis’ music were oblivious to the darker nature of some of the bands output. I am no exception. The best Genesis songs, in both the Gabriel and the Collins era, are the ones that strike a balance and perfectly merge the band’s bizarre oddball sensibilities with more mainstream pop music. For my money, the best peanut butter and chocolate mix of the two sides of Genesis is the 1976 album A TRICK OF THE TAIL, which was the band’s first post-Gabriel album. If you find the Phil Collins stuff to be too poppy and the Gabriel stuff to be too stuffy/overblown, I implore you give A TRICK OF THE TAIL a listen. It’s the best album the band ever released, mostly because Gabriel was gone and Collins had yet to fully commit to being a pop idol.

Anyway, a few months back, I became obsessed with “Home By The Sea” off the band’s 1983 album GENESIS. For most people, myself included, GENESIS is the record where pop finally won out over the progressive side of the band.  I always remembered if for it’s pop hooks.  It was these same hooks that led me back to reevaluate the album. After hearing “That’s All” on the radio for the 10,000th time, I gave GENESIS another listen.

It was just as I remembered. The album is loaded with hooks, but among the tracks one stood out. “Home By The Sea” isn’t just a good song for this period of Genesis, it’s a good song period.  It’s so good, I found myself humming it all day long. I hummed it while brushing my teeth, driving to work, making a cup of coffee, riding in an elevator, and staring up at the ceiling while I waited to fall asleep. In short, I was haunted by the song.

Home By The Sea cover front

The more I thought about the song and the lyrics (the ones I could remember) I realized that despite being catchy, “Home By The Sea” is a dark, strange song. I decided to read the lyrics and re-listen to the song. When did, I was immediately struck by something incredible: “Home By The Sea” is a fucking Twilight Zone episode! Well, not really…but kinda. The song is about someone sneaking into a house, presumably with ill intent, and getting accosted by ghosts!

“Coming out the woodwork, through the open door

pushing from above and below

shadows but no substance, in the shape of men

round and down and sideways they go

adrift without direction, eyes that hold despair

then as one they sigh and moan”

These ghosts are lonely and force this person to stay with them as they relive their lives. The song talks about pictures coming to life and while it all could be a metaphor for holding onto the past (or growing old), on the surface this is a creepy ghost story of a song.

“Images of sorrow, pictures of delight

things that go to make up a life

endless days of summer longer nights of gloom

waiting for the morning light

scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame

things that go to make up a life.”

I’d heard this song on the radio countless times over the years growing up and none of this had ever occurred to me. During my re-listen of GENESIS, I discovered that the song is actually part one of a two-part suite of songs, the other being “Second Home By The Sea.” That second half is a fantastic near-instrumental (Collins sings a bit of “Home By The Sea” at the very end) that adds a sense of grandeur to the ghostly tale. Combined into one, “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” is over 11 minutes long which probably explains why it is broken apart (which feels like label interference). But taken as a whole I find these songs to be incredibly powerful.

It’s important to remember that this song(s) appears on the same album as “Taking It All Too Hard.” I can’t think of a greater tonal shift than the leap from “Home By The Sea” to “Taking It All Too Hard.” Sure, the songs don’t appear back-to-back, but the fact that they inhabit the same album is very strange. Not ghosts coming out of the walls strange, but strange nonetheless. That GENESIS reaches such sublime heights while also spiraling so low seems like proof that the band isn’t very good. However, I actually think the opposite. I think it takes real talent and chutzpah to be both on both ends of the creative spectrum on the same record. Straightforward radio pop and a mini-prog suite about ghosts? Amazing. Like something from The Twilight Zone. 

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Guilty Pleasures: 5 Artists I Reluctantly Admit to Liking

Look, I like what I like. I’ll be the first to admit that I have great taste…and I also love the worst shit.  One of the nice things about being a mature adult, as opposed to a scared little boy, is that I just don’t care what people think.  Which is why I’m able to speak openly about so-called “guilty pleasures.”  You know, those things we all like but wouldn’t necessarily admit.

