Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thumper Thursday: Saying Nice Things About A Phil Collins Song

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!" - Thumper, "Bambi" (1942)
"Thumper Thursdays" might become a semi-regular feature in which I try to say something nice about a song, artist, or noise that I generallly loathe.  Let's start with Phil Collins.  Yeah - that "Su-Su-Sussudio" motherfucker.

Let's get one thing clear from the outset:  I've never much cared for Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight", but I've never actively hated the song either.  I grew up with that tune and it got heavy air play.  Like Phil Collins' hairline, it pretty much faded into background for me.

That is until recently.  I heard it somewhere - I can't recall where for sure, but I think I was in the car - and was struck by it's sparse simplicity.  It starts with that cool canned drum beat, then a low key organ part with  an occasional a distant sounding guitar peppered in.  That combination, plus the foreboding lyrics (made all the more intriguing by the urban legend surrounding them) create a great, grim air.  This is definitely an atmosphere piece, and I'm impressed with how well Collins pulled it off.  Remember that P.C. was coming from a band (Genesis) known for their elaborate, bloated, proggy records and live shows.  "In The Air Tonight" marks a significant departure from that vision.  Even if a sort of minimalism was the creative direction P.C. was heading (and I'm not sure he was), the song stands out all the more because of the era it was from (written in 1979; released in 1981) and the era it was released.  I think you can safely generalize popular rock acts of the 1970s as pretty Baroque if not in the studio, definitely live.  The 70s witnessed the birth of arena rock; and the subsequent decade (1980s) saw the rise of a pop music that was a frenzied storm of synthesizers, drum machines and samples.  In comparison, "In The Air Tonight" stands as a model of stark simplicity and solid song writing - and I'm not the only one who noticed/appreciates it's moodiness.  Well done, Philly!

But I'll probably still never buy this tune.

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