You can say what you want about Phil Collins, but leave ‘In The Air Tonight’ out of it.
This isn’t going to be a Patrick Bateman-esque soapbox here, I’m not going to defend the decades of shit this guy has had a hand in* (although he does make a mean cocktail!!!). However, I always have and always will stand by my assessment of ‘In The Air Tonight’ as one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
I can remember this song from my earliest days on this island Earth, and not even a stint on Miami Vice (not that there’s anything wrong with that) could ruin the electrifying buzz I get from hearing it EACH AND EVERY TIME.
Like Grant Morrison’s comics or Darren Afronofsky’s films there is an urgency bubbling underneath the surface layer of this song.
It is a Universe all unto itself, and boy does it mean business.
The idea that Phil had been waiting all his life for this moment, just this fucking moment is a declaration of epic proportions. By this time he had gone through a career with the band Genesis that, apparently, had made them an epic name to be reckoned with in terms of 70’s prog/concept rock. I’ll confess right now, I don’t know the first thing about ‘The Lamb Lays Down on Broadway’ or any of the other ‘conceptual’ albums they did in the late 70’s. The Genesis I knew growing up was disgusting even to my seven year old “I-like-the-band-Chicago-because-the-video-for-stay-the-night-has-Peter-Cetera- hanging-off-a-speeding-car’ mentality. I didn’t really know what good music was then, but I knew bad and Sssudio was it!
And then there were the offshoots bands, the most popular of which was the audio tragedy ‘Mike and the Mechanics’** Headed by Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford their sonic drivel ruined many an afternoon for folks who were unlucky enough to be children in the mid-eighties and trapped by the radio wishes of their parents. Hey Mike, you need a lot more than a miracle, you need some GOOD FUCKING MUSIC to fall off your fingertips, eh?
Anyway, back to my uphill defense of a Phil Collins song. I’m big on atmosphere, and ‘In the Air Tonight’, to me, hangs heavy and tangible in the air with an atmosphere as thick or thicker than the mysterious fog that rolls in off the ocean in Malibu some nights, when the rich watch from behind the panoramic glass of their beach homes and the drugg-addled and adventurous (not necessarily the same thing) make their way up and down in the sand, searching for answers to questions only the they’ll never find. In fact, I would go as far as to say this song has influenced me in everything I’ve done, musically or with pen and paper, because it is always hanging out in the back of my mind, showing me how good moody and magickal a piece of art can be.
Then there’s the urban legend that follows the song, about some friend of Phil’s who did something awful and didn’t know Phil knew about it, so Phil invites him front row center stage, puts the spotlight on him and sings the song live for the first time, revealing everything.
Wow. You feel those goosebumps? Just kidding, neither do I. That story is incidental, because the song means so much more than whatever trite legend gets attached to it. But it is a dark, brooding indictment, and it does penetrate me to the very soul, and I’m only occasionally ashamed to feel this way about a Phil Collins song. Because, of course, Phil just had to go and ruin it with nearly everything else he’s ever done. Thank god for Itunes and the advent of the 99 cent song.
* And no Mr. Bateman, Phil’s cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ is NOT better than the original. Just stick to Huey Lewis and butchering whores, okay?
** In tragedy and illness people are often moved to invoke things they have previously rejected. This happens with god all the time. And, I’m sure, it explains why Mike and the Mechanics’ godawful track ‘In The Living Years’ occasionally pops up at funerals. I ask all my friends and families out there now, if at any point in my
life, in a moment of weakness or sorrow, I ever turn to this track for comfort, kill me, please.
Living years? Really? Like after you die and escape from the
man-made concept of time there are ‘non-living years’? Bah!