Phil Collins: Serious Hits Live Review
It’s very easy to knock Phil Collins, and his awesomely self-satisfied public persona tends to make it even easier. I can think of many more worthy candidates for a kicking and he’s not really all that bad in a middle of the road kind of way. Admittedly, that’s not to say that I’m a fan and I still think that the only thing of any great worth he’s done for years was his excellent drumming on Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Paranoid” during that awful Golden Jubilee concert. Anyway, I suspect that you’ll already know if you want to get this DVD before you read what I have to say and if you’re a fan of Mr Collins then you will have it already.
Serious Hits… Live! contains a concert recorded in Berlin in 1990 during which Phil Collins sings all the songs you’d expect, including, surprisingly, two good ones. I’m not an expert on these things but I think I can safely say that “In The Air Tonight” and “Against All Odds” are better than average pop songs which are performed with a good level of professional competence and sound very pleasant. So that’s about seven minutes of the concert accounted for. The rest is, to be frank, a matter of personal taste.
As you watch this feast of musical accomplishment, you get a choice of three camera angles from which to admire Mr Collins and his lovely lilac suit. One of these kept defaulting to a view of his bald patch which leaves nothing to the imagination. Another spends an awful lot of time leering at the drummer, who wears one of those sleeveless vests that tend to show rather too much underarm foliage for my taste. None of the options allows you to watch another concert entirely, which would have been a boon as far as I’m concerned, but perhaps this will be a choice on the retail version.
The concert begins with some New-Age type thing called “Hand In Hand” which goes on forever, builds to quite a catchy chorus and then falls apart as Mr Collins decides to try out some inappropriate vocal gymnastics – inappropriate largely because his voice isn’t in the Mahalia Jackson class, no matter how many talented black singers he surrounds himself with. Excellent horn section though, it has to be said. The second number, “Hang In Long Enough” is forgettable AOR nonsense, enlivened by some of the worst dancing you will ever see. Mr Collins clamps his hands to his side, marches up and down and stomps about like a clockwork robot. This is greeted with rapturous applause which suggests that either German audiences are easily pleased or that they have been told that the first person to stop clapping will be taken out and shot. At this point, Phil does some talking and welcomes “all of you out there in television land” – which I took to mean me – before spouting some dubious German which isn’t translated but obviously delights the audience because they begin cheering again.
“Against All Odds” follows and it’s the best song of the evening. It’s not easy to write a good rock ballad that doesn’t sound as if it’s been written by Diane Warren and Collins has fashioned a love song that makes sense, has a melodic poignancy and a singalong chorus. His performance of it here is average but still improves on the mess that Westlife and Mariah Carey made of it a few years ago. Unfortunately, the appearance of this song causes the audience to wave their lighters around. Now, I’ve done this in my time too, not to Mr Collins I hasten to add, but not at 5.00 in the afternoon when the sun was shining. The heat which the massed lighters creates seems to send Phil into a sweat and establishes that a lilac suit does nothing to conceal one’s underarm moisture production. The next number, “Billie Don’t Lose My Number” is very 1985 in every respect. It’s got meaningless lyrics – it never seems to be established whether the eponymous Billie is male or female – and an electro-pop backing that was dated when it was recorded and sounds even more risible now. The crowning touch of naff-appeal are the echo effects which have been laid on in an effort to make the song sound even worse than it is. I’ve been trying to work out the story of the song and have failed miserably. At one point, Billie is exhorted to keep hiding because the narrator is on his/her side; at the next, he/she is told that he/she has to run for his/her life; then, that he/she is nowhere that the narrator can’t find him; then that nobody, including the narrator, knows where to find him/her. I’m sure that this could be represented – and potentially solved - by a mathematical formulae. If anyone can come up with one, send it to me care of DVD Times. The song ends with an orgasmic cry of BILLLLIIEEE from Mr Collins that excites him so much that he has to remove his jacket. That’s the hottest action of the evening.
Something called “Inside Out” follows, and Mr Collins takes his place at the piano for this one. Why he can’t get a flunky to play it is a mystery since it consists of two or three chords repeated ad nauseum, but it does mean that we don’t have to watch him dancing for a few minutes. The audience all seem to know the lyrics to this one – “Inside Out whoawhooa Inside Out” – but I swear that I saw someone on the edge of the crowd looking on nervously because they weren’t sure what to sing. Then, just when you think you’ve got the measure of the song, it changes midstream to accommodate a particularly horrible sax solo played by someone wearing a red jacket with glitter on the shoulders. Phil exhorts us – as he does so often – to “Hold on”, but exactly what we’re holding on to remains a mystery. I tried deciphering the lyrics but Mr Collins keeps slurring them as if attempting to render them inaudible. It all ends with an extended guitar battle between a bloke with a beard the size of Bournemouth and a guy with a beard who resembles Glen Ponder from “Knowing Me Knowing You”. The latter’s guitar technique suggests that he has spent a lot of time listening to his Derek and the Dominos CD but his actual playing suggests that he learnt his craft from someone who once sat next to Eric Clapton on a train.
