“Seeing both sides” - Phil Collins’ new album, Both Sides reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Almost four years since Phil’s most successful solo outing to date, and the man is back with a brand new album. How well does it compare with its predecessors?

The first thing you notice about this album is that Phil has done everything himself - he has written, sung and played all the instruments, and has also produced the whole affair. Does this make it better or worse than previous outings? Well, we shall see…

The first track, and indeed the first single, Both Sides Of The Story gets us off to a suitably powerful beginning, reminding us of the injustices of the world and seeing things from the perspective of a ghetto dweller who asks… “Would you respect me if I didn’t have this gun?/You see, without it, I don’t get it and that’s why I carry one…” a very simple but effective reminder of what motivates people; desperation; fear; love or hate, its effects can be just as damaging. The track is certainly the most overtly aggressive one on the album although I must admit the passing nods to No Son of Mine, Another Day In Paradise and, of all things; Biko, make it a little too derivative for me.

Both Can’t Turn Back the Years and Everyday (the next single) are a lot more wistful and examine the desire to turn the clock back to a “lost era” that only ever exists in one’s own mind and in the latter song, the importance of having a partner to share life with. Both pieces are very understated and yet succeed in reaching an emotional response in the listener without the more usual outpouring of trite and really quite lightweight lyrics.

Wistful memory is the main theme in the next piece as well. I’ve Forgotten Everything, which asks the question why you can only ever remember the good times and forget everything else. Phil bemoans the state of today’s youth and their lack of respect for people and society in general, but unfortunately without offering any solution to the problem and it is a sad admission that society has lost its way, just as the singer admits in the next track; Can’t Find My Way.

The following track; Survivors is certainly one of the better pieces on the album but still has a rather down-beat subject; that of why people hurt each other and the importance of forgiveness. There is by now an almost confessional atmosphere to the album and this is not lifted by the most haunting piece of all; We Fly So Close, which is also the longest track on the album - we are in a crowd and yet alone.

However, there is a line of hope held out to us in There’s A Place For Us and that is that if you can find the person who you love the most, then there will always be a place and hope in your life. This feeling is continued in the final song of the album; Please Come Out Tonight - a plea, if you like, to the one who is so special to you.

All in all, this is certainly Phil’s most personal album since Face Value but does that make it any better? Sadly, I think not. The songs do generate emotion and feeling as you would expect from someone of Phil’s calibre. Unfortunately, they do so with very little of the heartfelt sincerity that made Face Value such a special album.

The appeal to human nature and to man’s so-called “better side” is wearing a bit thin and the overwhelming sense of gloom which pervades this album will not win the hearts or minds of fans or the wider listening public. Also, the fact that Phil has performed all the instrumentation himself has given the album a very “samey” feel to it. The glories of the previous albums have often been the contributions brought to them by the other musicians, which are sadly missing here.

All in all, this album is a very workmanlike one, which does not do justice to Phil’s acknowledged talents - 7/10 must do better next time.