This review was originally published in 2016.
Before the success, before the hype, before the hate, Phil Collins was just another member of a popular band having a go at a solo album. Of all the Collins albums being re-released this year, Face Value remains the jewell in the crown. Without the pressure to make hits, Face Value emerges as the most fully rounded and enduring album of his career.
Everyone knows ‘In The Air Tonight’, but the rest of the album is just as good, while being completely different in style and tone.
What stands out about listening to Face Value in 2016 is its diversity. From the blue-eyed soul of ‘This Must Be Love’ through the world music of ‘Hand in Hand,’ Face Value is a smorgasbord of different flavours.
Collins wrote the majority of the album following his first divorce, and that rawness runs through the album like a blast of cold water. While there are brighter moments, such as ‘This Must Be Love’, the majority of the tracks explore Collins’s sense of helplessness, isolation and anger.
While the production is clean, the sheen of his later blockbusters is not in evidence, which is to the good. The everyman quality of Collins’s voice, so often ridiculed, is perfectly suited to the autobiographical focus of songs such as ‘The Roof Is Leaking’, ‘I Missed Again’ and ‘I’m Not Moving’.
In contrast to his later works, the use of synthesisers is restrained and well-judged, allowing the eclectic instrumentation to breath. The horn section (Collins’s friends from Earth, Wind and Fire) adds a real swing to proceedings, and Collins manages to add interesting touches of piano and that most dreaded of eighties signifiers, saxophone (on ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’).
The only bum note is the cover of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. It is the one time Collins's instincts fail him -- the song is a mess of over-produced multi-layered synths, sax and drums, with Collins struggling to be heard through the racket. A more understated treatment would have served him better.
Easily the best record Phil Collins ever made, Face Value is far deeper than its title implies, and well worth a re-visit.
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