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In Defence Of...

No Flak Jacket Required: In Defence Of Phil Collins
Gary Mills , May 26th, 2010 08:11

In his first piece for the Quietus, Gary Mills hits the ground running with a one-man Dunkirk-style rescue mission for the sake of the reputation for drumming Tory homunculus Phil Collins

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In his university days, my older brother liked to play the goat in the clubs and bars of Leicester by telling young ladies he was the son of the rock drummer, Phil Collins. Few were impressed. True enough, our old man did indeed resemble Buster quite closely through his mid-'80s zenith; enough for us to purchase a copy of No Jacket Required for him as a bit of a gag one Christmas. But that archetypal sleeveface moment just never really came off. "I used to like him. Now I think he's a turd," said Dad.

There can't be many figures in the world of pop who have inspired quite the same kind of hatred-bordering-on-civil-unrest as Collins, and there can't be too many who have shifted anything like the 150 million plus units that he's got through as a solo artist either. But the renaissance of his popularity in recent years - firstly through a US R&B acknowledgement of soul authenticity (which remains utterly bewildering in the UK) and then via a resurgent interest in all things prog - serves to underline what is surely one of the most bizarre career trajectories in pop history.

The glib realm of 'guilty pleasure' faux self-consciousness can't in all honesty lift comfort food pap like Easy Lover out of the 80s musical mire, and nor can Collins' ensuing Disneyfication, which perhaps aligns him still for many with the earnest vacuum of contemporaries like Sting & Bono. He's not completely shaken off the misapprehensions of two particular tabloid smears either: the none-more-80s divorce-by-fax episode, and the Tory bluster of a stock "if Labour get in, I'm leaving the country" headline, both probably merely products of waning appeal allied to a jack-the-lad everyman public profile, which, in view of his spiralling wealth, made him the softest of targets. Of course, success and the kudos of cool are two entirely separate things; being portrayed as aloof and right-wing in the 1980s would never buy you any of the latter.

An ever more guarded Collins has repeatedly and strenuously refuted both allegations, but the argument of whether or not he pioneered the 'gated reverb' drum sound that became his trademark is a subject he'd no doubt prefer to focus on, and it's a pointer towards a rarely acknowledged altruistic musicality. Naturally, Tony Visconti and Dennis Davis would have something to say about those drums, but maybe we'll absolve Phil there on the point of artistic appropriation. Brian Eno too might deny this claim to innovation, if only he would pause in his praising of Collins' versatility.

According to David Sheppard's entertainingly labyrinthine biography On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno, the Suffolk poacher is keen to recount a significant episode of mutual appreciation between the two, instigated by Collins. "He said, 'You know, I've always wanted to thank you.' I said, 'Really, what's that for?' Because I have always wanted to thank him for these bloody parts he played that I've reused 800 times." Collins then reveals Eno as the source of (or indeed culprit for, depending on your outlook) his ensuing inspiration. "When I was in Genesis and I became aware of the way you were working, I realised I could do this. If it hadn't been for you, I would not have had a solo career."

While we're happy in the main however to forgive true visionaries like Eno and Bowie for their misfiring output - commonly seen as temporary aberrations on the road to an inevitable return to form, ignored lest the petering out of talent besmirch the hallowed majesty of what came before - Collins will never be so fortunate. Publicly defined by stylistic blandness, he's never been so influential as to drive a scene forward, or spearhead a series of critically lauded releases. Yet diversity and invention are qualities not entirely absent from the Collins canon.

An ardent follower of Motown in his youth, as well as mod favourites The Action, it was with the virtuoso mores of progressive rock (Genesis), and, to a lesser extent, jazz fusion (Brand X) and the blues drama of two John Martyn albums that Collins made his name. Plain dependability doesn't tell the whole story though: in assisting Eno's devoutly anti-ability excursions and providing sans-cymbal clatterings for fellow ex-Genesis bighead and latter day vice-Eno Peter Gabriel, Collins found his own voice.

Having lent his treatments to Gabriel's 1974 Genesis swansong, Eno needed a drummer for his own more ad hoc sessions, and with both outfits recording at the same time and in the same studio, Collins was "sent upstairs as payment" in reciprocation for his efforts. The contributed 'Enossification' of tracks on the epic double platter The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was later only credited as such at Collins' insistence, and with the returned percussive additions to 'Mother Whale Eyeless' from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), so began a long association between the arch brainstormer and the drummer yet to become the dullest, most conventional rock star of the 1980s.

The finest moments over four Eno albums to feature Collins' involvement can be found - bookending an appearance on John Cale’s Helen of Troy LP - via the taut neurotic rhythms and peppered scattershot fills of 'Sky Saw' from 1975's ambient watershed Another Green World, and the dry train track motorik snares throughout 'No One Receiving', opener of the sublime Before And After Science set from '77. The latter's sluggish sister variant would appear as 'M386' on Music For Films a year later, whilst both tracks were augmented too by the fretless bass popping of Collins' Brand X ally Percy Jones.

The offbeat flutter-pulse style deployed for Eno may have been perfected with the exquisite canter of 'Follow You, Follow Me', but the 1978 chart breakthrough for Genesis could be seen as an exception to the rule of Collins as wandering boho sticksman, keen to indulge the occasional jazz whimsy or freehand avant garde ad libs to order. The stark difference in character here between Collins and that of Banks and Rutherford is key, and not just in view of their much-documented Charterhouse/grammar school distinction. In an unedifying snapshot from the documentary film of the band's 2007 comeback tour Come Rain Or Shine, Collins can be seen meekly asking a roadie for his drum seat to be adjusted before scuttling backstage, leaving his alarmingly authoritarian bandmates to browbeat a hapless lighting engineer at interminable length for timing errors.