To be fair, the next song – “Do You Remember” – is quite pleasant in a bland sort of way and is all about blame and disloyalty. These are two of the recurring themes in Mr Collins’s works, on this evidence, and perhaps points forward to the appalling sense of betrayal and regret that we felt when he didn’t leave the country in 1997, despite having threatened to if Labour was elected. “There was always something more important to do,” wails Phil, “More important to say. And I love you wasn’t one of those things, and now it’s too late.” So why bother saying it at all, you might ask, although that would be terribly unsporting. As is the case elsewhere, Phil is backed by a three person backing group who can sing far better than he can. The phrase “Do you remember ?” is repeated at least fifteen times at the end of the song and it’s very tempting to say “How could I bloody forget !” before throwing a brick at the television.
But I’m sneering now. It’s a bad habit. Stop it Sutton. A stiff drink, and I’m ready to move on with the rest of the concert in an enthusiastic and positive fashion. Sadly, the sight of Phil pogoing before starting the next song is not a good start to my new positivity. Er, anyway I must watch my step. “Who Said I Would” is a traditional Eighties syntho-pop song in the Eighties syntho-pop song tradition. Good horn section once again – these guys almost blow their heads off and they save a good part of the concert from the dumpster. There’s some great hand signals here with Mr Collins standing, hand on hip, pointing at the audience in a vaguely aggressive manner while the backing singers attempt to copy him while keeping time with the choruses. Incidentally, I know that pop music doesn’t have to be grammatically correct but “She’s got a heart must be made of stone” is very poor form indeed. Put a comma after heart and it would be correct English but it wouldn’t make any sense.
Next we get Phil’s heartfelt anthem about the homeless, “Another Day In Paradise”. Admittedly, the social-conscience evinced in this song would be more convincing coming from someone who didn’t threaten emigration at even the notion of a quasi-Socialist government but I’ll give Mr Collins the benefit of the doubt and assume that it comes from the heart. Shame the song is such a load of droning nonsense. After singing it, Phil smiles to himself in a manner which is presumably meant to be self-deprecating but which actually screams smug conceit. Speaking of which, “Separate Lives” follows with the egregious Marilyn Martin replaced by an anonymous songstress who sings far better than Phil. I have to own up to quite liking this song as well, but that’s probably because it reminds me of November 1985 which was a pretty interesting time in my life. Come round for a drink and I’ll tell you about it. This was, of course, written by Stephen Bishop for the awful Cold War ballet thriller White Nights and you can while away the hours that the rest of this concert takes out of your life by wondering whatever happened to him and whether that deliciously silly film is available on DVD. Incidentally, this live version almost kills whatever virtues the song possesses by taking it at half the tempo of the single. More lighters here, incidentally, although only about six of them. It’s still not noticably dark outside. One of the angles gives you a shot of Phil from the back, which isn’t something I’d ever expected to see and can’t say I was too excited about. I’m sure there’s an audience being catered for here, but I can’t imagine who it might comprise.
Nearly at the end of the first disc now and we get a bit of instrumental stuff from Phil and the boys. It’s called “The West Side” and is notable for containing nothing of any interest whatsoever. Banality of this order can’t be easy to sustain and I congratulate Mr Collins for his obvious efforts to write something as mediocre as possible. Sensing that it’s time to get serious, Phil introduces something called “That’s Just The Way It Is” with the following words (in German) – “Since the middle ages, there have been religious wars. But sometimes, blind faith kills the innocent”. Wise words indeed – but it sounded a lot better when Bruce Springsteen said something much more radical five years earlier– “In 1985, blind faith in your country or in your government can get you killed”. Of course, one of these men is a gifted songwriter who has been saying the same things in inventively different ways since his first records and the other, some would say, is an opportunist who pops up on charity shows to flog his music and smile at the knowledge that he’s been superficially public-spirited while getting some free promotion. I’ll leave you to decide which is which. The song, incidentally, is god-awful, the kind of ballad during which the singer sits down and raises his eyes in frustration at the wicked ways of the world. “Is there something very wrong with you and me ?” asks Phil, a question to which there can only be one answer. Some of the audience are crying by the end of this song and I know exactly how they feel. I don’t know which is worse – the song or the fact that Mr Collins really feels that the Irish tragedy needs another millionaire sage to muse on how sad it all is.
Some energy is restored after this low point with “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven”, an acceptable pop number which has some more great work from the horns. Ignore the mindless lyrics and you might quite enjoy it. Once again, Phil tells someone “You can’t run, you can’t hide” which makes him sound like a stalker. The sight of Mr Collins attempting to groove while singing this is almost enough to make the whole DVD worthwhile.
