Phil Collins - Going Back

Remember the heyday of Motown, when the brash and beautiful sound of the city made its way out of Detroit? Remember all the great groups that were around? It seemed like every day, there was a new, irresistable song coming from the hitmaking factory that was Motown records. Remember how the racial barriers in pop music really began to break down during those days? Everyone was loving it!

Phil Collins remembers all this, and he's decided to remind you of it. His new album "Going Back" is a tribute to the great songs and timeless tunes that defined the era. He applies his drumming skills and silken voice to no less than 18 songs from that time, running the gamut from the early 1960s to the early 1970s. He's taken the time period, made it his own, and redefined the music. 

Okay, that's enough! You know the above is complete nonsense. What Phil's done here is seen an easy buck, and he truly remembers how he did so well in the past soaking old Supremes songs. So he's done a Rod Stewart and put together an album meant to represent his "roots". With the release, he's foisting it off on you, and will see how gullible you are. 

So, above we've had the rose-colored view, and the cynical view of Phil Collins' new record. Which is accurate.

Both, really. Yes, Phil has managed to release a record that many will write off as lightweight and unnecessary, but here's the thing : 

He's done an absolutely masterful job at it. 

Phil doesn't just sing the songs on the album, although that's a big part of it. He's also taken care (or perhaps it's the producer) to recreate the sound of Motown, music and voice, with remarkable accuracy. The album has a big, open sound, and in nearly all cases, the instrumentation of the songs is reproduced meticulously. That makes the listener a bit more reluctant to just dismiss the album. 

Listen to the single "(Love Is Like a) Heatwave", the old Martha and the Vandellas song. Beat for beat, horn for horn, the song recreates not only rhythm, but the entire atmosphere of the song. Phil's also successful in redoing several other hits, including the Four Tops "Standing In the Shadows Of Love", "Jimmy Mack", and "Going To a Go Go". 

That's not all, though, because he's also chosen several lesser-known lights in the Motown universe, and done justice to them. He resurrects Eddie Holland's "Take Me In Your Arms". He brings pathos and soul to the Impressions' "Talking About My Baby".

He also goes slightly out-of-genre on two songs, both made famous by British singer Dusty Springfield, and written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Both "Some Of Your Lovin'" and the title track of the album are gorgeous. 

Not everything is perfect. When Phil sticks to the template, he's brilliant, but there's one song that he didn't attempt to recreate perfectly, and it's a stinker. The Supremes' "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" sounds lackluster in all senses of the word. 

So, the more cynical listener may ask, it sounds good, but what's the point? If you wanted to experience the shine of Motown, why not just listen to the originals?

Good point. As careful as Phil is here, there's not one song that improves on the first takes. There's a few that come close to matching them, but what the listener is mostly left with is a sense of wonder at how good this music was to begin with. 

If Phil can tap into that feeling, then he's done okay. Unlike his peers, he's done a tribute album of old songs with perhaps a little more love in his heart than holes in his pockets. 

I give Mr. Collins a 7 on the England Swings scale of 1-10 for this album. Just because it's fun. 
12/26/2010 03:13:13 pm

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