There’s just something about this song.
Phil Collins often gets dismissed as creator of shallow, inoffensive Pop music. While that isn’t entirely false, it isn’t entirely true, either. Yes, his music is for the most part easy to listen to, accessible, middle of the road. But that doesn’t make it devoid of emotion and meaning. “In the Air Tonight” is probably the best example of this.
I believe it was the first single from Collins’ first solo album, Face Value, in 1981. It is a dark, meditative song with cryptic lyrics and an insistent, throbbing beat. The tense music and production are perfect. There’s not an extraneous note here; it is taut and spare and absolutely haunting. Although the emotions are quite obvious, the lyrics don’t really give much away, and that’s one of the things I like most about it. You’re not entirely sure what the man in the song is referring to; the narrative is deliberately murky. All you really know is he can feel something coming down, and it’s not good.
When I was younger, I heard rumors that it was about a murder Collins witnessed as a child/teenager, but that’s been thoroughly disproven. It is about his divorce from his first wife and the anger he felt toward her. That meaning seems more obvious once you hear it, but there’s still plenty of room for the audience to put their own spin on it.
I always thought this song really came into its own when it was used in the first episode of Miami Vice. It’s an oppressive song, like the humidity in Florida, and Michael Mann employed it perfectly. Although Miami Vice didn’t age too well (it really looks dated now), the song is unscathed by time. Phil Collins made catchy, hook-filled music, but that doesn’t mean the hooks weren’t painfully barbed.
I guess it could be considered something of a personality test: Which version of Genesis do you prefer? No, no. Not the Bible. (Although considering yesterday’s post, I can see how you might think that.) I mean the band. Do you like the Prog Rock, Peter Gabriel lineup, or are you a hit-machine, Phil Collins era fan? Both have their defenders, but when you think about how drastic the stylistic change was, it’s not really a fair comparison.
From their formation until the late 1970s, Genesis created the kind of artsy, layered, thematic albums that are hallmarks of Progressive Rock. In Prog Rock, it didn’t matter if there were suitable singles; that was for the marketing guys at the label to figure out. The point was to explore the human condition through music coupled with fantastic storytelling. Songs were carefully linked–literally with musical bridges, and figuratively with recurring themes and characters. Peter Gabriel has always had a knack for this kind of conceptual songwriting, and Genesis were one of the better acts of this little sub-genre.
While Genesis were quite good at this stuff, it’s not exactly my cup of tea. I generally prefer the tighter Pop/Rock stylings Genesis favored when they became a trio led by Phil Collins. Collins had an ear for good rhythm (he was their drummer, after all) and catchy hooks. The music wasn’t better than what they did before, just different. And Genesis never really shed their storytelling roots. They were one of the first bands to take full advantage of music videos, using the medium as mini-movies for which their songs were the soundtrack.
The two different versions of Genesis are really more like two different bands. One was more successful artistically, the other commercially. I don’t know what it says about me that I prefer the more commercial band. Probably nothing. Which Genesis would you rather listen to? Or would you just change the station whenever they came on?
Just got home from the big Oscar party; I did dismally this year. I’ve also been trying to help my father set up his new cell phone. So this one is really short.
There’s not too much to say about “Against All Odds,” anyway. Phil Collins made it for the movie of the same name at the height of his popularity in the mid-80s. It is a terribly earnest, very sappy and melodramatic love song. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I have a soft spot in my heart for earnest, sappy, melodramatic love songs. I know they’re generally kind of awful, artistically speaking, but they’re so much fun. Phil Collins is really good at them. He can infuse real emotion into lines like “You coming back to me is against all odds, it’s the chance I’ve got to take.” And he is a legitimately talented drummer (or used to be before health problems forced him to stop). The drums as a foreground instrument is kind of what made some of his stuff more interesting than other 80s pop fare. He turned Genesis from a fair to middling prog rock band to a pop hit machine. Some might argue that was a bad thing, but I don’t know. It’s all a matter of taste. And personally, I hate prog rock.
Why am I even contemplating “Against All Odds” in the first place? Because it lost the Oscar for Best Original Song to “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. And the Academy didn’t even let Collins perform it at the show (this was when they still performed all the song nominees). “Against All Odds” might not be a great song, but the winner was hideous. I like and respect Stevie Wonder as much as the next music fan, but that song was pure dreck.
Of course, at least it was a better choice than anything from this year. They only managed to find two original-to-the-movie songs that were listenable enough to nominate. And even that was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I’m hoping next year is better for music in movies.