Yet this apparent validation of the 1980s rock star as CEO caricature (one wonders how Patrick Bateman would have confronted the feckless technician) came to taint the image of Collins almost as much as his detached and occasionally supercilious colleagues; with his head above the parapet as a solo artist, he offered no image whatsoever in response. The contrast here with the session vintage Collins - a Serpico clone in bellbottoms & bucket hat, not so much bearded as carpeted - is an odd one given the blank ordinariness of his later look, an incongruity that Lui Lui Satterfield of the Phenix Horns would define when appraising his appearance as "like some farmer from England" during the making of solo debut Face Value. The implausibly selected image of Collins as a disheveled rock Ewok for his sticker in a 1984 Smash Hits Panini album – issued when the dome-headed, clean-shaven chart imp was already well in the ascendancy as a solo artist – might just pinpoint the moment when the metamorphosis fully took hold.

Given only marginally different career circumstances, Banks & Rutherford would have been equally at home with the cultivated precision of the dental practice they occasionally seemed destined to oversee, and despite possessing an abundance of technique and technology, they only coaxed all the wrong sounds from the hardware at their disposal in this life. Collins however would enjoy the fruits of some considerably more Eno-esque approaches to recording during further nomadic pursuits, this time with the man who'd already been basking in his liberation from the Genesis consultancy firm for five years.

After adding drums and backing vocals to the somniferous intensity of John Martyn's impassioned break-up LP Grace & Danger, Collins was employed by Peter Gabriel for work on his third eponymous album, with the strict remit of "no metal". At Gabriel's newly converted farmhouse in Bath cymbals were duly discarded, and on the twitchy opener 'Intruder' a rudimentary thump was gilded by a now legendary piece of engineering. While Collins played, Hugh Padgham (the engineer who would graduate to production duties on albums for both Collins and Genesis throughout the 1980s) ruminated upon the sound feeding into the SSL console's listen mic, and in an inspired moment magnified the heavily compressed effect by adding a noise gate. The track's eerie, claustrophobic hum had gained its spine, and the 'Phil Collins drum sound' was born. Heavily influential for many artists as one of the most frequently imitated sounds of the era, Public Image Ltd would gain particular inspiration from it for their Flowers Of Romance album. In turn, Collins was so fond of PiL's art rock racket that he plundered assistant engineer Nick Launay - latterly known for producing Nick Cave and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs amongst others - for his own debut solo project, which took shape during an acutely emotional creative spell in 1980.

In an inspired flurry at the turn of the decade, and seeking cathartic release from the fallout of his first marriage, Collins would set about both the realisation of his own material for the first time, begin work on another Genesis LP, and gravitate once more towards the similarly fraught John Martyn, taking his bow as producer on the singer-songwriter's Glorious Fool album. He'd also use Face Value's lead single to demonstrate how the unconventional studio predilections of Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel had rubbed off on him to launch a rock oddity classic.

What 'In The Air Tonight' has become in the public consciousness might reflect its brooding opening two-thirds and then the familiar Phil-falling-down-the-stairs-with-his-kit explosion of full-blown melodrama, or indeed the lyrical subject matter, seemingly bilious in its pointed attack on a betraying partner though apparently improvised at the mic during early demos and retained. Clouded over by the remaining career's worth of sonic stasis however is the single's place in 1981 at the vanguard of experimental pop, every bit as ambitious as 'Games Without Frontiers' from the previous year. Collins teases at a Prophet synth and vacuums the life out of the second verse with a Vocoder blare, yet the track's key intonation is derived somewhat paradoxically from a drum machine. Whilst Gabriel favoured a PAiA set for the electro-funk coda to Frontiers, Collins effected a coagulated, compressed undulation for 'In The Air Tonight' courtesy of the Roland CR-78. The machine's silvery comatose plod forms a pleasingly awkward companion to the emergent dominance of the 'Collins sound', whose contrary whackings, appearing at 3:41, heralded the decidedly unsubtle timbre to come. John Giblin's bass and Shankar's strings zig-zag their theatrical dominance into the outro, and what should have constituted Collins' announcement as a singular pop force - and not merely the foremost exponent of AOR mediocrity - fades out.

To say that Collins' ingenuity as a solo artist began and ended inside three minutes and within one song may seem a little unfair, though in reality that's almost how it panned out. Face Value includes other, albeit muted highlights, but it's no Revolver in terms of front to back quality and cutting edge - and, sure enough, the cover of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' duly misfires. Second single I Missed Again has its carefree jilted skip enhanced by Earth Wind & Fire's Phenix Horns and a punchdrunk Ronnie Scott tenor solo, though it was arguably a poor relation to '81's white soul highpoint - and another exemplar of the CR-78's merits - 'I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)' by Hall & Oates, later fellow Padgham-pushers themselves. Similarly, 'If Leaving Me Is Easy' possesses a lush Arif Mardin arrangement reminiscent of the opulent synthetics of 'I'm Not In Love', but suffers now as a forerunner of the heavy syrupy balladeering that would characterise later solo efforts. But it was those even bigger releases to come that swiftly cemented the perception at large of Collins, firstly as an artist, and subsequently in terms of the way his character was portrayed. And to a great extent, it's almost impossible to fight his corner on the basis of the output.

As Eno escaped with a more or less spotless reputation after traversing the light year's distance in production values between Talking Heads and U2, Collins likewise headed unblinking into the mainstream, and kissed goodbye to any trace of creative eminence that his nascent solo career had thus far afforded him. Gabriel, after a stuttering start, eventually soared into the decade's back end as the canny Fairlight & fretless slick-yet-intellectual archetype, while any such element of risk for his Genesis successor was apparently forever deluged in an all-out commercialist sonic dysentery. The hits just piled up, only to become increasingly forgettable and trivial, whilst the Collins of the mid-to-late 1980s was a ubiquitous, vapid yet outrageously profitable disappointment.

