Monday, 10 May 2010

Phil Collins 'In The Air Tonight ('88 remix)'

Chart Peak: 4 (original version No.2 in 1981)


Although I remembered that it existed, I didn't really remember what the 1988 remix sounded like, so when I got Now 12 home I made a point of listening to this track. It sounded remarkably restrained, I thought, especially compared to so many of Ben Liebrand's other remixes (and his production work on 'Holiday Rap'); in fact it wasn't that different from the original at all. Only later did it occur to me to use the resources of the Internet to check up on this, and whilst I've only tracked down the 12" version of the remix online I can tell from there that it's not what I've got here. In fact, without wishing to exaggerate my Phil-Collins-related expertise, I've worked out that what I actually have here is the original UK single version, distinguishable from the more widely-available album cut by the extra drums on the earlier verses. I don't know whether this applies to every pressing of the compilation, but it's certainly the case on mine, which complicates the post a bit.

Of course, those drums (overdubbed at the insistence of Ahmet Ertegun, apparently) aren't the most memorable drums on the record. It's doubtless a matter of debate among fans whether they even should be there, or whether we should be kept waiting with just the drum machine. Even though he'd been lead singer of Genesis for more than half a decade by this time, Collins had little experience as a songwriter when he started a solo career, and by his account at least the lyric was improvised in the studio. It's a plausible claim, if less so than when he says it about 'Sussudio', but he doesn't deny that he was also influenced by the break-up of his marriage. What he ended up up with as the launch of his solo work is in some respects more of a mood piece than a song, as the minimal instrumentation and creeping pace generate an atmosphere of a storm about to break, just as the title suggests.

BA-DUM BA-DUM BA-DUM BA DUM CRASH! is what you've waiting for, and it finally happens at about 3:49 on my copy. The storm breaks, and it's a relief, but it leaves very little for the remainder of the song to do, pushing the focus onto the vocal which really isn't the best part of it. Still, the 1981 version stands up better than it was socially acceptable to admit until a couple of years ago. And yet it was a victim of its own success in a way; not only that the sheer familiarity of the record dulls its impact, but that it perhaps inadvertantly made Collins a major star in his own right, launching him into two decades of formulaic hits and albums that shifted massive units but never worked the way this does. Only last week, he announced that he wouldn't make any more albums if people kept criticising him, and I can't help thinking it's worth a try.

And just for reference, the 1988 remix isn't very good, because it fluffs the main point of the track by having beats all the way through. And it's still too slow to dance to.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 5, 6, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 44, 68 [original version of this track]
Available on: Face Value [album version]

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