Well, no one’s twisting my arm, here are 5 of mine:

1. ROBBIE WILLIAMS: Britain’s most popular entertainer is also one of my all-time favorites.  The bravado. The ego. The amazingly catchy (and increasingly kitchy) songs. The positives are also the negatives when it comes to Mr. Williams.  Though he started out in a dopey boy-band, Robbie’s been realeasing consistently great pop records since the late 1990’s.  Too bad his fey, anglo-saxon schtick didn’t catch on over here in America. Oh well, I guess it’s just another example of Europe’s superiority.

Robbie Williams, man-above-town

CHECK OUT:  2002’s ESCAPOLOGY is probably the best “mature” Robbie record to date.  You should also pick up THE EGO HAS LANDED which is an American-only compilation of hits from first few British releases.

AVOID: The over-the-top dance/techno record RUDEBOX is awesome, but will probably turn most people off.

2. GENESIS: Everybody agrees that after Peter Gabriel left Phil Collins ran Genesis into the ground.  Well guess what? I find myself listening to “I Can’t Dance” way more than “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.”  There’s a reason that Genesis went double-mega-ultra platinum after Collins took the helm: I only sometimes want to hear a 7+ minute prog-rock song…but I always want to hear a 3 minute pop song.

Gabriel took all the pink hearts and blue horseshoes.

CHECK OUT: INVISIBLE TOUCH and 1983’s GENESIS are pretty much the gold-standard when it comes to Genesis.  Sure, they’re mostly Phil Collins solo-records, but who cares?

AVOID: STATION TO STATION the record the band released after Phil Collins left in 1996. No Collins? No Gabriel? No dice.

3. LADY GAGA: This one surprise you? Well it shouldn’t.  Lady Gaga’s first two records are pretty damn good.  “Bad Romance” and “Paparazzi” are great, catchy songs. The production alone is fantastic, period. I’m seeing a pattern here with these guilty pleasures: they’re all “pop” music.  What is it about a good pop song that makes us love it despite ourselves?

This is the stupidest cover for this album I could find.

CHECK OUT: THE FAME and THE FAME MONSTER.

AVOID:  BORN THIS WAY. My how the mighty have fallen.

4. METALLICA: Alight, now we’re getting to embarrassing. I think I’d rather tell people I like Lady Gaga before I told them I liked Metallica.  Why? We’ll besides being pretty meat-headed, Metallica has cultivated a reputation over the years as pretty much hating their fans (see Metallica vs. the Internet and LULU).  That said, once upon a time Metallica WAS metal.  To this day I get goosebumps listening to “One” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  Sure, “Enter Sandman” has been overplayed, but that’s because it’s an awesome song.  It sucks to admit it: but I like Metallica.

A graveyard. How prophetic for Metallica's future artistic endeavors with Lou Reed.

CHECK OUT: MASTER OF PUPPETS and RIDE THE LIGHTNING.

AVOID: For crying out loud stay FAR away from LULU. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself a lucky (better) person.

5. BREE SHARP: This is totally random. I almost didn’t put her on the list because she’s pretty obscure.  I decided I liked Bree Sharp after hearing her do a cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” on an all-covers podcast a few years back.  I downloaded her album MORE B.S. and thought it was fantastic.  Songs like “Everything Feels Wrong” and “Morning in a Bar” are melancholy yet kinda dreamy at the same time.  I then proceeded to do a little research and found out that she’s mostly known for her semi-novelty song “David Duchovny” which is about her infatuation with the former X-Files star.  Yikes girl.

Look at that front-end! Oh, and there's a nice cab too.

CHECK OUT: MORE B.S. and her live album LIVE AT THE FEZ (if you can find it).

AVOID: Her 1999 debut record, A CHEAP AND EVIL GIRL, is pretty lame and dated.  A song about Agent Mulder, seriously?

(DIS)HONORABLE mentions must also go to: Van Hagar/Sammy Hagar, Jay-Z, Duncan Sheik, 14:59-era Sugar Ray, Lilly Allen, Sade, Mick Jagger (solo), and Ben Folds rapping.

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