And never had such an unrelenting arbiter of the casual provoked such ire. An ever more be-sweatered, stubbled but successful figure mugged his way through countless promotional and globally broadcast appearances to simultaneous emergent fury, whilst the video age would burn Collins just as much as it would benefit him. 'In The Air Tonight' may have been aired on MTV's opening day, but the 'regular guy' shtick would only look absurd in the context of the 'Take Me Home' video's perceived capitalist ostentation. Meanwhile any vestige of appeal to the youth market (something he admittedly never courted) would be similarly extinguished via the kind of cornball nonsense displayed in the extended clip for 'Don't Lose My Number'.

By the time of 1989's ...But Seriously album, it had become utterly impossible to reconcile the worldwide lowest common denominator megastardom Collins with the hepcat beat merchant that graced a key cache of vital pioneering UK rock recordings over the previous decade. Indeed, for many the contemporary incarnation's immovable weight rendered the discovery of his credit on those early albums as something of a queasy letdown: it couldn't be that Phil Collins, could it?

As part of a pool of late 70s post-prog talent however, Collins is unquestionably the square peg, and the 1979 Exposure album, helmed by Robert Fripp and featuring Eno, Gabriel and Collins (and most curiously Daryl Hall too) assembled this axis of innovation. Collins bashes out his part on the raucous 'Disengage', before changing tack for the ride-led astral beauty of 'North Star', where Hall’s gospel throat dovetails neatly with Eno's sirocco synth and the open-chord anchoring of Fripp. But the album couldn’t paint Collins in the same artisan tones as his pals, and in his sleevenotes to the 2006 re-issue, Fripp unwittingly elucidates as to why, when out on his own, Collins flailed in terms of innovation yet found the mining of a particularly corporate-friendly songwriting skidmark irresistibly attractive. Fripp’s lament in negotiating the tensions of art versus commerce with RCA over the involvement of Daryl Hall could equally be read as a most pertinent summary of where Collins’ instinct took him:

"The creative impulse involves hazard: there are no guarantees. Business demands guarantees and rewards certainties, even though certainty is often unfulfilling and unsatisfying. An artist who follows the muse is perceived by business as dangerous."

Perhaps ultimately it was the soft option that sealed Collins’ reputation, placing him understandably at odds with any notion of a relationship with the leftfield. The disgrace of a career bogged entirely in the determined dross of No Jacket Required however is simply not justified, regardless of how Collins gained either his fortune, or his public image.

Having been introduced by Nick Launay, Collins and John Lydon got on "like a house on fire" when recording respectively at Virgin's Townhouse studios in West London back in the early 80s; clearly not everyone was quite so averse. Maybe looking like your Dad need not be such a hindrance after all.

Gary Mills is an arch ruminator, known to a disturbed handful for former input as conceptual mekon and sleeve artist on a number of releases from the esoteric Mordant Music stable. Latterly employed by virtually no-one as careworn scribe and admin clerk. Also records epitaxial ballads and runs himself into the ground. Slim of waist.

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May 26, 2010 12:23pm

Yes, very clever challop piece, can we expect a robust defence of Enya from you guys next week?

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John Doran
May 26, 2010 12:25pm

Luke loves Enya. Keen Quietus readers will know that we've planning an Enya retrospective piece for ages.

What is a challop? Like a potato scallop?

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Damien From Manchester
May 26, 2010 1:10pm

He's getting respect all over the shop of late it seems. Todd Terje's done a re edit (of 'i'm not movin'), and it's *great*.
First time i've ever read a mention of a Panini Smash Hits sticker album in a serious rock piece! They were briliant, i must dig out my old ones.

Can you do George Michael next?


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Luke Turner
May 26, 2010 1:12pm

In reply to Simon:

An In Defence Of Enya is in the pipeline. Can I have some salt on my challops please?

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May 26, 2010 1:15pm

An excellent defence. Now, in light of Mick Hucknall joining The Faces with much derision, can we expect a similar piece on him? Or is that too much to ask?

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May 26, 2010 1:21pm

This piece makes little sense, grammatically or philosophically.

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May 26, 2010 3:07pm

Fantastic defence: robust, detailed, and full of DRUMMER NERD TREATS. :thumb:

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Alex Burrows
May 26, 2010 3:52pm

In reply to Damien From Manchester:

John Peel was known to read out the band "biog"/description printed on the back of the solitary Fall sticker – from the annual Smash Hits Panini collection – on air.

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May 26, 2010 4:30pm

It amazes me that in this day and age people still have to defend Phil Collins. We are lucky to have him. Great article and hopefully the first of many more on the great man.

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uncle d
May 26, 2010 5:37pm

hey gary, seriously now, don't give up that day job..

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May 26, 2010 8:36pm

In reply to uncle d:

After getting an exquisitely fine soul smashed a couple of times (due courtship), i received a text: "Listening to Phil Collins and Thinking Of You".

"Easy Lover / Another Day In Paradise" hoots aside, the girl's heart was clearly as sweet as her smile.

That "Shut Up" to the kids at the Brits one year mind, simply unforgiveable.

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Matt Lindsay
May 27, 2010 5:09am

In reply to PAC:

Excelent, informative article. quite way anyone would be snooty about such an informed , scholarly piece is beyond me irrespective of your personal opinion of Mr. Collins. Credit where credit's due, the man has been involved in some great records. No one here is defending the anodyne dross that trailed in their wake. Would have been nice to have mentioned how influential the gated reverb sound was on Kate Bush's towering 'The Dreaming' a record Launay was pivotal on, after Padgham seemed bemused by Bush's working methods. That album's Leave It Open has a trajectory eerily reminiscent of In the Air tonight culminating as it does in a thunderous gated reverb finale. Nonetheless a great piece of writing.

