by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
Face Value (1981, Atlantic)
A slightly somber album largely penned during the breakup of his first marriage, Collins’s first solo album is still just playful enough to be a fan-friendly and commercial listen, even yielding two Top 40 hits in the horn-laden groove of “I Missed Again” and the now-iconic atmospheric pop of the epic “In the Air Tonight.” (Admit it – you’ve played air drums to that song at some point.) What’s surprising – particularly when compared to the Genesis albums that preceded this disc – is the strength of the non-singles, and cuts like the gorgeous ballad “If Leaving Me Is Easy,” “This Must Be Love,” the playful “I’m Not Moving,” and “Hand in Hand” shouldn’t be overlooked. The album also boasts an intriguing – and possibly even superior – reworking of the song “Behind the Lines” from the most recent Genesis album (Duke.)
Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982, Atlantic)
Much less self-consciously arty than its predecessor, Collin’s sophomore solo disc is a bit more easygoing and noticeably more R&B-oriented, even going so far as to include a breezy Top Ten cover – and a first-rate one, at that – of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” The album includes a second Top 40 hit in the foreboding “I Don’t Care Anymore,” but it’s the non-hits that are really the highlight of this disc. “It Don’t Matter to Me” and the percussive “I Cannot Believe It’s True” both feature the horn section from Earth, Wind & Fire to fun effect, while the equally playful and catchy “Like China” is one of Collins’ most rhythmically interesting experiments and “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” one of his prettiest and most underrated ballads.
No Jacket Required (1985, Atlantic)
This third solo outing was the one that catapulted Collins into the pop-star elite, selling over twenty-five million copies worldwide and yielding four American Top Ten hits, including a pair of Number Ones. Like its predecessor, there are some strong album cuts here that are as good as a lot of other artist’s singles (particularly “I Don’t Wanna Know” and “Only You Know and I Know,” and “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore”), but they’re upstaged by the first-rate craft of the four singles, the heavily Prince-influenced horn-fueled funk-pop of the majestic “Sussidio” (arguably the most fun of Collins’ solo singles), the epic ballad “Take Me Home” (featuring both Sting and Peter Gabriel on backing vocals), the atmospheric rocker “Don’t Lose My Number,” and the lovely, gently-pulsing soft-pop of “One More Night.” The CD edition adds the wonderful ballad “We Said Hello, Goodbye,” a non-single which nonetheless garnered a lot of airplay and still pops up on the radio frequently.
... But Seriously (1989, Atlantic)
Just a bit more serious and a little less fun than the last two discs, Collins’ fourth solo album is still packed with enough strong songs and fun moments to make this a worthwhile pickup. The album includes no less than five Top 40 hits: the social-commentary-fueled Number One “Another Day in Paradise” (featuring some clever harmony vocal contributions from David Crosby), the somber “I Wish It Would Rain Down,” the horn-powered “Hang in Long Enough,” the gorgeous AC ballad “Do You Remember?” and the playful “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven.” There are quite a few noticeably catchy album cuts here as well, especially the bouncy “Heat on the Street” and the album-closing “Find a Way to My Heart.”
Both Sides (1993, Atlantic)
An album that just tries way too hard to impress critics who consider him a lightweight, this album is noticeably heavy on message-oriented songs and somber ballads. Understandably, the disc was greeted with a lukewarm reception by adult-contemporary radio stations and the record-buying public, and his solo career never really recovered. It’s certainly an interesting disc (all the more so since Collins plays all of the instruments on this album, though he bizarrely programs most of the drums here rather than utilizing the live drums he’s so famously masterful at playing), but the material just isn’t up to his usual standard. The songs largely lack the strong hooks Collins is capable of, the album doesn’t have enough playful moments to make it a particularly easy album to listen to in one sitting, and the songs are just too darn long. (Only one of the cuts here clocks in at less than five minutes, and six of the eleven songs even top the six-minute mark.) There are two Top 40 hits included, but “Both Sides of the Story” is arguably his least catchy solo single yet, though the AC ballad “Everyday” is a keeper.
Dance Into the Light (1996, Atlantic)
A thankfully much more lighthearted record than its predecessor, this album admittedly isn’t quite as artistically ambitious as Both Sides, but it’s also not as depressing and the songs are substantially catchier. Not surprisingly, critics salvaged this record, but this disc is much closer to the sound of the Phil Collins we love than Both Sides was: there’s more up-tempo material this time around, more hooks, Collins is utilizing a horn section once again, and he’s also thankfully back to playing live drums. The material’s somewhat spotty and not everything works, so it’s never exactly as great as any of his Eighties albums, but it’s a step back in the right direction, anyway, and the best cuts here are pretty good, particularly the horn-powered title cut, the percussive “No Matter Who,” the dramatic “River So Wide,” “That’s What You Said,” and, best of all, the Beatlesque pop of “It’s in Your Eyes,” which is a fun throwback to the sound of the Fab Four circa A Hard Day’s Night and one of Collin’s most fun and underrated singles.
Testify (2002, Atlantic)
Easily his least memorable album, Testify is slightly strange in that it’s never as serious of an album as Both Sides and wants to be as pop-friendly as Dance Into the Light, albeit a little less frivolous and playful, but in his desire to craft a sophisticated but still pleasant adult-contemporary album, Collins goes seriously overboard on the ballads and also neglects to come up with any particularly strong hooks to carry the songs. Given how catchy Collins’ singles have traditionally been in the past, it’s astounding just how easily forgettable these melodies are. It’s telling that the only song here that really sticks with you is actually a cover song, though you’re not likely to recognize it as being one: the excellent “Can’t Stop Loving You” originally hails from, of all places, a long-forgotten 1978 self-titled album from Leo Sayer. Nothing on the album is particularly embarrassing or bad, but between the utter lack of up-tempo songs and the even greater lack of hooks, it’s just a painfully boring and unengaging album.
Going Back (2010, Atlantic)
A fun, if not exactly necessary, listen, Going Back is a covers album largely comprised of vintage Motown songs. Collins does sound great doing most of these songs. “Standing in the Shadows of Love” in particular is so natural for him, it’s amazing he never tried it before, particularly considering one of his earliest solo hits was a much less obvious cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love.” “Something About You,” “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)” and “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” all stand out as well. It’s just not nearly as necessary a purchase as his albums of original material, however, so while you’re not likely to feel at all disappointed by the generally inspired performances on this album, this is one you may only want to pick up if you already own his first six solo albums.
There are only two compilations available of Collins’ solo work, but neither is particularly well-done. Hits is the better of the two, but it’s not very complete; it’s missing six of his twenty Top 40 hits he’d accumulated up to that point, including, inexplicably, the Top Five hits “Don’t Lose My Number” and “Do You Remember?”. (Yet lesser hits like “Both Sides of the Story” are included, along with an unnecessary cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”)
It’s his only live disc, but 1990’s Serious Hits … Live! is a pretty good representation of a Collins solo show; it sounds perfectly fine, but the studio versions of these songs are still preferable.