from Billboard – early September 1996
Following the dissolution of his marriage, his split from Genesis, and a move from his native England to Switzerland, Phil Collins has emerged from a tumultuous time to one of the brightest periods of his life.
That newfound jubilance inhabits ‘Dance Into The Light,’ Collins’ first solo album since 1993’s ‘Both Sides’. The Oct. 22 release marks the first Collins project that will be handled by Warner companies throughout the world. Previously, Collins’ records came out on Virgin in the U.K. Now, he is signed to Warner Music International there and for the world outside of North America, where he remains signed to Atlantic Records.
‘Dance Into The Light’ stands in stark contrast to ‘Both Sides’, which was a personal, somber look at his dissolving marriage and his take on certain social issues. Collins recorded the album completely by himself at his house.
The new album is as bright as ‘Both Sides’ was somber. Co-produced with Hugh Padgham, ‘Dance Into The Light’ features primarily upbeat material and a full band.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘It’s nice to have the old Phil Collins back,'” says Collins’ longtime manager, Tony Smith. “In the context of it being an up record with horns, and he’s playing drums, it is the old Phil, but it’s also touching new areas musically and vocally.”
Musically, Collins incorporates African rhythms into many of the songs, including the title track. Such a move, he knows, is going to invite comparisons to another artist who utilized African rhythms to great advantage.
“I don’t own a copy of ‘Graceland’ – that’s the first question people are going to ask me,” says Collins with a laugh. “People’s idea of West African music or South African music or Senegalese music is Paul Simon. That’s wrong – there are people like Johnny Clegg, Youssou N’Dour, Hugh Masekela. There’s a whole world of people out there who are doing it firsthand. But Paul brought it to people’s attention, and now I’m having to pay the price for it. So be it.”
The song most redolent of Simon is the bouncy, humorous ‘You Can Wear My Hat’, a wry look at fan worship. “That song is made to make you laugh,” Collins says. “If you go to a concert, you’ll see these kinds of people backstage or trying to get backstage, or if you check into a hotel, you’re always barraged by a bunch of people saying, ‘Hey Phil! Remember me? You met me 15 years ago.’ ”
Also utilizing African rhythms is the affecting ‘Lorenzo’. The lyrics for the tune were written by Lorenzo Odone, the boy who was the subject of the 1992 movie ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’. While living with his parents as a toddler in Africa, Odone contracted a rare disease that stripped the coating from his nerves, leaving him incapacitated. When doctors were unable to find a cure, Odone’s parents discovered that by controlling certain substances in his diet, they could stem the disease but not cure it.
Odone’s mother wrote to Collins a few years ago noting that her son – with her assistance, since he is unable to speak – had put his story in writing and would like Collins to set the lyrics to music.
Unbeknownst to Odone, Collins had seen ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’ and been tremendously moved by the story. “The story was set in Africa, and so it was no problem at all for it to fit in with what I was doing (on this album),” says Collins. “He touched my life, and I wanted to touch his life; that’s how I look at it.” Proceeds from the song will go to the center that does research on Odone’s disease.
In addition to the use of African rhythms on many tracks, the other thread that runs through the album is a sense of spirituality.
” ‘Dance Into The Light’ is about people finding freedom (in South Africa and elsewhere), but it’s also, probably subliminally, about me finding that in my life,” he says. “I’m not a religious person, but I’m finding that while we’re mixing and I’m looking at the lyrics, there are probably quite a lot of spiritual references, and they’re metaphors for finding freedom, looking for the light, philosophies that are just as appropriate to me because of all that stuff that happened to me. Because of the gutter press, the tabloids, I was on the front page of the newspapers for a lot of the summer.”
Collins begrudgingly admits that the rabid paparazzi may have actually done him a favor. Sequestered in his hotel room while on tour, trying to dodge the cameras, he wrote songs on the road for the first time. “I split up with my family and had a girlfriend and moved from England to Switzerland and was on the run, which was why I sort of locked myself in my hotel room, because I was basically being hunted everywhere I went. That’s why I had the time to write the songs, because normally, I wouldn’t write on the road.”
Quite a few songs give away the ebullient mood that Collins now finds himself in, such as ‘It’s In Your Eyes’, a melodic ditty that recalls the innocence of ’60s British pop.
“There’s another two or three songs on the album like that that make you smile,” says Collins. “I remember how I felt when I first heard the Beatles’ type of thing. It was the kind of thing I wanted to do. Some of their lyrics were very naive, and I’ve actually tried to capture that. The style is what’s currently known over here as Britpop, but in fact, it owes everything to the Beatles anyway.”
The new album features Collins playing drums instead of relying on a drum machine, which he has to some degree on past albums. “I made a bloody-minded point of actually saying that I want drums on everything here,” he says.
A near disaster on the last tour was one reason for Collins’ decision. “I fractured my wrist somewhere on the last tour without knowing it,” he recalls. “I was in a lot of pain every night whenever I played and whenever I hit a tambourine.”
After the tour, Collins’ doctor told him that the broken bone – in the middle of his wrist – was dead and couldn’t be fixed. The doctor also said that if he removed the bone, he couldn’t guarantee that Collins would have the same degree of mobility as he did before. “So I’m kind of stuck with it until it really becomes unbearable,” he says. “So maybe that’s the subconscious reason why I did all the drumming on this record, because I was so pleased that I could play again. I thought that maybe I had done my last stuff, you know.”
Collins was also able to play when he took a break from recording ‘Dance Into The Light’ this summer to drum with a jazz big band that he has put together. Several performances by the band, which plays Genesis and Collins tunes reconfigured with jazz arrangements, were recorded, resulting in a live album and video that will come out next year.
But first, Collins will concentrate on the release of ‘Dance Into The Light’.
For Collins, working so closely with the labels in promoting the album is just part of doing his job.
“With all the different territories, I have great friends in all those places, because I’m actually an artist who goes out there and knows people’s first names, because they’re working on my thing the same as I am,” says Collins.
He continues, “I don’t know – I’m 45, and I don’t have a thing about my age, but there comes a point where you start thinking, `I want to stand up and be counted. I want what I do to be good or bad through no one’s fault but my own.” (Genesis) Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford are truly two of my best pals, (but) I really didn’t know if I wanted to compromise anymore.”
In addition to his new album and the big-band project, Collins is writing the music to a new Disney cartoon, ‘Tarzan’. “I’m doing the songs a la what Elton John did on ‘The Lion King’, but I”m also more involved than he was – I’m actually going to be collaborating, to some extent, on the soundtrack,” Collins says. “Disney is probably going to send me a letter bomb for talking about the movie at all, but I’ve already given them four songs to work on. We have a great relationship.”
Collins will take a break from his work for Disney when he begins a world tour in March. He will hit the U.S. next summer.
By Melinda Newman, and Jeff Clark-Meads