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John Doran
May 27, 2010 8:51am

In reply to Matt Lindsay:

I'd cosign this. A 'challop', as I've just been informed by an online slang dictionary, would suggest that Gary's promoting the genius of 'You Can't Hurry Love' and 'Another Day In Paradise'. Which you only have to, durr, read the piece to see that he isn't.

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May 27, 2010 8:56pm

If this is a "defense" of Phil Collins I'd hate to hear a put-down. The point you're essentially making is that aside from working on some interesting stuff by other artists in the 70's, and "In the Air Tonight," everything he ever did was crap. How is that a defense? Also, I would advise that you try to simplify your writing style to make your points more effectively. This piece is hard to follow and comes off as pretentious. As Tony Badgers says, this makes little sense gramatically or philosophically.

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Matt lindsay
May 28, 2010 5:11am

In reply to Moderoy:

Funny- didn't think it was pretentious at all. Unless intelligent writing with an attention to interesting details and a sensitive yet objective approach has suddenly come to mean pretension. This is how music writing should be . Well done.

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Tone Loki
May 28, 2010 9:47am

An excellent read, and nice to see a serious discussion about the most defining of 1980s production techniques - gated reverb - AKA The Cocaine Snare. I'd like to add "Against All Odds" to his list of triumphs. Everything else is Nonce Sense.

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Simon (Another One)
May 28, 2010 12:02pm

Defence or roast aside, I can't remember when I last read such a piece of pretentious, smug nonsense. Everything that's wrong in music journalism today. Once again, the reviewer perceives himself above all that he reviews from his golden throne. Sickening elitism.

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John Doran
May 28, 2010 1:33pm

In reply to Simon (Another One):

Do you know what pretentious means? Serious question. Perhaps you'd be happier over at MSN or Yahoo's music sites? I personally don't want to employ writers who are kow towing to the 'almighty' talent of the journalist. And given that he's probably the first journalist in living memory who has been kind to Collins how can he possibly talking down to the musician.

Oh hang on, you're talking out of your hoop aren't you? Get back to Q, dad.

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May 28, 2010 1:44pm

Yeah, I can certainly tell that Phil Collins was a great influence for PIL.

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May 28, 2010 2:30pm

"Pretentious: expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance." (Merriam-Webster). That's what the word means, and that's what this article is. Perhaps an even better word for it is convoluted. Do you know what that means John Doran? It means it's all over the place and it doesn't make sense. I've read and enjoyed many works by James Joyce and William Faulkner, but darned if I can figure out what Mr. Mills is talking about half the time. And again, contrary to the title, this is hardly a defense of Mr. Collins. Strike 3.

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John Doran
May 28, 2010 2:48pm

In reply to Moderoy:

Quoting from the Merriam-Webster dictionary; a true sign of a dilletantish idiot.

If you find this article more convoluted than The Sound and the Fury or Finnegan's Wake, then I'm not really sure what to say to you. Perhaps put down the bong or wait til your hangover's cleared before reading something more taxing than The Express perhaps?

I'm not particularly clever and I understood it. Not as clever as someone who goes round telling strangers which 'difficult' books he's read to prove how super-brained he is anyway.

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May 28, 2010 3:08pm

Using the word "dilletantish" ... a true sign of someone who sucks.

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May 28, 2010 3:25pm

Mr. Doran, let's agree to disagree on the quality of the writing. Consider the following quotes from the article:

"To say that Collins' ingenuity as a solo artist began and ended inside three minutes and within one song may seem a little unfair, though in reality that's almost how it panned out."

"...when out on his own, Collins flailed in terms of innovation yet found the mining of a particularly corporate-friendly songwriting skidmark irresistibly attractive."

"Collins likewise headed unblinking into the mainstream, and kissed goodbye to any trace of creative eminence that his nascent solo career had thus far afforded him..."

"The hits just piled up, only to become increasingly forgettable and trivial, whilst the Collins of the mid-to-late 1980s was a ubiquitous, vapid yet outrageously profitable disappointment."

How can you possibly say this is a defense of Phil Collins? What the article is really saying is that Phil worked as a session man with some really cool people like Eno, Gabriel and Fripp, and he wrote one good song, and everything else he did was nonsense.

This is a perfect example of why this article doesn't make sense. Mr. Mills tells us he's going to throw us a parade but then goes and sprays acid in our faces. The article essentially refutes itself.

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John Doran
May 28, 2010 4:06pm

In reply to Moderoy:

You disagree. Ok fine. You're purposefully misreading what he's said but that's your right.

I don't have a problem with that. It's the pretentiousness and convolutedness that I need you to outline for me. Like, for example, what is so hard to understand about those sentences that you've quoted... unless you happen to be a member of a brain injury support group that is.

I don't want to point out the bloody obvious but there is no way we would let anyone say that 'Sussudio' was a good song. It patently isn't. You use "session" musician as a diss showing yourself up to be a bit of a dunderhead. Miles Davis used session musicians on a lot of his albums, as did James Brown, as did John Lydon in PiL, and as did Brian Eno. Phil Collins being one of them.

Do you see the point we're making or are you still pretending to not understand the article?

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May 28, 2010 6:04pm

Right from the start we have problems: "In his first piece for the Quietus, Gary Mills hits the ground running with a one-man Dunkirk-style rescue mission for the sake of the reputation for drumming Tory homunculus Phil Collins." It should be: "...a one-man Dunkirk-style mission to rescue the reputation of drumming Tory homunculus Phil Collins." One is convoluted and grammatically wrong, the other is clearly-stated and grammatically correct.

