Turn It Off Again Part Two - The Solo Artists. Alan Hewitt examines the musical clunkers among the band’s solo material.
Yes folks, this is part two of the feature I began last time round. This time the focus is on the solo output of the band so, let’s start at the beginning (alphabetically speaking at least) with Tony Banks…
|Tony’s first solo album, 1979’s A Curious Feeling, is an acknowledged masterpiece and so we shall move on from that without further comment to his next offering, 1983’s The Fugitive. 1982/93 were to see three of the protagonists in Genesis try their hand at singing their own vocals and we shall examine their success (or lack thereof) later but let’s have a look at The Fugitive. As things stand, once you get used to the distinctive sound of Tony’s vocals, the resulting album was and remains a pretty solid effort with some excellently grounded pop songs which, had they been released under another name, may well have been hits - story of Tony’s life really, eh? However, the CD release of the album contained a bona fide clunker in the shape of the extra track: Sometime Never.. Oh deary me, this is a real dirge of a track which has one of the worst forced rhymes I have ever heard in it, and simply detracts from the overall excellence of the album.|
I am not going to examine Tony’s orchestral output in this feature as to my ears at least, it has been uniformly excellent and so, we move swiftly on to the Soundtracks album of 1986. With only three songs on this one, all of which are extremely enjoyable and completely different to each other to boot, it falls to some of the instrumental passages to come under the definition of “clunkers” this time round and for me the final suite on the album, the Redwing Suite falls into this category. This is a directionless meandering series of cameos which really does nothing for me and having seen the film as well, does nothing for it either!
|Next up we have 1989’s Bankstatement album wherein Tony tried the experiment of using other vocalists to sing his lyrics for the first time outside of Genesis for an entire album. Here, without a doubt the major clunker is the one track on which Tony decided to sing himself: Big Man really isn’t Tony’s finest moment and especially when stood up against the excellent vocals of both Jayney Klimek and Alistair Gordon elsewhere it merely sounds weak and flaccid. The CD bonus track, Diamonds Aren’t So Hard, also falls into this category really. An acerbic lyric accompanied by some (by Tony’s standards) weak keyboards it really doesn’t do anything for me either. As there were no other unreleased tracks on any of the CD singles from the album, we can move swiftly on to…|
1991’s Still album, one of his most underrated in my opinion. And once again featuring a wealth of vocal talent including Jayney Klimek once again in addition to both Nik Kershaw and Fish. Sadly, this means that once again, when Tony decides to pit his vocals against theirs, the result is extremely disappointing and Hero For An Hour is anything but heroic! But that is only one track from an entire album’s worth of excellent music and so we can forgive him that I guess.
|This brings us to Tony’s final rock album, 1995’s criminally underrated Strictly Inc on which he restricted himself to one vocalist, the superlative Jack Hues of Wang Chung. The resulting album is, to my mind, his best since A Curious Feeling and there simply isn’t a bad track on it. There are clunkers here aplenty though as Tony let himself be persuaded (probably against his better judgement) to allow others to “remix” a couple of tracks with disastrous results. Thankfully these aberrations were relegated to the realms of extras on the CD singles which were released and leave the album in its unsullied brilliance.|
And with Tony out of the way, we next turn our attentions to the output of Phil Collins next…
Phil’s 1981 debut Face Value took most of us by surprise. Not only was it a completely different beast to the Genesis material but it was also released on the Virgin imprint. A bold statement of intent and one which Phil was to follow up on throughout the rest of his solo career. The album was certainly a complete change in direction for Phil demonstrating his ear for a fine pop tune and much more besides. The debut single: In The Air Tonight has gone on to achieve something of legendary status not only a superb track but for the drum sound which Peter Gabriel had also used on his third solo album which Phil worked on, earlier in the year.
Purists may well say that most of this record deserves to be in the “Turn It Off Again” category. Not so. This is a superbly crafted album and for me, the only track on it which does not sit comfortably within its framework is the closing cover of John Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows which is simply a bit too off the wall to fit within the rest of the album. With no B sides proper apart from the handful of demos which were released at the time and also on the recent reissues of Phil’s back catalogue and which are fascinating glimpses behind the scenes.
Two busy years were to elapse until Phil released another solo album, 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going, another solid effort but one which failed to quite emulate the amazing success or impact of its predecessor. That said, once again, there is only one song which really grates my gears… Like China, a typical Collins love song but one done in his worst Mockney accent… it gets on my tits every time I hear it and when it is compared to classics such as I Don’t Care Anymore and The West Side, perhaps it would have been best as a B side…
A further three years followed before No Jacket Required hit the record stores, although Phil had scored a massive hit with the wonderful Against All Odds the year before but No Jacket Required was the album that really saw his career begin to soar into the stratosphere. With CD now established as the dominant recorded format, it was this album that saw extra tracks added, in this case the mawkish We Said Hello Goodbye which isn’t one of Phil’s best moments. Neither, it has to be said, is the massive single from it, the irritatingly effervescent Sussudio with its Prince inspired riff, it doesn’t do much for me either I’m afraid. Nor does the one bona fide B side, The Man With The Horn but it is a B side so it can be forgiven at least for that.
