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Phil Collins - The Singles Collection album review

Three CDs and 45 tracks – all hits, somewhere on earth

Phil Collins The Singles Collection album cover

Once cheesy, now classy: Phil Collins is enjoying the critical rehabilitation he craved (and deserved) as a purveyor of solid album rock (see: the recent LP reissue programme). Now it’s his singles’ turn.

Surprisingly considering his commercial magnitude, there has only been one bona fide hits collection (1998’s …Hits). Potential compilers would have had plenty to play with: to date, 45 singles, all high charters, if not in Britain or America then somewhere in Europe.

This statistician’s gift is now an MOR apologist’s dream: The Singles Collection comprises every one of those 45, um, 45s (in old money), sequenced chronologically, inviting you to assess the extent, if any, of his artistic decline.

Does the quality drop after CD1 – ie after Live Aid? Something happened around 1985: Collins ceased his prodigious run and had a three-year layoff. Maybe he lost his nerve. Certainly there isn’t anything as good or as melodically captivating, on those second and third discs that largely cover the period 1988-2010, although Something Happened On The Way To Heaven comes close.

But he was writing for movies by then (Look Through My Eyes from Brother Bear, Two Worlds from Tarzan – indeed, much of CD3 is Disney fodder), penning pastiches to recapture former Motown-aping glories (Two Hearts).

There’s little denying his early work was his best, from the still-startling In The Air Tonight to If Leaving Me Is Easy, on which he balances out the saccharine with relatable pathos. And Against All Odds is magnificently maudlin – how did this former Eno/John Martyn collaborator become the housewives’ choice?

Easy Lover captures Collins in his pomp, and by Sussudio, he was so confident he was ripping off Prince and nobody cared. Well, apart from his numerous detractors.

Still, even after his heyday, Collins kept churning out personal, personable ear-worms on an industrial scale. And he could again. But seriously.

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.