Phil Collins - Going Back (2010)

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    With an astounding career singing with prog-rock band Genesis and scoring countless MTV staples and pop hits on solo records throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Phil Collins comes out of his eight-year reprieve from his last album Testify to deliver an album focusing on Motown covers. Before launching into a "not-another-one-of-those" hissy fit, it's safe to say that some of Collins' best work has been covers: the Babyface-charmed "True Colors," "Can't Stop Loving You" and the #1 UK hit "You Can't Hurry Love" are prime examples. So, it's not a far cry for fans to hear a tribute album coming from the talented Brit singer.

    Times are proving to be quite challenging for the singer as health concerns paint greyer forecasts to come; a loss of hearing in his right ear and a surgical operation in 2009 on his neck temporarily affecting his hands and slowing down his excellent drumming skills.

    With an astounding career singing with prog-rock band Genesis and scoring countless MTV staples and pop hits on solo records throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, Phil Collins comes out of his eight-year reprieve from his last album Testify to deliver an album focusing on Motown covers. Before launching into a "not-another-one-of-those" hissy fit, it's safe to say that some of Collins' best work has been covers: the Babyface-charmed "True Colors," "Can't Stop Loving You" and the #1 UK hit "You Can't Hurry Love" are prime examples. So, it's not a far cry for fans to hear a tribute album coming from the talented Brit singer.

    Times are proving to be quite challenging for the singer as health concerns paint greyer forecasts to come; a loss of hearing in his right ear and a surgical operation in 2009 on his neck temporarily affecting his hands and slowing down his excellent drumming skills. Collins remains optimistic nevertheless, and he challenges himself vigorously to regain the confidence he once had in the studio. With his hands not at full potential, he's bending the rules a bit by drumming with sticks taped around his arms. The fighter in him perseveres, and that's probably why Going Back feels so distinguished in its time-machine approach to precious Motown memories. That resilience to fight "against all odds" while ruffling a few critics' feathers with a heartfelt covers' album is what gives Going Back its devout grace.

    The album takes on a eighteen-track playlist using something resembling a "greatest hits" guide; never drifting away from original rhythm arrangements and the nostalgic flavor of Motown's marinated soul productions. Some apparent key changes are to be expected, particularly on Kim Weston's "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)" and Martha Reeves' "Jimmy Mack." But, that is where Collins runs into those early gripes about the album. These resistance-to-change concerns are partially our fault, since we've been clamoring over these offerings since adolescence (and the subsequent endless karaoke tournaments we've chalked up since). We avoid the idea of any such technical tampering with these sacred chords.

    Unfortunately, key changes are not the biggest obstacle standing in Collins' way to a totally successful project, artistically speaking. That charge belongs to how shakily his thin, English blue-eyed soul stands up against the heavyweight cast iron tenor of Levi Stubbs ("Standing In the Shadows") and the gospel punch of Martha Reeves ("(Love Is Like) A Heatwave").

    Nonetheless, redemption runs mightily throughout thanks in part to Collins' sensitivity of the classics and his strong lexicon of rarities. Collins does Stevie Wonder proud on "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and does even better on Wonder's ballads "Blame It On the Sun" and the breezy AC-rendered "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer." Rather than taking on Eddie Kendricks' falsetto, Collins settles with his cool natural on "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)." And, then there's the six-minute recreation of Norman Whitfield's psychedelic soul wonder of the Temps' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." Nothing is altered except for a meaner lead guitar and Collins' peppered percussion. The freshness of the song, along with his bold undertaking of the multi-lead original, gives the album its most soaring moment.

    While the album is 80 percent Motown, the others, like Curtis Mayfield's "Talking About My Baby" and Phil Spector's "Do I Love You," are just as rewarding, adding to the album's nostalgic vibe. "Going Back," once recorded by the Byrds and Dusty Springfield, showcases a fresher Collins arrangement and a Motown-inspired percussion atop the warm-hearted ballad.

    The Carole King-penned title track, perched on the album's closing, finds Collins' longing for a return to the preciousness of his childhood:  "I think I'm going back to the thing I learned so well/In my youth," he sings. The song has sentimental meaning: Collins, now 59, is facing retirement status after hinting several times in the press that Going Back could very well be his last album. But, paying tribute to one of the greatest soundtracks of American music feels just right for Collins. To duplicate some of Motown's unforgettable blueprints, it helps being surrounded by some of the original Funk Brothers' personnel (Ray Monette, Eddie Willis and Bob Babbitt). After hearing such an endearing and efficacious benediction from Collins on the closing cut "Going Back," it's always good to look back and remember the good ole days. It doesn't get any sweeter than this. Recommended

    By J Matthew Cobb

     
    Choice Cut - Jennifer Hartswick - "For You"