When Peter Gabriel left the band Genesis to pursue his own solo career, it was the break of a lifetime for the band’s drummer, Phil Collins. He took over the front-man duties with style, and before long Genesis was enjoying the most commercial success of their lives. Collins provided the smooth, easy-to-listen-to voice that Gabriel really never had. The tunes were instantly more recognizable and stuck with you for a long time. Of course, that meant that Collins would go out and work on that solo career as well. He didn’t quite abandon Genesis and managed to keep both careers on the charts for quite a long time. If anything, the two entities became more and more the same. It’s hard to distinguish the band’s Invisible Touch from anything Collins released under his own name. No problem, as long as the records were selling. And sell they did.
We haven’t heard a ton from Collins in recent years. He’s always been there. He’s toured under both names a few times in recent years. But the releases became less and less successful. Much of this can be traced to Collins’ wish to become a one-man band. The last few CD’s were produced in his own home studio with Phil filling in for most of the instruments. The lyrics lost much of their creativity, and it seemed that the British rocker had waded deep into stagnant waters. I guess it was time to try a different approach in the hopes of getting back on top.
His latest effort is, unfortunately, a rather awkward one. Collins has been influenced, as have most musicians of his generation, by the American Motown sound, named for Detroit, the Motor City, where the sound originated. Artists like Smokey Robinson and The Temptations dominated the music scene in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. It was the American Invasion of Britain even as artists from that country were taking the shores of the States by storm. It’s no wonder that Collins would look upon this music fondly and want to put his own touch on the genre. He tells us how he grew up singing along to the records. He calls Motown the backdrop to his youth. And why not? It’s been true of so many. But the love and admiration for the music doesn’t necessarily translate into a great project.
To start with, Collins did all of the right things. He hired a collection of musicians that included the famed Funk Brothers who provided the guitar tracks to 80% of the Motown hits of three decades. He spent a great deal of time working the songs out just right. That meant key changes, because many of the big Motown groups were women. There’s no question that he has exhibited the required love and tenderness for the material. But I’m sorry to report that the effort falls significantly flat.
Perhaps Collins just wasn’t feeling well when he took the stage at Rowland Ballroom in New York City to perform these Motown classics live. It’s more likely that the show was merely ill-advised. Collins attempts to turn these songs into Phil Collins songs. That’s not really surprising and likely unavoidable. But these aren’t Phil Collins songs, and they had a power and energy in their original form that Collins can’t seem to recapture in this performance. He is singing Motown, but he’s left the sound of the music behind. He sounds and looks too much like a Vegas lounge singer here. He doesn’t display even the slightest energy. He sings as if by rote, technically fine but with little emotion or passion. Collins shuffles when he moves with back bent like an old man moving across the floor of a nursing-home mixer. At one point in the show, Collins reminds his audience that they are in a ballroom and encourages them to dance. They don’t. The applause is certainly there, but you’ll find it never reaches the enthusiasm that Collins must have gotten used to on previous tours or shows. The band is tight, to be sure. There isn’t a single thing wrong with these performances on a technical level. Collins attempts to do Motown as if it were Big Band music, and the results are a bit frightening. It doesn’t help that many of these songs originated with bands that typically had multiple leads that did wonderful harmonies. Collins has six wonderful background singers, but he doesn’t share lead with them, so the vocals often sound like they are missing something. Nowhere was this more evident than on Jimmy Mack. Collins himself admits that during a rehearsal he was bothered that something just wasn’t quite right with the sound, only to discover himself that it was him. Hey Phil, I happen to agree.
Here’s a list of the tracks on the 98-minute concert:
Signed Sealed Delivered
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
Dancing In The Street
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer
You’ve Been Cheatin’
Do I Love You
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
Going To A Go Go
Blame It On The Sun
Ain’t That Peculiar
Too Many Fish In The Sea
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me
Something About You
The Tears Of A Clown
Nowhere To Run
In My Lonely Room
Take Me In Your Arms Rock Me A Little While
Talking About My Baby
You Can’t Hurry Love
The concert is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The concert certainly looks good in high definition brought to you in full 1080p with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. The lighting is never very good at a concert, but the impressive contrast and solid black levels allow for wonderful detail and sharpness in the image presentation. The band is decked out in purple, while Collins sports a black jacket and white/silver shirt and tie. It all shows up marvelously. You can see the stubble on Phil Collins’ face during close-up shots as well as the sweat dripping from the musicians. It’s a sight better than being there in person.
You have a choice in the audio. You can opt for a LPCM stereo track or a DTS-HD Master Audio version of the music. I opted for the fuller sound of the 5.1. Everything is crystal-clear. If there had been anything dynamic in the performances, I’m sure it would have been captured here. The vocals have wonderful separation. The mix for the music is not a great one. There are often times that crucial musical pieces and even back vocals are just not cutting through. That’s a source issue, however, not anything to do with this particular audio presentation.
The two features are in HD.
Rehearsal Footage With Phil’s Commentary: (14:15) The band assembled to rehearse in Switzerland in June of 2010.
Interview With Phil Collins: (14:23)
Of course, Collins recorded You Can’t Hurry Love many years ago, and My Girl has been an encore staple with the performer for decades. Still, there’s something missing from these tracks that all of the best musicianship in the world can’t cover. Collins forgot the other word Motown is often known as…Soul. “Ain’t that peculiar?”