Here's another one: "An ever more guarded Collins has repeatedly and strenuously refuted both allegations, but the argument of whether or not he pioneered the 'gated reverb' drum sound that became his trademark is a subject he'd no doubt prefer to focus on, and it's a pointer towards a rarely acknowledged altruistic musicality." The final phrase, "and it's a pointer" is awkward at best. It should read "which points to." But the entire statement makes no sense anyway. If he'd rather focus on whether or not he gets credit for gated reverb, why does would this demonstrate an "altruistic musicality." And isn't there surely a simpler way to say that he's generous with his drumming chops than "altuistic musicality" anyway? That's an example of the pretentiousness I'm talking about.

How about this one: "Given only marginally different career circumstances, Banks & Rutherford would have been equally at home with the cultivated precision of the dental practice they occasionally seemed destined to oversee, and despite possessing an abundance of technique and technology, they only coaxed all the wrong sounds from the hardware at their disposal in this life." That's just rambling. Do I have to start charging for the writing workshop?

You say that I use session musician as a diss. That couldn't be further from the truth. Obviously there are countless legendary session musicians, from jazz to Nashville to Motown to rock and everywhere in between. But here's what is a diss: to say that you're writing a defense of someone who is known primarily as a solo artist, songwriter, and the lead singer/drummer of a legendary rock band, and then to follow through with "well, he played on a couple Brian Eno records, and everybody knows Eno is cool, so Phil at least did something worthwhile." That's more of an attack than a defense. What about his first two solo albums? And what about all his contributions to Genesis?

And who are you to say that a song is definitively, objectively bad? I guess "that's a pointer to" the underlying arrogance that prevents you from seeing another viewpoint or accepting constructive criticism.

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John Doran
May 28, 2010 6:31pm

In reply to Moderoy:

So the best you can do is an attack on the standfirst... which he obviously didn't write. I wouldn't start charging people for writing tips just yet.

Like I say to everyone who rocks up here whinging: submit some writing for us if you feel you can do better. Mr Hard Boiled, I've Read James Joyce Prose.

Have a good weekend.

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May 28, 2010 9:56pm

In reply to John Doran:

Fair enough, John. And please let me add that I am not trying to disrespect Mr. Mills. He's obviously a very capable writer with a strong musical background. Perhaps I will submit a written piece of my own so jerks like me can rip it a new one.

Nah, probably not. It's a lot easier being a critic.

Enjoy your weekend as well.

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Johnny Nothing
May 29, 2010 6:59pm

Guys, can you take it outside? There's people trying to read music criticism in here. Yes, the piece was a little awkward in places but plenty of connections that were new to me.

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John Doran
May 29, 2010 7:06pm

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

I think we've drawn a line under it in a fairly gentlemanly fashion! Plus the fact I'm not going to fight him for two very good reasons. One, I can't and won't fight. And two, I have a music criticism site to run... i.e. this one. If I leave Turner on his own, he will go ahead with the long threatened Neubauten week in my absence.

I promise I'll take a valium just before we publish the in defence of Mike Oldfield feature and our very, serious, unironic, in depth interview with 10cc coming soon.

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Brother Grimm
May 29, 2010 8:49pm

you guys made me listen to 'i missed again'

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Matt Lindsay
May 30, 2010 3:58pm

In reply to John Doran:

Hope this 10cc interview isn't a joke! been recently getting into them , takes a few spins to get into them but Sheet Music is dazzling; steely dan re-imagined by monty python fronted by Mcartney with a bit of early Roxy weirdness thrown in for good measure . Speaking of 'Measure' definately think Field Music have been playing 10cc as the Worst Band In The World sounds distinctly like one of their recent tracks.

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John Doran
May 30, 2010 4:58pm

In reply to Matt Lindsay:

No joke. We've got mainly warm feelings toward the band and the mighty Joe Stannard will be interviewing Kevin Godley, fingers crossed. There are a lot of really good Quietus-type bands such as Washed Out, Gayngs, Toro Y Moi etc who owe them a great deal.

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John Doran
May 31, 2010 1:10pm

In reply to John Doran:

I'm sorry, I just accidentally deleted someone's post while updating the site. Apologies.

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Jun 1, 2010 8:18pm

In reply to John Doran:

Don't worry, I'm sure Moderoy won't take it personally. Either that, or he'll give you a 10,000 word dissertation as to why he does...

Anyway, good article, in that it makes you think differently about something taken for granted (i.e. that Phil Collins is shit). I do, however, feel somewhat dirty, in that due to the entertaining distractions of these comments, I have now listened to 'In the Air Tonight' in its entirety for the first time in a decade... :S

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Jun 1, 2010 9:09pm

What awful writing. Wanted to read this, but such bad prose styling...

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Jun 3, 2010 5:23am

In reply to ugh:

I liked the article. Good points, well made. I didn't have any problem with the prose style. It's over the top and kind of full of itself, but in a good way! As a bonus, it made me pull out my old Eno albums. Win-win!

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Jun 30, 2010 11:23am

This article failed to explicitly recognise that Phil Collins has written some pretty catchy pop hooks in his time. People liked his songs at the time of their release. Sure, the public were subject to Virgin Record's best-effort publicity to ensure we did so, but there is no denying those tunes struck some kind of Zeitgeist chord. Personally, I think his best pop-song ideas were fed into the 80's Genesis hit song machine, rather than his own solo career.

Focusing on his solo output, I'd suggest that is more the blandly obvious musical arrangements and syrupy (over)production/mixing of many of his solo singles that, in retrospect, make for such a dire sounding and derided pop legacy. Last year's high fashion always looks the ugliest today (the best you can hope for is that the passage of time is kind, and our culture elevates it to high art). Yes, Phil Collins pooped out what we now consider to be some pretty ghastly songs.

