Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can You Face The Value? AKA Never Trust A Turkish Soothsayer

You mean to tell me there's a whole album ... after "In The Air Tonight"? That's like when I found out there was a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. You mean there's stuff that happens after Dave travels beyond the infinite, ages a thousand years in a meticulously clean bedroom, and morphs into a giant space baby? To this day, I still haven't seen 2010, but maybe I should. I'm up for anything with Roy Scheider in it.

My point is, after the opening track, Phil didn't just impale himself on a Pez dispenser and end it all. No, he managed to face another day - several, in fact. But if you're thinking the rest of Face Value couldn't possibly outdo the opening track, well ... you'd be right. Still, I discovered some goodies.

On his solo debut, Phil threw all the rules out the window. See, what happened is that he didn't realize his solo career was going to become bigger than Genesis, so at this stage I think he was treating Face Value like a vanity project, an album where you do all the shit your band mates usually tell you not to do. Like mess with an actual Genesis song! While recording "Behind the Lines" for Duke, somebody played the tape back at double speed, and Phil thought, "Heh. This kind of sounds like a Michael Jackson song! I think I'm going to add some horns to it and put a re-make on my solo album!" Listen, a lot of things sound like a lot of things if you play them back at double speed. However, even though he did something stupid, it came out ... kind of awesome!

Witness the end of Side 1, where he dicks around with a couple of moody instrumentals. "Droned" sounds like one of Peter Gabriel's pseudo-African tone poem doo-dads, with Phil playing the drums with his own bare hands a la John Bonham's solo in "Moby Dick," except with some arguably tasteless "Oom-daka-daka-doom" chanting thrown in for good measure. But then it segues directly into another instrumental, "Hand in Hand," which sounds about as artistically credible as "Droned" for the first minute and thirty seconds, with some odd drum machine gurgling, another unexpectedly jarring (and human) drum entrance, and what sounds like eerily happy school children faintly singing "la la la." Then at 1:35, the Earth, Wind & Fire horns come in and immediately defecate over the entire track. I'm sitting here thinking, "Man, this could be Talking Heads with Eno right here," and then suddenly I realize, "Nope, wait, it's just Phil Collins doing the shitty horn thing again."

Then we've got the sad bastard ballads, the proto-"Against All Odds" numbers, if you will. He really lays it into his ex on "You Know What I Mean," unfortunately not a cover of Lee Michael's blue-eyed soul '70s hit:
Just as I thought I'd make it
You walk back into my life
Just like you never left

Just as I'd learned to be lonely
You call up to tell me
You're not sure if you're ready
But ready or not, you'll take what you've got and leave

Leave me alone with my heart
I'm putting the pieces back together again
Just leave, leave me alone with my dreams
I can do without you, know what I mean?

I wish I could write a love song
To show you the way I feel
Seems you don't like to listen
Oh but like it or not, take what you've got and leave

Leave me alone with my heart
It's broken in two and I'm not thinking too straight
Just leave, leave me alone with my dreams
You've taken everything else, you know what I mean?

Hey bitch, get off his back, all right? The guy's got a band and a solo career to juggle, he doesn't need your shit. "If Leaving Me Is Easy," which was actually a hit single in the UK, starts out like kind of like a snoozefest (even with Eric Clapton apparently on guitar, not that you can tell), but Phil transforms it into something distinctive (and unintentionally comical?) at the three minute mark by recording multi-tracked harmonies after (presumably) inhaling an entire tank of helium. Extra points for the random jazzy cello-and-violin bursts as well. What is he now, Frank Sinatra? "Hey get those broads ovah here and put some ring-a-ding-ding on that drum track, wouldja doll?"

Then without warning, in the middle of all this mopey Divorce Rock, he throws in a bouncy, jaunty, concise little McCartneyesque music hall number, "I'm Not Moving." Did the record label accidentally mix up the Face Value master tapes with a Split Enz outtake?

Then we get "Irish Potato Famine" Phil, with "The Roof Is Leaking," his attempt at a historical folk ballad a la The Band. What is this, Fiddler On The Roof?
The roof is leaking and the wind is howling
Kids are crying 'cos the sheets are so cold
I woke this morning found my hands were frozen
I've tried to fix the fire, but you know the damn thing's too old

It's been months now, since we heard from our Mary
I wonder if she ever made the coast
She and her young man, they both moved out there
But I sure hope they write, just to let us know

And me, I'm getting stronger by the minute
My wife's expecting, but I hope she can wait
'Cos this winter looks like it's gonna be another bad one
But Spring'll soon be here,
Oh God I hope it's not late

Ma and Pa lived here, and theirs before them
Tried their hardest to make it a home
Seems so long now since they passed over
Hope my children'll try to make it their own

So this was the inspiration for An American Tail. You know, correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like this couple picked a bad time to have a baby. Also, maybe there are some semantic differences between British and American English here, but can a fire become "old"? Sounds like a rhyming fail.