Between 1988 and 1989 Phil became pretty much the household name here in the UK and worldwide with the massive hit soundtrack to Buster and the mega album But Seriously. Here things start to get interesting as the plethora of singles generated a heap of non album tracks. I think any Phil Collins fan will probably agree that this album is the most consistent that Phil ever released. There is not a track on it which does not deserve its place there. The B sides are pretty much the same with only That’s How I Feel not really cutting the mustard without being too irritating.
1993 saw Phil take his music entirely into his hands with Both Sides, on which he wrote everything and played every instrument. When it works, the results such as the title track, are superb but there is a streak of sentimentality which ruins several of the tracks for me such as Can’t Find My Way and Please Come Out Tonight neither of which have ever done anything for me at all. The B sides too are unremarkable although I do have a passing fondness for Rad Dudeski but the rest I can comfortably live without.
From the angry Phil of 1993, to the happy Phil of 1997 and Dance Into The Light. Isn’t it strange that when a musician is angry or upset they produce better music? This album although containing several latterday PC classics such as the title track and It’s In Your Eyes, also contains perhaps the most irritating track Phil has ever released. Yes folks, Wear My Hat, OK, intended as a joke on over exuberant fans, the fun rapidly wore off for this one I can tell you! The same can be said for the insipid Just Another Story and why Phil decided to cover the Dylan classic The Times They Are A-Changin’ is anyone’s guess. Ironically enough the B sides to this one are uniformly enjoyable … strange that, innit?
This brings us to Phil’s last solo album proper, 2002’s Testify. Without doubt this was his weakest album although there are some good tracks on it but several that definitely come in to the category of clunkers not least being Don’t Get Me Started (see title of this feature for alternative suggestions…) and the final pairing of Thru My Eyes and You Touch My Heart which are both cloyingly sentimental.
I make no mention of Phil’s last album, the uniformly excellent Going Back as it has nothing on it to merit inclusion here and besides, it was a covers album which means we move swiftly on to Mr Peter Gabriel…
Peter’s first album appeared some eighteen months after he left Genesis. As such, it was, and remains one of his strongest and most consistent albums with nary a clunker in sight, although the twee barbershop harmonies of Excuse Me come closest.
Given Peter’s lethargic approach to releasing music these days, it is amazing to think that barely twelve months after the release of his debut, he followed it up with his second album. An altogether darker and edgier release influenced no doubt by the ongoing New Wave explosion which had gripped the UK the previous year. This is an album which I have struggled with for almost forty years now. Several tracks have deservedly become acknowledged classics such as On The Air and D I Y but it is also on this album that tracks which are far less satisfying (to my ears at least ) appear and chief among these is Home Sweet Home, a more depressing dirge it would be hard to find, unremittingly sombre and depressing - music to slash your wrists to as I call it. Similarly unsatisfying is A Wonderful Day In A One-Wa y World. We also have the first of an increasingly bizarre number of B sides with the traditional nursery rhyme Me & My Teddy Bear given the Gabriel treatment… it falls sadly flat!
It was to be a two year wait for Peter’s next album released in 1980. Once again, the resulting album was to feature some of his most ambitious and best loved songs none of which are anything other than deserving of their place on the album. Peter also branched out in to foreign language versions of his records with a German version of the album and to me at least, several of the tracks on it work just as well as their English counterparts. It was rumoured that there was also a Japanese language album in the offing but plans for this fell through… perhaps for the best!
Another two years elapsed before we got Peter’s fourth album, another magnificent and darkly challenging effort although one with two tracks which have never really endeared themselves to me although in the case of the first of these, Shock The Monkey, it has become a firm favourite with fans. This and Kiss Of Life really do little to move me on record but I have to say that both of them hit the spot when performed live. Peter followed up his experiment with different languages with a second German language version of the album and, like its predecessor, it works remarkably well. There were also a couple of B sides to the singles that were released from the album, of these Soft Dog is a mediocre affair, a remnant rather than a finished track.