I listened to a chronologically ordered Phil Collins singles collection CD the other day, expecting to kinda enjoy it in a "classic hits" sort of way. Alas, it started out sounding annoying, and became increasingly unlistenable as the 80s progressed and moved turgidly into the early 90s. The songs became more and more like baby food - devoid of any solids to go with the flavour. At least the Genesis singles from the same period remain fun and/or interesting to listen to some 20 years later (ie:I'm thinking in particular of the Genesis/Invisible Touch-albums era). Alas, oh-so-many mid-80's songs are rendered almost unlistenable today by THAT drum sound that is too loud, too gated, too obvious for this, our 21st century. Thanks for that, Phil.

As an aside, you never noted that Phil Collins guested as drummer on perhaps the two most interesting tracks on Mike Oldfield's 1980 album, QE2. He plays on the 12 minute Taurus, and on the "pop-song" Sheba. I single out Sheba for special attention because it is a catchy "song" even if it is devoid of real lyrics. Nevertheless, it lights the path to Oldfield's considerable singles success over the next couple of years:

(i) Hall & Oats '84 cover of Oldfield's '82 song Family Man (from the awesome Five Miles Out album) went Top 5 in USA. Yes, Daryl Hall. Who'd have though that was ever going to happen? Oldfield's version is superior, of course (unless you are American and of a certain age), and features some great first-of-its-kind Fairlight CMI work.

(ii) Oldfield's own Moonlight Shadow from 83's Crises album featured a sublime vocal by Maggie Reilly, and was a huge hit single worldwide. It topped sales and radio charts in many countries with it's wonderful folk-rock groove, enigmatic lyrics and firey electric guitar solo. The incredible Simon Phillips played drums.

(iii) 83's heavy folk-metal Shadow on the Wall (with raw rock vocals by ex-Family singer Roger Chapman), and 84's To France (again with Maggie Reilly, in a song about Mary Queen of Scots).

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Jul 1, 2010 7:41pm

Bloody hell! This twit's writing style is just awful. 2-bit poetry. Stop trying so hard!

While I'm not going to say that Genesis wasn't ruined due to the rancid taste of Collins' pop star romance, They did evolve which is always pleasant to see - for better or worse.

P.S. "Land of Confusion:" worst - recording - ever.

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Jul 5, 2010 1:32pm

In reply to John Doran:

Did you say Neubauten week? Yes please.....besides with all this debating dont you deserve a week off?

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sickly beggs
Jul 14, 2010 11:04am

Almost as good as Patrick Batemans critique in American Psycho

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Jul 15, 2010 3:02am

When Phil Collins released his third solo album, NO JACKET REQUIRED, which in 1985 rose to number one on the charts in both the United States and in England, he was quietly revolutionizing and expanding the role of the drums in pop record making. Collins used the drums not merely to supply a backbeat or to provide an atmospheric dance pulse but as a crucial psychological ingredient of popular music. At a time when pop was dominated by impersonal, computerized rhythms, Collins' ingenious mixtures of synthesized and nonsynthesized drums revealed a refreshingly individual point of view.

Phil Collins' career is an unusual example of a band member's solo records becoming much more popular than those made with his group. Several years after joining Genesis in 1970, the young drummer became the group's lead singer, following the departure of Peter Gabriel. Under his increased influence, Genesis' quasi-symphonic, allegorical bombast gave way to leaner, more tuneful, trickily syncopated rock that reversed the group's sagging commercial fortunes.

But however much he may have influenced Genesis, Collins, by himself, was a far more distinct and compelling musical personality. On his solo albums and, to varying degrees as a producer for Eric Clapton, Philip Bailey and others, Collins defined a new relationship between rock rhythm, singing and songwriting, in which expanded, shifting, multicolored drum textures determined the music's emotional as well its rhythmic climate. Especially on his own solo albums, varying drum and percussion configurations are amplified and subdued, phased and echoed into a continual and ever-changing heartbeat. Electronic clattering drum rolls that alternate between left and right speakers block songs into miniature dramatic scenes. At the same time, subtler rhythmic underpinnings may suggest a contradictory subtext for a particular scenario.

As both a songwriter and an instrumentalist, Collins was especially adept at sustaining a mood of suspense, often heavily tinged with menace. His shadowy song lyrics are suffused with lurking suspicion, dread and the suggestion of passions so pent-up they could explode violently, though they never do. "In the Air Tonight," Collins' first major hit, in 1981, evoked a high gloss horror movie. With drum rolls reminiscent of distant rattling thunder punctuating a hushed, tensed vocal line, one could imagine the singer crouched and sweating in the bushes, ready to confront some unnamed terror. The same waiting-with-bated-breath aura, elevated to an operatic romantic level, also haunted Collins' title song for the movie '"Against All Odds.'"

In the process of becoming 1980s pop music's master of sophisticated suspense, Collins forged an odd but powerful mating of English art-rock and American pop-soul. In 1982, his hit version of the Supremes' 1965 hit, "You Can't Hurry Love," transformed a wistfully ebullient expression of adolescent longing into the slightly creepy "Psycho"-like monologue of a mama's boy. NO JACKET REQUIRED contains many echoes of Motown, twisted into ambiguous psychological resonances. "Only You Know and I Know," whose tune recalls "Dancing in the Streets," is an angry love song in which an amplifed, hollowed, electronically tricked-up version of a Motown dance groove evokes an emotional storm battering the singer from within. "Who Said I Would" and "I Don't Wanna Know" also invert joyful pop-soul motifs into expressions of exacerbated anxiety.

