Phil Collins -…But Seriously (Deluxe) (review)

Phil Collins – …But Seriously (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic) review

Album is last in a quartet of multi-platinum pop masterpieces

Phil Collins ruled the Eighties.  His solo debut, Face Value (reviewed here), came out in 1981 and was quickly embraced by a startup cable network called MTV. Several multi-platinum albums and #1 singles ensued.  Fittingly, …But Seriously,  his last great album, would be released in December of 1989, creating a rather unintentional bookend to a period of monumental success.  That album has just been released in Deluxe Edition form, including a second disc of bonus material.

Collins was coming off the biggest album of his career, No Jacket Required, and he didn’t mess too much with the formula for the followup.  Things start out with “Hang in There Long Enough,” a slice of horn-driven, white funk/pop that Collins’ had perfected over the years (although it does have a little extra punch with the inclusion of live drums instead of a drum machine).  But, immediately the mood turns “serious” with “That’s Just the Way It Is,” Collins’ take on the war in Northern Ireland, elevated by some excellent harmony vocals by David Crosby.

“Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” is his last great upbeat single, while “Do You Remember” is another in a long line of hit ballads.   Collins has always been good at enlisting help to elevate his music, and this album is no exception. The ominous narrative on the plight of the homeless, “Another Day in Paradise,” is bolstered by more great harmonies from Crosby, while surprising, gospel-infused “I Wish It Would Rain” features some passionate soloing from Eric Clapton.

While this album had its share of fine moments, it was far from perfect.  “Colours,” at almost nine minutes, overstays its welcome, and never really gets anywhere.  Plus, the second half of the record is marred by too many ballads (although “Father to Son” is a heartwarming, personal message to Collins’ own boy).

The bonus disc contains some live versions that actually outdo their studio counterparts.  Especially good is the spirited “Hang in Long Enough,” and a surprising cover of Irving Berlin’s “Always.”  The already-long-winded “Colours” in live version runs eleven minutes – it just doesn’t warrant the length.

There were a few outtakes from the album – “That’s How I Feel” and “You’ve Been in Love” are both great songs that stand up to anything else on the record.  The second disc is rounded out by demo versions of some of the songs.  These are interesting for one listen (“Hang in Long Enough” is especially robotic in its infancy), but they mostly contain Collins mumbling the not-completed lyrics.  The one exception is the demo for “Another Day in Paradise,” which seems more ominous in early form, complete with city sound effects at the open and close.

Collins next album, Both Sides, would see him retreat inward for a very personal, non-commercial set of songs.  So, …But Seriously signaled the end not only of the Eighties, but also of Phil Collins’ grip of the Pop charts.  The album still holds up pretty well on its own too.

…But Seriously also signals the end of his “Take a Look at Me Now” retrospective campaign, providing a much-needed re-assessment of one of the greatest artists of the 1980’s. —Tony Peters