|1986 saw the release of the album that catapulted Peter into the stratosphere, So. An album that the purists among his fans derided as a “Sell out”. Without doubt, this is his most blatant attempt to court chart success. This album contains the best and the worst of Peter Gabriel in one neat package. The tracks which fit into that latter category as far as I am concerned are those where Peter is trying that little bit too hard to court popularity, and so both Sledgehammer and Big Time rate among the tracks that irritate the hell out of me and yet, at gigs, I like everyone else, sings every single bloody word! With CD now established as the dominant format, the number of extra tracks for albums and /or singles increased. Sadly, on this album the quality of these did not improve with the extended version of Big Time being particularly mediocre and as for Curtains… well, let’s draw them eh and be done with it!|
Peter’s next album proper (I am not making reference to his increasing work in the world of film soundtracks here as that is an entirely different field of endeavours) was to be along time in the making and did not appear until 1992. Trying to follow the enormous success of So was always going to be difficult and this album fails to reach the heights of its predecessor. The majority of the album is thoroughly enjoyable, but one track stands out like the proverbial sore thumb - Fourteen Black Paintings. What were you thinking when you opted to include this one, Peter?!
As I said before, with the extended CD format at his disposal, Peter could release even more music. Sadly, in the case of this album, most of this was to be in the form of the dreaded “remix” with no less than SEVEN appearing throughout the singles issued from the album, and one of those a remix from a previous album! None of these merit more than a cursory listen and the only genuine “new” recording, Bashi Bazouk sounding like an out take from the Passion sessions. Disappointing to say the least.
Peter’s last genuinely new album is now incredibly SIXTEEN years old. Yes, 2002 was the year the last new music was released by Peter in the shape of the UP album. A singularly inappropriate title for an extremely dark and introspective work containing some of his most thought provoking work. Sadly, once again mediocre remixes fill up the extra tracks on the singles from the album none of which leave me even mildly titillated (wonder where I have hear that before…?)
Peter’s forays into the world of cover versions Scratch My Back and New Blood bring nothing new to the table in terms of material and so I won’t comment further on them here and instead, move on to our next musician… Mr Stephen Richard Hackett…
Steve’s solo career got off, somewhat confusingly, to a start while he was still a member of Genesis with the release in 1975 of Voyage Of The Acolyte. A prog gem and one which was followed by a triptych of others: 1978’s Please Don’t Touch, 1979’s Spectral Mornings and 1980’s Defector. From these four albums, only a couple of tracks can really be said to come in to the clunker category … I have never been keen on Carry On Up The Vicarage from Please Don’t Touch, and The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man simply has no place on the masterpiece that is Spectral Mornings either. Sentimental Institution and the single B side Hercules Unchained from Defector also come into this category as far as I am concerned.
1981’s Cured album was to divide Steve’s fans every bit as much as his old stablemates in Genesis’s release the same year (Abacab) did. Many couldn’t handle the stripped back simplified style of the songs or the fact that Steve had finally decided to take on vocal duties himself. To be honest, I didn’t mind the album although Turn Back Time is nauseatingly sentimental and cloying. Either of the album single B sides would have been a better bet in my opinion.
With internal problems with Steve’s then record label, Charisma, it was to be a further two years before we had another album from him. This was the uniformly excellent Highly Strung. With the superb acoustic album Bay \of Kings rounding off 1983, it looked as if Steve was back on track…
We were wrong.
I guess every artist is allowed his one album of total indulgence. Well, 1984’s Til We Have Faces was definitely Steve’s. I have no idea what he was thinking when he put this one together, but it is without a shadow of a doubt the weakest album he has ever put his name to. In fact, it is easier with this one to mention the tracks which AREN’T clunkers these being A Doll That’s Made In Japan, What’s My Name and Matilda Smith-Williams Home For The Aged. The rest of the album is a mush mash of half realised ideas and twaddle really…
Steve’s next solo album saw him return to the acoustic field with 1988’s Momentum album, another wonderful effort. Steve then effectively dropped off the radar for four years during which time he regrouped and invested in a recording studio of his own before returning in 1993 with the magisterial Guitar Noir album. It is on this album that he really did find his “voice” and over all it works remarkably well. With one exception though… A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite really grates and is another of those left of centre tracks which Steve is partial to once in a while. One track off an album however, is reasonable I guess.
1994 saw him finally drag his blues harp out of the closet for an album entirely of Blues standards and new compositions in the Blues style. You either like it, or you don’t. Me? I love it and I still hope that one day Steve will give us a blues based show.
1997 and Steve takes us all by surprise once again with an album I am sure none of us ever expected him to make. After years of effectively eschewing Genesis material, Genesis Revisited saw Steve take many of the classics he is associated with from his time in the band and give them a new slant. Heresy! Some fans cried. The originals are good enough. A valid argument, but taking a fresh look at this material can also be beneficial and in many cases it was. However, there are a couple of real howlers on this effort Neither Waiting Room Only or I Know What I Like really do Steve any favours as far as I am concerned.