In "One More Night," one of Collins' number one hits from the album, a ticking snare drum injects a whisper of lurking fear into a song that suggests a sweeter, tenderer reprise of "Against All Odds." And in the impassioned "Don't Lose My Number," the singer offers solace to a criminal suspect-turned-fugitive. Like many of Collins' songs, "Don't Lose My Number" is defiantly vague, sketching the outlines of a melodrama but withholding the full story. The album's final song, "Take Me Home," is another interior monologue, in which the protagonist may or may not be a discharged mental patient. "I've been a prisoner all my life," he sings. "They can turn off my feeling like they're turning off my light, but I don't mind." The singer wants only to be taken home "because I don't remember."

Collins' astringent voice, with its petulant undertones and grim, wound-up edge is as important as the drums in sustaining a mood of dramatic suspense. And by double-tracking and electronically phasing the vocals, Collins and his producer Hugh Padgham, accentuated the sense in his singing of ominous psychological submergence.

On the surface, NO JACKET REQUIRED was an album bursting with soulful hooks and bright peppy tunes. But beneath its shiny exterior, Collins' drums and his voice carry on a disjunctive, enigmatic dialogue between heart and mind, obsession and repression. The jacket that the album title assures us is not required may not be a tuxedo but a straitjacket.

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Jul 15, 2010 9:55am

This could be read out loud in 18th Century attire with the voice of Brian Sewell! Can you do one about Rutherford? He's my fav.

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Jul 15, 2010 4:51pm

i haven't read the piece. i read the title and laughed so hard i went blind

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Jul 15, 2010 6:48pm

It's easy enough to defend him: he's a good drummer, who became a solo superstar in the 1980s. His songs hold up relatively well but his sound has become hideously dated over time. But there's nothing really to be ashamed of.

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Marshall Williamson
Jul 15, 2010 7:55pm

I agree with most of the article. From 1970 through the early 80s, Collins was a remarkable musician and innovator. But (and this is a quote from the article):

"by the time of 1989's ...But Seriously album, it had become utterly impossible to reconcile the worldwide lowest common denominator megastardom Collins with the hepcat beat merchant that graced a key cache of vital pioneering UK rock recordings over the previous decade. Indeed, for many the contemporary incarnation's immovable weight rendered the discovery of his credit on those early albums as something of a queasy letdown: it couldn't be that Phil Collins, could it?"

Yes, it could, and it was.

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Jul 15, 2010 9:11pm

"Invisible Touch" is a flawed, dated album, but there are still some excellent songs on it; plus "Genesis" is a fantastic album that sounds great (not too generic 80's sounding).

Phil Collins was a great talent who was guilty of following the money too far and too long. It is hard to blame him for that.

Not that he doesn't necessarily deserve some criticism, but I don't think his later work should change the fact that he is a brilliant musician and has done plenty of great things too.

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Jul 15, 2010 10:28pm

I don't understand the need to defend or bash someone, but I guess that's what critics do.
Anyhow, check out his playing on Brand X's "Moroccon Roll", "Unorthodox Behaviour", and the live album "Livestock." Great drumming, and some of the best recorded drum sounds I've ever heard.

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Jul 16, 2010 12:12am

Phil's an artist, like Billy Joel, that always catches heat for being so darn popular. Of course, Billy did not play on any Eno albums.

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Don Dixon
Jul 16, 2010 12:37am

I've never understood the negativity against Phil Collins. I like his work in Genesis and some of his music in the 80s and beyond but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. For some reason he seems to get these very negative comments.

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fred wilkens
Jul 16, 2010 1:42am

I think he was alright up to "...But Seriously" - that album contained some pretty good tracks. He lost the plot thereafter when he obviously considered himself "rock royalty" and also lost his commercial foothold too. His main crime is being the unfashionable side of the eighties scene (in the way of image), he will never be 'credible' no matter what he does, and as the song says he might as well just please himself!

People miss when he is really is/was actually very good indeed (If Leaving Me Is Easy, for example, which I don't care what anyone says is real SOUL) because the over-riding image they have of is of this unglamorous monied slaphead who at one time seemed to be playing on everybody else's music too - strange how the effects of overkill are still prevalent 20 years later.

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Jul 16, 2010 2:46am

Back in 1990???? I had the pleasure of attending the "Seriously Live" tour at a concert at the old Forum in Montreal. At 2 Hours and 45 minutes, having the EWF Horn Section, and being in center aisle 25 rows back - made this my most enjoyable concert by a longshot!!!
I also must say that musically AFTER that - I lost touch with where Phil was going.

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Jul 16, 2010 7:37pm

Phil Collins is an excellent drummer. His drumming with Genesis, both live and in the studio, was a major part of the band's sound and Genesis would never have been as good as they were without. Apart from that, his contributionns to solo albums by Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel were very inventive and helped lift the albums to another level. And finally, his 80s solo work isn't as bad as a lot of people claim it to be. Although everything people remember is irritating, dated singles such as "Sussudio", "Two Hearts" and "Groovy Kind of Love", there's a lot of good music in there, most notably on "Face Value" and "But Seriously".

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Jul 16, 2010 8:36pm

I'll just come right out and say it. Against All Odds puts a lump in my throat.

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Jul 17, 2010 2:08am

I'll just come right out and say it. I LOVE BIG REVERSE-GATED DRUMS.

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Jul 19, 2010 1:39pm

Poor Phil needs a flak jacket after that. I thought that it was supposed to be in defence of him according to the title, but it seems that you've done a real hatchet job under false pretences instead. Anyhow I like the bloke, best with Genesis for sure, and can't wait for the next reunion gig, I'll be there!