The second disc – yes, I really have watched this – contains much more of the same. Finishing off my second bottle of Cabernet, I settled down in a mellow frame of mind, determined to find something to enjoy. The other half of the show begins with “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore?” Yet another musing on the intractable nature of relationships, it has the dubious advantage of being slightly faster than most of Phil’s similar ditties. Before it begins, the audience don’t seem to want to stop clapping but Phil carries on regardless. Mr Collins says “This is an old song but we’re gonna do some different things to it”. Had the different things included junking the music and lyrics and writing something new then he might have been on to a winner “One More Night” follows and you’ll be reassured to know that it’s just as tedious as it was 19 years ago. By this time, the lighters have turned into sparklers which gives me the ideal opportunity for a joke about things fizzling out, or it would do if I could think of one.
Yet more social conscience bollocks with “Colours” which is, as if you couldn’t guess, all about South Africa. Or perhaps world hunger. Or maybe Northern Ireland again. Full of rhetorical questions, it doesn’t even begin to be coherent. “Tell me who do you blame ?” and so on. It gets worse – “the tear from her eye feeds her son”, “these people each have a name”. Then it goes off on a tribal, sub-Peter Gabriel thing. I thought for one horrible moment that Mr Collins was going to do some native dancing but that fear was quelled when he started singing again. I don’t know what he was singing about but it doesn’t really matter. The nub of the matter, however, comes in this part of the song - “No matter what you say, it never gets any better”. So give some money Phil, drink a glass of milk and shut up.
“In The Air Tonight” follows and restores my good temper. It’s a good song and this is a good performance of it. I could do without the bizarre hands-free mike affair that Phil wears but otherwise this is a high point. Sadly, it’s followed by a low point. Plagued by the illusion that he’s Diana Ross, Mr Collins murders “You Can’t Hurry Love” and adds insult to injury by wearing a pair of Blues Brothers shades. The audience go wild but they’d probably do much the same if Phil were to stand there and quote Tennyson. I can just imagine him wailing "Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them."
Wapping things up, we get the mundane “Two Hearts”, that turgid version of “Groovy Kind of Love”, “Sususudio” – which is probably Phil’s idea of a rock song – “Easy Lover” (without Philip Bailey but that’s no obvious improvement), “Always” - a nice song by Irving Berlin but in a dreadful synthesiser arrangement – and “Take Me Home”, by which point I was a nervous wreck. The last thing I remember before total collapse was Phil waving the mike stand around like a drum majorette with a hair problem.
The picture quality of the concert is fairly dire but vaguely watchable. Obviously transferred from a poor source video, it contains much colour bleeding, artifacts billowing through the dry ice like galleons sailing towards the Spanish Main, grain everywhere and some highly unattractive close-ups of Phil's fillings. It's fullscreen and, frankly, not much better than VHS although not having the concert in more than one format I couldn't say for sure.
The sound is, as you'd expect, considerably better. You can listen to the concert in plain old 2 channel stereo or in a reasonably good 5.1 mix. The surround isn't all that adventurous but has a nicely old fashioned quadrophonic feel to it which made me feel it was 1974 and I was listening to an Emerson Lake and Palmer album. The instrumentation is eminently crisp and clear and the different instruments are nicely defined with the 5.1 track offering strong bass support. If this music is your sort of thing then you won't be disappointed with how it sounds here.
The first disc contains some limited extra features. You can choose to watch the whole first half of the concert or select a song to listen to and there are the three camera angles I mentioned earlier. The first angle is the main video and the second and third vary according to the camera map, which is included and goes into a lot more detail than I could personally bear. Needless to say, if you are of a teccy frame of mind then this will appeal to you.
An opportunity is offered to look at the original programme, although it’s so badly designed that I doubt anyone will wish to linger over it. “Gallery 1” is a series of photos, mostly soft-focus shots of Mr Collins. “The Stage” tells us about the “Herculean task” which was the design, construction and staging of the tour. Again, this has the technical detail which fans will appreciate.
The second disc contains, along with the second half of the concert, a 20 minute interview with Mr Collins where he discusses how nice everyone is, how nice it is to sing nice songs to nice people and how nice it will be to have a nice rest before starting the nice Genesis album with his nice friends. Well, actually, it's not quite as controversial as that but you get the gist. There's also "Gallery 2" which is yet more slightly blurred photos of some bald bloke who could be Bob Hoskins or possibly Mohammed Al Fayad. Once again you can either watch the concert straight through - not recommended for those of a nervous disposition - or skip straight to a song. Once again, you get the choice of three angles which you can either choose before the concert or change while you're watching.
There's really not much else to say about this release. If you're a fan of Mr Collins and his sort of music then you'll have already added it to your collection, possibly next to the Collected Videos of Chris De Burgh. If you're not, then you won't go within four miles of it. Indeed, you might even have considered leaving the country to avoid it, before realising that he's even more popular on the continent than he is here. My mum quite likes him. If you want a lasting souvenir of what is, I am reliably informed, considered one of his best concerts then this will no doubt be right up your street.
Last updated: 08/06/2018 00:40:35