It's time to continue on with the Genesis theme this week with Phil Collins' seminal debut record Face Value from 1981.
Collins' first solo effort is a reflection of the times he was living through and represents a much more personal album than anything he did with Genesis up to that point. It came at a time when he had failed to save his first marriage to Andrea Bertorelli and he had started writing his own songs in his spare time. What followed is undoubtedly one of the most varied and solid debut albums of all time.
There's arguably no finer opening song in music history than In The Air Tonight, not least thanks to its pioneering gated reverb drums that soundtracks most of the song. It's one of the songs that Collins offered to bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks for the Duke album, although it got left as it was deemed "too simple.". To be honest, I'm glad it didn't end up on Duke as it suits the rawness and personal touches of Face Value much better. There's something wonderfully sinister about In The Air Tonight that makes it a proper standout and the signature drum solo has to be its best moment. With Collins being a prog drummer at heart, it's a great exhibition of how a two-parter song works after that fill. The following This Must Be Love is much more Collins-solo than its predecessor, being helped along by a mellow backing of piano and percussion. It's a great preview of what the Genesis frontman's solo career would turn into with such a smooth sound and different direction to Genesis.
However, Face Value isn't without its Genesis touches, largely thanks to a reworking of Duke's Behind The Lines. Whilst the original is a classic soaring soundscape, this version offers a Michael Jackson Off The Wall-era funk vibe that the Genesis version obviously lacks.
This new version came around when Collins played the original Duke version backwards and a double speed, which gave the perfect grounding to build on. If I'm being brutally honest, as much as I love the original, this particular version just takes the biscuit - its groovy nature certainly means it's a real foot-tapper. What's more, with the horn section of Earth, Wind & Fire being involved (the Phenix Horns), it just adds a certain something. The Roof Is Leaking offers perhaps one of Collins' more underrated tracks. It demonstrates a versatility that you don't get from many Genesis tracks, swaying into country and blues spheres more than anything else. Moreover, it's not your typical country tune, thanks to the atmosphere created by the crickets at the beginning and the cold aura that the song portrays. Eric Clapton's fingerpicking guitar work makes for great listening, as does the story that Collins tells of a man in a poor family striving for the best even though he's living a very poor life.
Hand In Hand is Face Value's second instrumental but arguably its best, making great use of the Phenix Horns and Collins' stellar drumming ability to provide something that's undoubtedly engaging. You could argue that it portrays Collins as an instrumentalist first and a singer second with it being one of the best tracks that Face Value has to offer. Regardless though, Hand In Hand is definitely one of Collins' classics. I Missed Again once again builds a track around the Phenix Horns with an uptempo and smooth R&B sound. Despite its upbeat sound, it deals, much like a lot of Face Value, with his anger and frustration at the departure of his first wife. I've always had a soft spot for this particular track as in another life, this could've been part of Abacab for Genesis, and I've always compared this to long-forgotten B-Side Paperlate or the likes of No Reply At All. I Missed Again predates these two by two years and just demonstrates the value of a horn section perfectly.
Face Value finishes with the combo of If Leaving Me Is Easy and a cover of The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows. The former is a sad ballad that strips most things back, leaving just Collins and the horn section with some light piano sprinklings. It's one of the more emotional offerings on this particular record marking out a sensitivity that remained unexplored before this album's release. Face Value's swansong comes with a well-worked cover of Tomorrow Never Knows, one of The Beatles' most under-appreciated tunes. The release of this record came at the time of the death of John Lennon and this cover acts as a love letter to not just Lennon, but the entire band. It's a bit more sinister than The Beatles' original but still retains the same polish and one nice little touch is the hidden track of Collins singing Over The Rainbow after its ending.
Face Value definitely is one of the best debut records of the last century. It's so far removed from the rest of Collins' repertoire at the time, be it with Genesis or Brand X, that even after nearly forty years, it still sounds as fresh as it did on release. There's always something new to find on Face Value with every listen and it's still an album that never fails to amaze.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/37eECBv
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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