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Jul 22, 2010 2:39am

It's nice to see some genuine defenses of Phil Collins in the comments section here. I think many of these "commentators" (is that the word?) are right. The way I see it, the actual problem with Phil Collins is not really his music or his physical appearance, it's the fact that between circa 1985 and 1993 he was so damn overplayed, overexposed to an unusually high degree. The public got saturated. If I were him, I would've semi-retired from the music business around 1986 or so, or at least told my record company and management and all the radio station programmers, "Right. Stop promoting me, ya bastards. I already got enough fucking money. People are going to be calling me the Antichrist of Music in five years or so if you keep this shit up." But I just think it's a bit odd how, judging from what newspapers and magazines and record buyers and critics were saying at the time, everybody liked or at least respected Collins through most of the '80s, and then this state of affairs was almost completely reversed in the following decade. But yeah, Collins' main crime was being everywhere for too long. He was an easy target and mainstream symbol of an era just waiting to get shot down by the next generation. His output for many years was quite good, though of course he was never a particularly edgy personality on or off stage, and was never quite the fearless, eccentric artist like Peter Gabriel (who always maintained in interviews that he respected Collins as "an immensely talented natural musician who can pick up just about any instrument and make it sound good"). Of course, Collins' musical vision did get stuck in the bland, boring, middle-of-the-road side of things permanently after that last Genesis album in the early '90s. But the same is true of most artists--they start out strong and fresh and innovative, mellow out and soften as the years go by. So, in conclusion, I will never hate or stop appreciating Phil Collins as the incredibly talented musician and hard worker that he was/is, despite the "fact" that perhaps a few of his most overplayed songs are irritating. And it was never his goal to be the epitome of mainstream or commercial music--he just couldn't really write obscure, mystical prog rock songs. His style was short, simple, and emotionally direct, and he just went with it, whether people liked it or not. The Collins bashers have a couple of somewhat valid points, but most of the hate and criticism is based on misconceptions.

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Jul 28, 2010 2:35am

Phil Collins should not merely be defended, he should be awarded multiple gold medals for helping to lift Genesis out of the pretentious, bombastic, self-indulgent mire of progressive rock. Today, virtually everyone praises those '70s albums as being oh-so-great and innovative and influential, but reduced to essentials, Genesis' 70s-era music is a pastiche of doodlings and ideas that is buried in a busy and cluttered sound.
A clear melody escapes every tune. The one musical construction idea is to modulate from one chord to its most unfamiliar neighbor and from one key to its most distant relative in a pretentious effort to effect celestiality. Not exactly the stuff of Whistlin' Dixie.
Worse, this grandiose riffing never blends to create musical movement---that sense of going somewhere melodically. It simply rambles on in an undisciplined and self-centered dallying. During the same time period that Genesis was still wanking around with this sort of pomp, the more concise and rhythmically animated "art-rock" of bands like Talking Heads should have been seriously putting Messrs. Banks, Collins, and Rutherford to shame.
By performing exclusively in what is now commonly termed the "prog rock" style, Genesis would not have been able to expand past its melodic and rhythmic limitations. They would have been doomed to technical achievements only, forever demonstrating the limited wares of a limited medium. Thank goodness they did decide to make a signifcant shift in musical style, circa 1980.

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Nov 1, 2010 8:56am

When seeing Genesis classics like "The Knife", and "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" there would have been very few at the time they were released who would even consider (and he may not have considered it himself) that the bearded long haired drummer would go on to have a long term career as a clean-cut mainstream Top-40 pop singer.

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Jul 3, 2013 4:11pm

In reply to Moderoy:

My thoughts exactly.

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Bob Hamel
Sep 26, 2013 12:18am

No Jacket Required was my first cassette. I love every song.

I think Collins could be described as a "chops" kinda guy. Not so interested in crooning that he would feel the need to innovate, and break new ground. Ultimately, the guy enjoyed playing the kit, and that's where his real joy of music lied.

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chris ML
Nov 5, 2013 1:12pm

Timely piece. I am not a huge fan of those solo albums but as drummer myself I would say this.....

The guy was an absolutely phenomenal drummer. A REALLY great musician. Taste, groove, technique, power, precision....the lot. He also was able to get a great drum sound when others appeared to be recording with cardboard boxes. I would put him in the top 5 rock drummers of all time...maybe top 3.

The gated reverb sound on pater gabriel 3 is often cited. I would say the explosive drum sound on 'Trick of the Tail' is equally landmark (listen to Squonk). 'Suppers Ready' may was described by Gabriel as 'The book of apocalypse played out in the Home Counties'. I mainly hear some truly devilish beats - the groove on 'sanctuary man' would have made Bernard Purdey proud.

And there guy sung....and wrote songs...and produced. If we leave the acting i would say 'well done sir!'.

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Jul 10, 2014 4:47pm

In reply to chris ML:

Phil is one of the greatest drummers ever. Fact. His solo stuff can be repetitive and bland however, have a listen to some of that rock royalty heavyweight Bowie in his later years. It's dire. Yet he still has the sun shining out of his anus according to critics. PHIL COLLINS I SALUTE YOU. 'Dance into the Light' was crap though mate...

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Jan 14, 2015 5:18pm

Missing in this is the fact that he contributed some very strong pop songs to Genesis in the 80s including classics like "Mama", "That's All", "In too Deep".

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Adam Mason
Oct 30, 2015 4:36pm

In reply to Moderoy:

I think you are spot on there, Mr Moderoy. Very succinct - unlike the article.

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Clark Gwent
Oct 21, 2016 3:18pm

People who praise Phil Collins for his drumming are like people who praise Thatcher for being a strong leader.

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Hannes Minkema
Sep 16, 2017 9:49pm

Not sure of what you wanted to show off, but please, next time, try practice some plain English.

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