Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where The Genesis And Collins Discographies Meld As One AKA Woe To The Record Exec Who Skimps On Phil's Royalties

At this point, what exactly was the difference between Genesis and solo Phil Collins? Genesis records had ... more keyboards? Less horns? No cover versions? Less love songs? In a blind taste test, nine out of ten consumers haven't been able to tell the difference.

Not that I'm complaining. Although it was their 12th album, Genesis might actually be the Genesis album I enjoy the most. No, seriously. I'm not Patrick Bateman, and I'm not just trying to be a hipster douchebag contrarian. I like every song! Each track is concise and atmospheric without being vapid or monotonous. Abacab can go to hell.

Thus, I take issue with AMG Guy's three-and-a-half star review, in which he writes that, while strong, the album is a bit disjointed:
Moments of Genesis are as spooky and arty as those on Abacab -- in particular, there's the tortured howl of "Mama," uncannily reminiscent of Phil Collins' Face Value, and the two-part "Home by the Sea" -- but this eponymous 1983 album is indeed a rebirth, as so many self-titled albums delivered in the thick of a band's career often are. Here the art rock functions as coloring to the pop songs, unlike on Abacab and Duke, where the reverse is true. Some of this may be covering their bets -- to ensure that the longtime fans didn't jump ship, they gave them a bit of art -- some of it may be that the band just couldn't leave prog behind, but the end result is the same: as of this record, Genesis was now primarily a pop band. Anybody who paid attention to "Misunderstanding" and "No Reply at All" could tell that this was a good pop band, primarily thanks to the rapidly escalating confidence of Phil Collins, but Genesis illustrates just how good they could be, by balancing such sleek, pulsating pop tunes as "That's All" with a newfound touch for aching ballads, as on "Taking It All Too Hard." They still rocked -- "Just a Job to Do" has an almost nasty edge to its propulsion -- and they could still get too silly as on "Illegal Alien," where Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accident is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?"), and that's why the album doesn't quite gel. It has a little bit too much of everything -- too much pop, too much art, too much silliness -- so it doesn't pull together, but if taken individually, most of these moments are very strong, testaments to the increasing confidence and pop power of the trio, even if it's not quite what longtime fans might care to hear.
Good thing I'm not one of those "longtime fans," you know? As opposed to, say, Patrick Bateman, who also sounds rather disappointed with this one:
Hugh Padgham produced next an even less conceptual effort, simply called Genesis (Atlantic; 1983), and though it's a fine album a lot of it now seems too derivative for my tastes. "That's All" sounds like "Misunderstanding," "Taking It All Too Hard" reminds me of "Throwing It All Away." It also seems less jazzy than its predecessors and more of an eighties pop album, more rock 'n' roll. Padgham does a brilliant job of producing, but the material is weaker than usual and you can sense the strain.
Is that Genesis' strain he's sensing, or the strain of his own fragile mental state? Never trust the music reviews of a sharply-dressed serial killer, that's what I say.

While a huge hit in the UK and throughout Europe, "Mama" stiffed in the US, peaking at #73. Maybe delicate Yankee ears couldn't handle the psychic trauma. According to Wikipedia, "The song's theme involves a young man's longing for a particular prostitute." Hmmmm? Take it from the man himself:
Our manager, when he first heard it, thought it was about abortion, the kind of feeling of the, you know, the fetus, if you like, saying to the Mother 'Please give me a chance, can't you feel my heart, don't take away my last chance', all those lyrics are in the song but in fact what it is, is just about a young teenager that's got a mother fixation with a prostitute that he's just happened to have met in passing and he has such a strong feeling for her and doesn't understand why she isn't interested in him. It's a bit like [British actor] David Niven in The Moon's a Balloon, I don't know if you've read that book, he's very young, just come out of cadet college or whatever, and he meets this quite, you know, 45-year-old prostitute who he has a fantastic time with. He's special to her but it definitely can't go any further than what it is and that's really what the song is about, with sinister overtones.
Damn it Phil. My attempt to exaggerate your sick, perverted tendencies doesn't work as well when I learn that some of your songs are actually sick and perverted! Because who can't relate to having a mother fixation with a prostitute, right? And what's with the deranged cackle? "On the DVD The Genesis Songbook, the band and producer Hugh Padgham revealed that the inspiration for Collins's laugh came from rap music pioneer Grandmaster Flash's song 'The Message'." Well, obviously. The little "Eeeugh!" that follows the laugh reminds me, if anything, of John Lennon's heavily-echoed vocal ad-libs during the fade-out of "Lovely Rita."
I can't see you Mama
But I can hardly wait
Ooh to touch and to feel you Mama
Oh I just can't keep away

