Face Value (Deluxe Edition) – Take A Look At Me Now: Reissue Series
I still think Face Value – here reissued, as part of a thoughtful career-overview/overhaul reissue campaign – is a classic album. I’m sure of it. I’ve
always liked it. I’ve had a couple of goes at defending/appraising the album and Collins’ career, or parts of it – and not much change. But 2016 will be the year that everyone starts to tell their friends they were always on board – or proudly ignores these reissues because the head-in-sand technique is always best when you’ve already decided it can’t be any good.
Back in 1981 this was the debut album from Phil Collins of Genesis. He’d done some interesting session work outside of his main gig and had a jazz-rock band too. But this was his debut as a solo artist. And though his solo career and the music of Genesis dovetailed across the 1980s and he seemed an unstoppable force (and perhaps that annoyed a few of the early diehard Genesis fans) Face Value has never really sounded like the work he was doing as drummer and lead singer in that band. Polished up demos that came from a writing binge on the back of a marriage bust-up, Face Value is a diary-like stroll through Collins’ fragile headspace and it’s also very moving – particularly musically.
The big single – and shock – is the album opener, In The Air Tonight. You’re sick of it now, from far too much radioplay, but in its rightful place as the album’s lead statement it’s still a sonic powerhouse, hypnotic and moody and a masterclass in Collins’ great skill for blending live and programmed drums. He’s probably still telling anyone that interviews him that he arrived at it by accident, merely set up a mood on the machine to write to, and/or to give a rhythm while he sketched the demo, but his patterns and the interplay (and overplay) of the acoustic drums has been a huge influence in pop and hip-hop. It’s also a statement of intent, a moody intro – determined, eventually bold. It reads now as the clue that this album means something to Phil – is gonna mean something to us.
We move from there to balladry (with a twist – still the moodiness on This Must Be Love) and then we get the first hint of Collins’ huge Motown fixation on Behind The Lines. Where McCartney was busy making his cartoon-funk on McCartney II (an album I’ve often paired with this, both find auteur figures stepping out and away from big band franchises and experimenting, indulging themselves, in home studios; both were recorded and released in the same era, from people that seemed to have very little to do with the actual era besides living in/through it) Collins doesn’t go colourful, instead he aims to trace around the original feels. He uses the Earth, Wind & Fire horns for clarity, for kudos, they give soul and light and air to the songs. Their lines dance along the songs much as they had when E,W & F made moves toward the pop charts.
The Roof Is Leaking is odd and spiteful and the sort of song that’s actually more in line with Lennon than McCartney, if anything. It has hints of the very early Elton John too, but all of the textures beneath the piano and vocal distract and unnerve in a way Sir Reg wouldn’t bother – particularly as it might affect the bottom-line.
The Roof moves into Droned which reminds that Collins worked with Eno, learned a lot it seems – the drone-instrumental could have found a home on Eno’s collaboration of the time with David Byrne (another album that lines up well with this and McCartney II, an odd triptych then, but worth it, give it a go…)
And from there we roll into Hand In Hand, it became the show-opener, or at least a show-highlight for many years and another showcase for Collins drum-machine/drums interplay/overlap. More hints at Motown and funk in the horns but it sets us up for the album’s second half where the soulful side of pop music becomes Collins’ focus.
Here he gets to show off too – a Motown drum fill to open I Missed Again, the horns slamming down into the sides of the tune. Collins showing off his falsetto, a classy piece of songwriting, this.
You Know What I Mean is a McCartney-esque ballad that rolls on into Thunder and Lightning, where Collins, an adaptable and talented vocalist (it’s not mentioned often enough) borrows that little Lionel Richie snarl from several Commodores songs. I’m Not Moving is slight, but fun. It’s needed to break up the record, to make a space for If Leaving Me Is Easy – a song worthy of inclusion on any heartbreak-ballad list. Except it’s on a Phil Collins record! So we need to bring in silly mentions of divorce-by-fax apocrypha rather than appreciation for a job well done. In this case a beautiful early-am song of clarity (after just the right amount of drinks) gets overshadowed by some retrospective referencing of whether the song’s creator was (or is) ever “cool” enough…
The record closes with Tomorrow Never Knows, a Beatles cover that swirls and charms and is of course tribute to John Lennon – but given Collins’ primary instrument it’s a tribute, too, to the innovative playing of Ringo Starr. Collins was leading the charge there in giving Ringo his dues.
A bonus disc of live tracks (and the demo version of The Roof is Leaking) shows where Genesis’ shift had impacted on Collins – a version of Misunderstanding feeling like it could have fit right in on Face Value. We also get to hear If Leaving Me Was Easy in its longer, slower live version. Great renditions of the soon-to-become Collins-concert staples, Hand In Hand and In The Air Tonight and a stonking-good run through of I Missed Again. Maybe you won’t listen to these all that often, but if the new version of the album gives you any new thoughts on the original recordings it is at least worth staying for the bonus disc once or twice. The real magic is in the album. I’ve always thought that though – but playing it in 2016 seems strangely rewarding; reminds that not many of the one-man-band types (outside of Prince and Beck) have ever got close, writing-wise, to nailing a sound and serving up so many slight variations on the theme on the one album.
Take a look at this now…and a listen too. You might just be pleasantly surprised.