Oh yeah, before I forget, there's even a semi-optimistic ode to his bounce-back girlfriend, "This Must Be Love," which, as Wikipedia helpfully points out, "focused on Collins' then new romance at the time with Jill Tavelman, who would be his second wife (and second divorce)." You can't blame a man for trying.

Of course, the only way to bring your soul-baring divorce album to a proper close ... is with a cover of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." Yes, that "Tomorrow Never Knows." You know, the one where John Lennon quoted that Timothy Leary book that was based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead? The one with all the swirling psychedelic tape loops and surreal studio effects that make it sound like you're being attacked by demonic sea gulls? The one that closes Revolver? This could only mean one thing: Face Value = Revolver. I mean, they both close with the same song. Science!

Phil could've saved his cover of "Tomorrow Never Knows" for a fun B-side, but at the end of the album? What. The. Fuck. Now, there are two things you could do with a cover of "Tomorrow Never Knows": 1) You could try to do an extremely faithful recreation (like Phil would shortly do with "You Can't Hurry Love"), or 2) You could make a radical re-interpretation that doesn't sound anything like the original. I feel like Phil did neither. His version sounds only slightly different from the original, but not different enough. It's like one of those Tim Burton re-makes. On the other hand, he did tack an extremely faint a cappella rendition of "Over The Rainbow" onto the end, which may or may not have been the world's most bizarre tribute to John Lennon.

At any rate, it turns out the most uninteresting aspect of Phil Collins' first solo album is its title. Or is it? From In The Air Tonight:
I was on holiday, visiting an ancient market in Istanbul, when I strolled past a colorful soothsayer's table. "You! Come closer!" A shriveled old man pointed his crooked finger at me. He wore a burgundy cloak over his head, and silver beads down his chest. As I leaned in, his tiny eyes expanded beneath the folds of skin. "Yes, I believe ... do you know who you are?"

"Um, Phil Collins? You ... want an autograph?"

He didn't seem to understand. "Why yes, it must be ..." He ran and brought another elderly fellow from the next booth over to confirm his suspicions. "Your face ... is it remarkable. I believe you are none other than the reincarnation of Assyrian emperor Ulutulu III!"

"I am?"

"Yes! There is no mistaking it! Thousands have been waiting for a replica of these very features!"

"Well ... what do you think I should do?"

"Sir, a proposal. For only $200 dollars, I make five casts of your face. I sell these five exclusive casts on the Turkish black market for $5,000 each. The value of these artifacts ... cannot be overstated!"

I thought about it for a second. "Hold on, let me call my manager."

I scrambled back to my hotel room. I got Walt on the phone, who sounded skeptical, but he couldn't shake my enthusiasm. His only suggestion was that I write up a short legal contract, to guarantee that I would receive a fair amount of proceeds from the lucrative sales. As I drafted the document, Rot Rot poked his furry little head out from under a basket of clothes.

"This merchant sounds like a swindler, like a con man," my hedgehog pal opined. "I wouldn't trust him with my belt buckle."

"Now listen! I've spent my whole life being told that I'm plain-looking, that I've got this omnipresent 'smirk,' that I look like a hobbit with a birth defect, etc. etc. Finally someone is telling me that my face has valueValue, Rot Rot. Now don't you try to crush my dreams."

I raced my way back to the market. The old man took me into a khaki tent, laid me down into a chair, and proceeded to place a sticky plaster onto my profile. The room smelled of moldy turnips and hashish. He made five casts, all the while regaling me with fantastical stories of Ulutulu III, who, frankly, did sound a lot like me. An owl gazed at us from his cage in the corner. "Oh, and one more thing," he said as he peeled away the material. "In order for casts to reach full value, you must record re-make of 'Tomorrow Never Knows'." When the merchant finished up, I gave him $200 and told him I would call him in a month to claim my piece of the earnings. He bowed graciously and wished me well.

We'd just finished a show in Auckland when Mike asked me, "Hey, whatever happened to that Turkish guy who claimed he was going to make a fortune off your face?" "Oh yeah!" I'd practically forgotten all about it. I spent hours on the phone, arguing with the Turkish police, the local customs agent, even a pair of underage concubines, until I finally recognized the voice of the merchant on the other line.

"Well? How much did they go for?"

"Ahhh, yes. Mistake made, I am sorry. You are reincarnation of Ulutulu II, not Ulutulu III. Not nearly as much value for the face. Please forgive."

So, it turns out my face was worthless after all. But anyway, that's why it's called Face Value.


Herr Zrbo said...

These posts are like Umberto Eco novels. I'm never sure where the truth ends and the fiction begins.

Little Earl said...

I don't know why you'd suggest that there's anything resembling "fiction" here, but to clarify slightly, all the material in my Phil Collins posts stems from widely available public sources, aside from any quotes from In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins, which are taken directly from his book, are sourced accordingly, and usually appear at or near the end.