In the heat and the steam of the city
Oh it's got me running and I just can't break
So say you'll help me Mama
Cause it's getting so hard

Now I can't keep you Mama
But I know you're always there
You listen, you teach me Mama
And I know inside you care

So get down, down here beside me
Oh you ain't going nowhere
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard

It's hot, too hot for me Mama
But I can't hardly wait
My eyes, they're burning Mama
And I can feel my body shake

Don't stop, don't stop me Mama
Make the pain, make it go away
No I won't hurt you Mama
But it's getting so hard
The video finds Phil and friends in a dingy club (or an extremely low-budget motel?) which unfortunately does not seem to have any air conditioning. Wearing a sweaty, light red sleeveless shirt, Phil tries to do his best Sly Stallone impersonation. How much do you think he could bench press?

Likewise, there certainly wasn't anything sweetly romantic about "Home By The Sea" (and its primarily instrumental counterpart, "Second Home By The Sea"), unless Wuthering Heights is your idea of romance: From Wikipedia: "Lyrically, the song is about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find it is a haunted prison. The burglar is captured by the ghosts, who force him to listen to their stories for the rest of his life." I hate it when that happens. The unexpectedly insistent tempo gives the song's sweetly aching melody an urgent power it might otherwise lack. Jesus. Is my music writing starting to sound like Patrick Bateman's? Well, sometimes even a deranged Yuppie nutjob is right on the money, even when he misinterprets the lyrics and misquotes the song's title:
"... Phil's voice is strongest on "House by the Sea," whose lyrics are, however, too stream-of-consciousness to make much sense. It might be about growing up and accepting adulthood but it's unclear; at any rate, its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks gets to show off his virtuoso guitar skills while Tom Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers, and when Phil repeats the song's third verse at the end it can give you chills."
Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
Picking up the pieces, putting them away
Something doesn't feel quite right

Help me someone, let me out of here
Then out of the dark was suddenly heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea

Coming out the woodwork, through the open door
Pushing from above and below
Shadows without 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 they moan

Help us someone, let us out of here
Living here so long undisturbed
Dreaming of the time we were free
So many years ago
Before the time when we first heard
Welcome to the Home by the Sea
Sit down, sit down
As we relive our lives in what we tell you

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, like photos in a frame
Things that go to make up a life

"Taking It All Too Hard" is the one song that sounds the most like late '80s solo Phil (also sounding like a dry run for "In Too Deep"), but somehow I can't resist its gloopy charm. It peaked at #11 Adult Contemporary, but only #50 on the Hot 100. This is one of those small, "Oh yeahhhhh, I 'think' I remember that" hits that litter the Phil Collins and Genesis discographies like so many stains on a YMCA sofa.

But Genesis could still turn around and rock your balls off with a ditty like "Just A Job To Do," which "tells the story of a hit man pursuing his victim," a situation Phil knew perhaps all too well, if the tales of his murderous escapades in San Diego are to be believed. Nonetheless, Patrick Bateman has a different theory: "'Just a Job to Do' is the album's funkiest song, with a killer bass line by Banks, and though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down." You decide:
It's no use saying that it's alright, it's alright
Where were you after midnight, midnight
Heard a Bang, Bang, Bang, down they go
It's just a job you do
'Cause the harder they run, and the harder they fall
I'm coming down hard on you

Now no one saw what you looked like, what you looked like
Like a stranger, you came out of the night, out of the night
'Cause someone put the word on you, and I hope my aim is true

'Cause I got a name, and I got a number, I gotta line on you
I got a name, and I got a number, I'm coming after you

Of course, little did the public realize it at the time, but "Just A Job To Do," as well as several of the album's other tracks, were inspired by Phil's ongoing financial battles with his record label. From In The Air Tonight:
I was at home watching a bootleg copy of a Sardinian snuff film when the mailman slid my royalty check through the mail slot. "All right, here's the $500,000 dollars from Hello, I Must Be Going!" I muttered to myself with glee. But when I opened up the envelope, I couldn't believe what I saw. Only $490,000! Where was the other $10,000? This was bullshit. I was owed at least $500,000. Those Atlantic sons of bitches. I dialed Frankie Foster, but he didn't pick up. So I decided to go down there in person. I brought two goons along, you know, to make sure we cleared up this little mistake real quick.

