Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Abacab? How About Aba-drab? AKA Phil's Close Shave With The "Man On The Corner" In San Diego

And so, for a couple of years there, Phil Collins didn't quite realize that his solo career was going to be bigger than his Genesis career. To paraphrase The Wizard Of Oz, "Pay no attention to the man behind the drum kit." La la la la la. So Abacab is just another Genesis album, released only a few months after Face Value, and yet the band still tries to carry on with some sort of respectable art-rock approach. The album apparently puts Stephen Thomas Erlewine's knickers in a twist:
Duke showcased a new Genesis -- a sleek, hard, stylish trio that truly sounded like a different band from its first incarnation -- but Abacab was where this new incarnation of the band came into its own. Working with producer Hugh Padgham, the group escalated the innovations of Duke, increasing the pop hooks, working them seamlessly into the artiest rock here. And even if the brash, glorious pop of "No Reply at All" -- powered by the percolating horns of Earth, Wind & Fire, yet polished into a precise piece of nearly new wave pop by Padgham -- suggests otherwise, this is still art rock at its core, or at least album-oriented rock, as the band works serious syncopations and instrumental forays into a sound that's as bright, bold, and jagged as the modernist artwork on the cover.
I dunno. Personally, after the marital exorcism that was Face Value, I find Abacab kind of ... ho hum. It's like getting a cell phone for the very first time, and then going back to a landline for a month because, I mean, the cell phone couldn't be your "real" phone, could it? Yes it could, Phil. Yes it could. Where are all these "pop hooks" of which Erlewine speaks? Maybe I'm just the odd man out here; Patrick Bateman seems to agree with AMG Guy on this one:
Abacab (Atlantic; 1981) was released almost immediately after Duke and it benefits from a new producer, Hugh Pagham, who gives the band a more eighties sound and though the songs seem fairly generic, there are still great bits throughout: the extended jam in the middle of the title track and the horns by some group called Earth, Wind and Fire on "No Reply at All" are just two examples. Again the songs reflect dark emotions and are about people who feel lost or who are in conflict, but the production and sound are gleaming and upbeat (even if the titles aren't: "No Reply at All," "Keep It Dark," "Who Dunnit?" "Like It or Not").
Eh ... Patrick, you're reaching. Let's face it, the stylistic experiments are still too ... safe, the lyrics not ... ridiculous enough. It's like Phil didn't want to admit he'd finally jumped the shark. Oh, but the shark had been jumped. He hadn't just jump the shark, he'd jumped the entire cove. At times on Face Value, and often in his subsequent career, Phil would aim for the Grand Statement, often to unintentionally humorous effect, but at least it'd be entertaining. The songs on Abacab don't seem to be about anything - other than quality musicianship, which is not an acceptable theme. No, it would take another album before the full "Philness" would infect Genesis proper. In other words: I can't make fun of this.

No one even knows any of the songs on Abacab. Here is an album released smack in the middle of the '80s' most unstoppable hit streak, and yet I've never heard a single one of these tracks while waiting in the hair salon. Oh, there were some minor hits: "Abacab" hit #26, "No Reply At All" hit #29, "Man On The Corner" hit #40, and the band even released an extra single recorded at the same sessions, "Paperlate," which hit #32. But none of these songs will give you and your friends that instant jolt of nostalgic recognition when you're sitting around late at night trying to listen ironically to Phil Collins. None of these songs became ubiquitous. And what the hell does "Abacab" even mean? According to Wikipedia:
The title is taken from the structure of an early version of the song. Guitarist Mike Rutherford explained in an interview that the band labelled various sections of the song with letters of the alphabet, and at one point the sections were ordered A-B-A-C-A-B. Rutherford commented that the completed song no longer followed this format, but the name was kept nevertheless.
Sure guys, whatever. At least "Man On The Corner" was a nice preview of the liberal guilt to come, sort of the proto-"Another Day In Paradise" in its quasi-self-serving concern for homeless people:
See the lonely man there on the corner
What he's waiting for, I don't know
But he waits every day now
He's just waiting for something to show

And nobody knows him, and nobody cares
'Cause there's no hidin' place
There's no hidin' place
For you

Lookin' everywhere at no one
He sees everything and nothing at all, oh
When he shouts, nobody listens
Where he leads, no one will go, oh

Are we just like all the rest?
We're lookin' too hard for somethin' he's got
Or movin' too fast to rest
But like a monkey on your back, you need it
But do you love it enough to leave it all?