From the sometimes ridiculous to the totally sublime. 1997 also saw Steve release his first foray into orchestral music - A Midsummer Night’s Dream a remarkable effort … nuff said.
With the end of the century and new millennium imminent,. Steve decided to bring us one of his darkest and heaviest albums, 1999’s Darktown. A difficult album and one which I struggled with when I first heard it. However, that said, the only track from it which I have taken an instant and continuing dislike to is the opener Omega Metallicus which is simply awful.
The new century/millennium got under way with a pair of albums which are the polar opposites of each other. First of these was the acoustic guitar/flute duets album with Steve’s brother John which examined the works of French Impressionist composer, Erik Satie… nothing wrong there at all. This was followed a couple of months later by an album with a gestation period almost as long as one of Peter Gabriel’s albums! Feedback ‘86 as its title suggests, should have been released in 1986, and would have been Steve’s follow up to the abortive GTR project. Legal issues precluded that and so we had to wait officially until 2000 for it to finally appear. The only track from it which has never sat well with me personally is, ironically enough, the only one which GTR performed live - Prize Fighters, a mediocre songs which even the dulcet tones of Bonnie Tyler do nothing to improve.
Steve’s second purple patch began again in earnest with the release in 2003 of To Watch The Storms. This also saw his return to regular and increasingly frequent touring activities. By now, the tendency to release “special editions” of albums with bonus tracks had finally caught up with Steve as had the demand from his Japanese record company to issue a stand alone version in that territory with separate tracks… a nightmare for collectors. The album itself remains one of Steve’s most consistent releases, however, there are several genuine clunkers within the special and Japanese editions. Of these, the worst offender by far is Marijuana Assassin Of Youth, a real turkey of a song. Fire Island is not much better to be honest, and Pollution B is something I can live without too.
It was to be a further three years before Steve gave us another studio album, 2006’s Wild Orchids. A deceptive title as this one was cast in the same dark mould as Darktown the album itself was in the main, a consistent effort although to be honest, I am not enamoured of Steve’s cover of his brother John’s track Ego & Id., or the cover of Focus’ Eruption either if I am honest, although I love his cover of Dylan’s Man In The Long Black Coat… funny world, innit? Of the original compositions, only Hackett’s Progressive Blues (his words not mine) on the special edition doesn’t really cut it for me, it is neither fish nor fowl and stands out like a sore thumb among such otherwise excellent music.
Another three eventful years were to elapse before a new album appeared. This one emerged out of the trauma of a particularly acrimonious divorce between Steve and his now former wife, Kim Poor. You could say that this is Steve’s very own Face Value I guess, but there the comparisons end. Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth is cast in the typical Hackett mould Two tracks on it to my mind, don’t really fit. The first is the instrumental work out Tubehead an homage to Satan and all his little stomp boxes as Steve might say, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Still Waters, is another blues work out and perhaps on another album, it would work but in such company as it has on this one it stands out like a sore thumb. Of the extra tracks, the live recordings are extremely enjoyable but Every Star In The Night sky, is an appalling mish- mash of bits and pieces and probably ranks as one of the worst tracks Steve has ever released.
2012 saw Steve take what has proven to be one of the most important decisions of his career and one which took fans by surprise once again. He had already revisited his Genesis past in 1997 with the original Genesis Revisited album and here he was doing it again. Only this time, he remained (by and large) faithful to the spirit of the originals and the result was a chart topping album which proved that the appetite for this music had not diminished and the ongoing series of tours that have ensued ever since prove this.
Not letting the incessant round of touring stifle his creativity, Steve was back again in 2015 with Wolflight, a worthy successor to Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth. Once again, the only track that sticks out or me is another Blues based effort - Black Thunder, just doesn’t sit well in the over all body of the album. Both the special edition and its Japanese edition have bonus tracks, none of which are remarkable if I am honest.
2017’s The Night Siren was another worthy album although there is one track here which still jars with me. That is Another Life, sorry Steve; this Scottish revenger’s tragedy is mediocre in the extreme and the jig in the middle is a pure Spinal Tap “Stonehenge” moment…
Intriguingly enough the Japanese edition of the Wuthering Nights In Birmingham album also has three extra studio tracks on it the first of these, The Road To Kiev sounds more like the batman Theme meets the Everly Brothers to me… Touchdown, to me sounds like an unfinished blues song, the riff is definitely one that I could see in a more finished form but here it merely meanders aimlessly looking for a home it has yet to find. The final offering this far however is an acoustic treat and so, that concludes our examination of Steve’s contributions to the clunker world. I now move swiftly on to Anthony Phillips… Well, I shall conclude this feature next time, folks