Frankie waved me hello with a half-smoked cigar dangling between his stubby fingers. "Phil ol' boy, come on in! 'You Can't Hurry Love,' it's unstoppable, I gotta tell you." The boys knocked him to the floor and tied his hands with extension cables.

"Where's my $500,000 Frankie?"

"Hey, hey! Hold on, Phil, what are you talkin' about?"

I shoved the check in his face. "This says $490,000. Where's my $500,000?"

"There's ... there's fees, you know? We've gotta take a little out for the fees Phil, I swear!"

I pointed to the corner. "Throw him over there until he changes his tune."

We sat in that room all afternoon, and after sunset. Things got a little messy. Had the boys pull out a couple of toenails. They grow back. Frankie broke down sobbing.

"Mama!" He cried at one point. "Mama!"

"You want your mama, eh?"

"I can't see you mama, but I know you're always there."

"That's it Frankie, you talk to whoever you want to talk to."

"I wanna go home."

"Where's your home."

"By the sea."

"Sounds nice."

"Help me someone, let me out of here, living here so long undisturbed." He started babbling like a madman. "Endless days of summer, longer nights of gloom, waiting for the morning light." That's not bad, I thought. Could use that somewhere.

"It's all right, Frankie, it's all right. You're taking it all too hard."

Another hour passed by in silence. Finally, he cracked. "OK Phil. I'll give you the extra $10,000."

"Extra? It's not fucking extra. It's what I'm owed."

"OK, OK, it's not extra! Will you untie me now?"

Frankie crawled over to his desk and began pulling out a series of $100 bills.

"Don't give it to me now, just put it in my next check."


"I don't carry cash. I know you'll pay up. 'Cause if you don't, well ... I got a name, and I got a number, I got a line on you, Frankie. I got a name, I got a number, I'm comin' after you."
Editor's Note: A few of our loyal Cosmic American readers may have noticed the appearance of a supposed "real" memoir recently "written" by Phil Collins, titled Not Dead Yet. Mr. Collins has even been spotted on several late night programs promoting this ostensibly "legitimate" autobiography. But let me be clear: credible as it may seem, Not Dead Yet is a fraud and a sham, not to be confused with the much more obscure, but much more authentic In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life And Twisted Psyche Of Philip D. Collins. The motive behind this false publication is not entirely clear; perhaps Mr. Collins, upon further reflection, has gotten "cold feet" and now feels ashamed of his previous attempt at brutal candor and unflinching honesty; perhaps he feels threatened by law enforcement (both domestic and international) after confessing to numerous felonies and misdeeds, even though the statute of limitations on all of them appears to have passed; perhaps he simply enjoys playing elaborate games and ruses with the public, like a balding, drumming Andy Kaufman, who delights in treating his fans as elaborate pawns in a vast piece of inscrutable performance art. Read it if you choose, but be warned: not a word of it may be true.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Power Ballad "Heart" Attack AKA One Band's Reluctant Journey To The "Heart" Of '80s Cheese

Some '70s bands figured out the '80s right off the bat. Others needed a little time, but, boy, when they got there, they got there nice and good.

Let's cut to the "heart" of the matter here (also, let's see how many bad "heart" puns I can incorporate into this post ... actually, I think I'm done). Heart's initial brush with the '80s began rather inauspiciously: a hit cover of Aaron Neville's New Orleans R&B slow jam "Tell It Like It Is," one of the "new" tracks off their first greatest hits album. Suffice to say, this was not a long-term plan for success in the MTV era. (And couldn't the high school PTA have found a cheaper prom band?)

See, I think in the '70s, you could just be a bar band from down the street. But in the '80s, you had to be bigger, cheaper, tackier, poofier. You needed to reach the back row of that stadium filled with sexy middle-aged housewives. You needed to schlock it up.