"We're looking too hard for somethin' he's got"? Like what, a shopping cart? Come on Phil. It's not like homeless people are enlightened hippie gurus or something. He's not the Fool on the Hill. But Patrick Bateman doesn't bother splitting hairs:
My favorite track is "Man on the Corner," which is the only song credited solely to Collins, a moving ballad with a pretty synthesized melody plus a riveting drum machine in the background. Though it could easily come off any of Phil's solo albums, because the themes of loneliness, paranoia and alienation are overly familiar to Genesis it evokes the band's hopeful humanism. "Man on the Corner" profoundly equates a relationship with a solitary figure (a bum, perhaps a poor homeless person?), "that lonely man on the corner" who just stands around.
Terrific. But just who was that man on the corner? According to In The Air Tonight, it wasn't a homeless person at all:
Near the end of the Face Value tour, I was about 95% positive that the Feds were on my tail. Wish I'd given a rat's ass; once you've got a solo album under your belt, you start to feel pretty damn invincible, and no federales were about to kill my high.

I had a connection in San Diego, a Samoan guy with a white goatee named Rob. He was co-owner of a cab company, ABA Cab. It was Friday night in the Gaslamp District. I'd just finished getting a full-body massage from a Transvestite named Sarah Jane; that's where the song "Me And Sarah Jane" came from, in case you were wondering. But yeah, at midnight I was supposed meet him on 4th Ave., across from the plaza. They had a payphone in the hotel lobby, and I could dial straight into his dispatch.

"Midnight, huh?"

"Yeah, I'll just pull up outside, no problem. Listen, I'm a little low on some of the horsie juice, I know that's your favorite, but I got somethin' even better, it's from one of my buddies at Sea World - killer whale tranquilizer. They use this shit on Shamu!"

"Fine, sure, just get it to me by midnight."

"I'm tellin' ya Phil, you're gonna be riding the white whale tonight."

But as I waited in the lobby, I noticed a man standing across the street, next to the liquor store, wearing a trench coat and a fedora. A few minutes later, Rob pulled up in front of the hotel. The payphone rang.

"Phil, hey, I'm right outside, come on and get the goods."

"Who's that man on the corner?"

"What man on the corner?"

"That guy in the trench coat, across the street."

"Oh yeah, I see him. I don't know, Phil. Should I turn my blinders on?"

"No, keep it dark, keep it dark!"

"OK, OK. What are you thinking?"

"It's the Feds! They're on our tail."

"The Feds? You sure? Maybe it's just some guy out having a good time. Lemme ask him."

Rob's voice pierced through the evening's warmth. "Hey mister! What do you want! You want something?" The man stood unnervingly still.

"Phil, there's no reply - no reply at all. What do you want me to do?"

I thought for a moment. "Can we take him out?"

"You mean call up my guys? Yeah, no problem, I can take him out." Rob suddenly drove around the corner. Five minutes later, another cab pulled up to the mysterious stranger. The door swung open, they shoved him inside, and the cab sped away. Another ten minutes later, Rob pulled up in front of the hotel again, and I met him in the cab.

"So what did you do?"

"Well, we shot him three times in the stomach, stabbed him four times in the chest, wrapped his body in a duffel bag, and threw him in the alley over there. Anyway, here's your stuff. Don't take too much of it at once, you might grow a blowhole."

So the name was a tribute to Rob for taking that guy out. But I had Mike tell the whole thing about "A-B-A-C-A-B" and the "song structure" and all that crap, because, you know, you don't want the Feds on your back.

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