It’s not much of a way to bow out. After 42 years in the business, in which he picked up seven Grammys, two Golden Globes, and Oscar and 100 millions album sales (both as a solo artist and in Genesis), music’s favourite whipping boy finally announced his retirement this week.
Ostensibly to spend more time with his kids, but amid stories of suicidal thoughts and paranormal beliefs, Phil Collins walked off the world stage to hang out with his family and his many millions by Lake Geneva. But not before issuing one final riposte to the press.
"Many of the articles printed over the last few months have ended up painting a picture of me that is more than a little distorted," he wrote on his website. "The result is that I have ended up sounding like a tormented weirdo who thinks he was at the Alamo in another life, who feels very sorry for himself, and is retiring hurt because of the bad press over the years. None of this is true."
The guy’s been defending his reputation for four decades now. There was the alledged tax evasion (untrue), the suggestion he dumped one of his three wives by fax (also untrue) and by 2007 he even made the Observer Music Monthly’s ‘Right Wing Rockers’ list. Long derided as a rich Tory asshole (also unverified, except the rich part) he even provoked Noel Gallagher to quip in 2005, "vote Labour. If you don't and the Tories get in, Phil is threatening to come back", referring to his supposed tax exile status in Switzerland.
Then of course there’s the infamous tale of him jetting across the Atlantic onboard Concorde to play both Live Aid concerts in one day, lording it up in First Class when the rest of the world was trying to save Africa (even though he was only doing what he was told). There's been no end to it.
Fair enough, a lot of it he brings on himself. He’s short, pretty gullible and sports a funny-looking face that encourages mockery while he’s responsible for some of the cheesiest music ever committed to acetate. Plus he’s so rooted in the eighties he’s starred in Miami Vice and even appears in a double checked suit in Grand Theft Auto – Vice City Stories.
Genesis turned shit at the precise point he jumped off the drum stool (compare and contrast the prog genius of tracks like ‘The Knife’ with latterday junk like ‘Tell Me Why’ for that tried-and-tested criticism in practise) and yes, he managed to fuck up ‘Stairway To Heaven’ at Live Aid (or did he? It’s another of those dodgy myths Collins has got himself wrapped up in).
But there’s a few reasons why we should cut him some slack. Of course he’s always been the go-to guy for ironic appreciation and guilty pleasures (equalled perhaps only by Lionel Richie) and many of his misses are matched by hits in that respect. For every ‘True Colours’ there’s an ‘Easy Lover’, for every ‘A Groovy Kind Of Love’, one of these:
But this backhanded compliment obscures some of his most genius contributions to music. He was a driving force behind a fair amount of Brian Eno’s best output, from ‘Another Green World’ to ‘Music For Films’; he produced John Martyn; he worked with Robert Fripp for the guitarist’s ‘Exposure’ album; he even released a critically-acclaimed album (‘Unorthodox Behaviour’) with a jazz-fusion side project called Brand X.
And even in his soft rocking smooth hitz guise he’s been cited by numerous musicians in a non-ironic way. 2001 even saw an LP, ‘Urban Renewal’, full of hip-hop acts from Lil Kim, to Kelis and ODB paying tribute to Collins.
It’s a weird relationship we all have with Phil Collins, a heady mix of resentment, amusement and respect. He in turn, has been an enigma in an eighties jacket, swaddled in nonce sense and dipped in a raclette bowl of cheese. But he's been a trooper and carried on regardless, batting back incessant jibes and accusations while volleying with some moments of true genius (often accompanied, it must be said, by some real stinkers).
For being a bit of a buffoon and the unwitting butt of a lifetime of jokes, and most of all for taking it on the chin with a gormless grin, Phil Collins, we salute you.
Blog: Why James Blake is the new Phil Collins