For the Ladies Wilson and Friends, the transition would not be easy, nor would it occur overnight, but rest assured: it would occur. Private Audition (1982) peaked at #25, Passionworks (1983) at #39. The latter's "How Can I Refuse" showed signs of the band potentially catching on to the schlock, particularly that electronically-processed triple-thwack drum fill in the chorus. In the video, we see the Wilson sisters' hair becoming slightly more permed, with Nancy wearing what appears to be Bowie's mullet from Labyrinth. Although the clip features an early taste of the third-rate sci-fi/fantasy landscapes to come, with its interlude of peyote-fueled necromancy in the deserts of a distant realm (question: best music video featuring a crystal ball ever?), the majority of the clip still finds the band "performing," you know, "on stage." No, no, no. It reached #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but only #44 on the Pop chart. Epic Records had seen enough.

Capitol Records, on the other hand, saw a second act in our two little queenies, but first they laid out a few conditions:
  1. No more of those crappy songs you're writing, you know, "yourself." We give you the songs, you cover them.
  2. The videos, girls, the videos - they need more: flames, corsets, anvils, you know, shit like that.
It looks like Heart got the memo. They got the memo, rolled it up, and smoked it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you "What About Love."

The band hops on a tour bus after another exhausting gig. Everything's in black and white. Nancy cuddles up with her guitar. Lonely, pensive Ann begins to sing about heartbreak. "But where are the explosions?" you're asking. "Where are the explosions?"

BOOM. Heart's got your explosions right here, buddy. And flames, lots of flames. Ann takes the stage wearing a medieval gown and holding a mallet. She means business. Because next comes the metallurgy.

The fuckin' metallurgy.

Two guys pour molten gold into a cast, and out of that cast rises ... Nancy Wilson. Heart: forged from the cauldrons of '80s power balladry. Then the camera cuts to a mysteriously masked woman holding a blowtorch. She takes off her helmet to reveal that she is ... Ann Wilson! Singer by day, blacksmith by night. Then peasants begin hauling gold bricks. And of course there's anvils, lots of anvils. At 2:12 Nancy appears to be offering her guitar as a sacrifice to the metallurgy gods, or perhaps the Capitol Records execs? Then Nancy and the lead guitarist jam while standing on top of a spiral staircase ... that's engulfed in flames. Notice also how the lead guitarist appears to be playing a sled, and the bassist is playing a guitar with a hideous cheetah design on it. Suddenly, the last shot shows Ann still sitting on that tour bus, dejected and reading ... Gone With The Wind? Is that where this whole daydream came from?

The band had its doubts, and I can't possibly fathom why, about its new direction, but here's a question: if you don't act on your doubts, do they actually mean anything? Here's Ann Wilson from a recent Rolling Stone interview:
At the time, that transition was really hard for me. And for a couple of reasons. One was that we were accepting songs from outside writers. I think we came to the realization that, "Hey, we're not writing so well right now. We're not coming up with the goods." So we decided to go ahead with it and audition some outside stuff. And you can make sense of that in your brain, but it's hard to convince your emotions and your ego to accept that kind of thing. So it was rocky for me. When I first heard the demo for "What About Love," my hackles went up because I thought it sounded like a victim song. "Oh, poor me! What about me?" It felt like an "I'm so weak and you can just walk all over me" type song. And so I rejected it. But our producer and the record company and everyone kept working on me, and I finally agreed to sing the song. And when I did, I brought my own sort of rage to it, I guess. It ended up not being a victim song and I think it's good.
Rage. You got that? Do you feel the rage?

I guess the question on the minds of eager MTV viewers really had been "What About Love?" and apparently Heart had really answered it, as the single sent the band back into the top ten. I don't remember hearing "What About Love" much at the time, and when I heard it later, the first thing I thought was, "Wow, this is a total ripoff of Roxette's 'Listen To Your Heart'!" Turns out I had it backwards; "Listen To Your Heart" was a total ripoff of "What About Love." Well, not totally, since every power ballad is essentially a ripoff of the same power ballad. It's like there's this one Ur-ballad sitting in a vault somewhere in a strip club on Hollywood Blvd., and everyone who ever needs to write one takes a little piece of it.

Oh yeah, and you know who's singing backing vocals on "What About Love"? Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick. Let's see Roxette rip off that.