Graded on a Curve: Genesis,
Invisible Touch

How appropriate is it that Phil Collins owns one of the world’s largest collections of Alamo memorabilia?

I suppose he can relate. In fact I’ll betcha he thinks the boys at the Alamo had it easy. The Mexican army that surrounded them at the Alamo was, after all, only some paltry 1,500 men strong. Poor Phil, who spent the better part of the eighties as one of the most successful hit-making machines on Planet Earth, virtually overnight found himself surrounded by an army of haters that seemed to number in the millions. And you thought Jim Bowie and William B. Travis faced discouraging adds.

The “Phil Collins Backlash” constitutes an extraordinary phenomenon. When he was on top, both as a solo artist and with the band Genesis, Collins seemed to be unstoppable; Genesis’ 1986 LP Invisible Touch alone spawned five top 40 hits and went multi-platinum. Collins’ music was, arguably, as ubiquitous as Michael Jackson’s. As paradoxical as it may seem, his completely unremarkable face was the face of the eighties. By sinisterly plastering his Everyman’s mug on the covers of all four of his massively popular ’80s solo albums, he made sure of that.

And then something terrible happened; the world, as it were, turned on its head, and a sort of occult seismic shift of the collective unconscious occurred. And just like that Collins went from likable MOR standard-bearer to scapegoat, from the friendly guy with the safe and completely anodyne songs to the singular and loathsome manifestation of the everything that was horrible about the MTV Era.

In a savage twist of contorted but recognizable logic, the listening public made his music inescapable, then turned on him because it was. Like Collins or not, it wasn’t very fair. And Phil himself has said so. The poor man is both confused and embittered. He even hates being called Phil nowadays, because people hate Phil. He would prefer you call him Philip.

Me, I was one of the legion of right-thinking people who hated Collins’ music to begin with, and for the obvious reasons. It was bland, lowest common denominator stuff, yet inexplicably tended to lodge in your head–the last place you wanted it. I could say many dismissive things about the LP’s title track, but forgettable isn’t one of them. It’s generic swill, but it will be with me forever.

Fortunately most of the songs on Invisible Touch aren’t as frighteningly unforgettable. They’re just dull. Some are generic pop songs. Others are watered-down simulacrums of Golden Age Genesis, mood pieces that partake of the spirit of Peter Gabriel but lack the flashes of lyrical brilliance and prog-rock pomp he brought to the proceedings.

Take “Domino (Pt. 1 & 2).” It clocks in at almost 11 minutes, which is to say it’s as long-winded as your average progressive rock song, but it’s remarkable only for its dearth of imagination. All the things one associates with prog are missing in action–the song’s structure isn’t particularly complex, and the musicians aren’t going out of their way to demonstrate their unholy technical prowess. And lyrically it’s your basic love song, although I have to hand it to Phil–his loose talk about pointless violence, silent tombs and blood on the windows throws me. Although a little voice in my head tells me he just threw that shit in to cover his tracks.

Invisible Touch shows precious few symptoms of personality, but they’re there if you have the intestinal fortitude to pay attention. Collins imparts some color to “Land of Confusion” by dint of his drum work alone–smart of him to move ‘em way up in the mix, it was. As for those backing vocals, for some reason they make me think of Men at Work. Why I consider that a good thing I’m not sure.

“The Brazilian” is without a doubt the best (and only truly original) cut on Invisible Touch. I wish I could say it was about bikini waxing, but sadly, it has no words. What you get instead is a lotta barbaric percussion bash over which Tony Banks demonstrates his formidable keyboard skills. I have little patience when it comes to such things–I smell ELP–but I find “The Brazilian,” with its trio of majestic crescendoes, almost riveting. And Mike Rutherford’s guitar solo at the end is a true prog masterstroke.

Also somewhat engaging is the moody “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.” Damn thing’s too long by far, and when all is said and done what I like most about it is the “Helter Skelter” tosses into the lyrics, but I’d be lying if I said the damn chorus (“Tonight, tonight, tonight Oh Oh!”) isn’t lodged in my cranium like shrapnel from a war I never voluntarily agreed to fight.

If you really want to hear what, I believe, ultimately sent folks over the edge with Collins, turn on “In Too Deep.” It’s saccharine and soggy, it’s sentiments greeting card vapid, and I’ll bet you a lot of people both young and old have slow danced to it over the years. It makes me want to set fire to my ears. As for “Anything She Does,” it doesn’t inspire dread–it’s simply “Invisible Touch” speeded up. But that sameness, I believe, helped to ultimately tip the scales against Collins. This song sounds just like that song which sounds just like that other song and so on. Until the world, which cannot subsist on a steady diet of the ever similar, rebelled.

I’ve been listening to Invisible Touch for two days now, and how to describe it? I feel like I’ve been taking a lukewarm bath in brain-destroying radiation. Or steeping myself in poisoned oatmeal. Everything sounds received–the music like Phil bought it online, the lyrics like generalized placeholders for better lyrics Collins was hoping to receive from a stranger in the mail.

You could say Collins got a raw deal. The record buyers of the world fashioned a gun out of his massive popularity, and then proceeded to shoot him dead with it. Or you can ask yourself this simple question. What the hell did they hear in him in the first place?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text