Collins had a diverse background, musically speaking. He was, of course, the drummer and lead vocalist for Genesis, one of the foremost progressive rock bands of the 70’s, which was more and more becoming a rock supergroup. He also took some turns drumming for the jazz band Brand X. Through his youth, though, he tended to listen to more Motown than anything. All these influences would help shape his first album.
The first track is the iconic “In The Air Tonight”, famous for it’s slow, soft build to the crashing drums near the end of the song. The song was mentioned in the Eminem song, “Stan”, and also was featured in the movie “The Bachelor” with Mike Tyson air drumming along with the song. The way Collins generally writes is to start with a drum machine beat, then when he finds one he likes, he starts singing along with it…whatever comes out winds up being the song. That is what happened with this song; urban legend says he actually saw someone drown, but this is not the case. It was a big hit for him, and a major reason his solo career took off so strongly.
Also on the album is “Behind the Lines”. This is a Genesis song from the “Duke” album, Collins presents a different take on the song here. He gives it a lighter, jazzier beat, that gives it a very different feel. He makes extensive use of the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns on the album, particularly noticeable on this song.
A hallmark of Collins’ work, in Genesis, Brand X or his solo work has been instrumental pieces, and there is an excellent one here. It begins with “Droned”, and continues to “Hand in Hand”. It starts with a steady drum beat, a piano joins in, a keyboard follows, then the drums kick in louder and a chorus starts “Ahhh”-ing along with it, finally building to the horns coming in, even an organ contributing. It’s a very jazzy feel, with many different instruments taking their own parts, masterfully merged to make an excellent piece.
Another single from the album is “I Missed Again”, which again prominently features the horn section. The music video even featured Collins pretending to play the trumpet and saxophone in their respective spots. It’s not a classic rock or pop song; Collins is still finding his voice as a solo artist, but you can definitely see where his future writings come from through this song.
The album concludes with a trippy cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Collins has the drum machine start with a very strange, almost fading beat, a tambourine starts over that before a droning keyboard kicks in, leading to Collins’ vocals. The original song was strange enough; Collins takes it into an even stranger direction.
It’s clear that Collins is using this album as an outlet for his more Motown influences. The result is some classic adult contemporary rock that sometimes brushes up against jazz. It’s a great first effort, very different from what he was doing with Genesis, but definitely worth a listen.