Phil Collins Going Back Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Collins’ trawl through the Hitsville USA songbook is surprising and disarming.

David Sheppard 2010

Long installed in popular music’s multi-million-selling pariah pantheon, there are fewer easy targets for arrows of critical opprobrium than 59-year-old Philip David Charles Collins. Granted, Collins has sometimes been guilty of painting the bull’s-eye on his own forehead (that self-aggrandising Live Aid Concorde business, the cringe-worthy lyrics to Another Day in Paradise, Buster, etc), but nonetheless, the sometime Genesis frontman’s canon is so substantial and his hits so profuse that it feels myopic to dismiss him merely as a haughty purveyor of tortured, romantic ballads for the middle income world.

Certainly, hip hop artists can’t get enough of the near-iconic In the Air Tonight, and Collins, lest it be forgotten, once lent his nimble stick-work to leftfield albums by the likes of Brian Eno and John Cale. All of which is a very long way from Motown: the adolescent Collins’ musical tipple and the inspiration for Going Back, his first solo album since 2002’s underperforming Testify.

An 18-track trawl through the Hitsville USA songbook, this is not so much an homage to Berry Gordy’s Detroit stable as a battlefield re-enactment, underpinned by three surviving members of The Funk Brothers, Motown’s peerless, 60s in-house studio band. So faithfully have Collins and his confreres recreated the Sound of Young America – shimmering tambourines drowning out drums, bass compressed to a fat, distorted throb –that it’s hard not to be swept along. Thus, Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) is as much a blast of toe-tapping euphoria here as it was for The Temptations back in 64, Collins’ reedy, helium-like vocals squeezed into a fair impersonation of the style, if never quite the gravity, of Messrs Ruffin, Kendricks and co. Sprightly versions of Martha and the Vandellas’ Heatwave and Stevie Wonder’s Uptight also stack up remarkably well against the originals.

Things go slightly awry when Collins swaps Motor City tropes for contemporary interpretations, synth pads and all; Some of Your Lovin’ and Blame It on the Sun being particularly saccharine casualties. When he recreates the finger-snapping brio of Standing in the Shadows of Love, Jimmy Mack or Going to a Go-Go, however, his reverence for the material is, whisper it, completely disarming.

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