The award for the most surprising musical comeback of 2016 goes to an artist that once drew very polarizing responses from both music fans and the music press: Phil Collins. The Genesis drummer turned front man turned Grammy and Academy Award-winning solo artist announced that he will be coming out of his 2011 retirement from the music industry. After doing several brief performances on late night TV and performing at the opening night of the U.S. Open, Collins announced a brand new concert tour that is slated to begin next June with a five-night residency in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Rather than making it a simple comeback tour, Collins staged it to promote the last thing any artist would go on tour for: an autobiography. While it is strange that he decided to write an autobiography right at the beginning of his comeback, Collins still managed to give fans of both Genesis and his solo career a pleasant surprise with this newest book, his second after writing about his lifelong fascination with the Alamo in 2010.
When musicians get around to making an autobiography, there are usually two ways in which they are written. On one hand, there are books like Carlos Santana’s The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light and Steven Tyler’s Does The Noise In My Head Bother You, that focus primarily on the subject’s life, with their musical career being placed in the background throughout most of the story. Then there are books like Joe Perry’s Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aersomith and Tony Iommi’s Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath, which places a greater emphasis on the creation of the music rather than the life of the artist.
Collins tries to create a balance between both types in his memoir. While this method worked with Pete Townshend and Keith Richards for their respective memoirs, it feels like Collins is trying to do two things, but never fully does one thing quite right. The book goes through Collins’ early years and childhood relatively quickly, cutting straight to his early years behind the drum kit. While other artists mention their influences and how they inspired them to take up music, Collins hardly mentions his earliest musical influences, save for a few pages dedicated to the Beatles and an excerpt near the end on the Motown Record Company artists that influenced his final solo album to date, the 2010 cover compilation, Going Home.
Interestingly, Collins gives a very thorough look into his acting career from his youth before taking up music. Even though it is well known that Collins dabbled in film production over the years, both as an actor and a musician, the book makes one wonder how things could have been different if he had remained an actor full time. Finally, he arrives at Genesis, the first major musical breakthrough for Collins. While it was very fascinating to learn how he wound up with the band, it hardly goes any further than Collins becoming the lead singer after the departure of original front man Peter Gabriel in 1975.
He also leaves out several key moments from his Genesis tenure. One example is when Collins is talking about how the band had a difficult time breaking away from their status as a “cult band” in the States due to their lack of a hit pop single. As long time Genesis fans would know, the band finally managed to achieve this status with their 1978 hit single “Follow You Follow Me.” But Collins completely ignores both this song and the band’s subsequent rise to popularity in the region. For a lot of the book, Genesis is reduced to mere footnotes when compared to his rapidly successful solo career.
The only time the band ever receives any other deep coverage is when Collins talks about the 2007 one-off reunion tour and how it resulted in the nerve injury that currently prevents him from properly playing drums. It would have been fascinating to know about the thought process that went into the creation of some of the band’s classic songs, or at the very least, Collins’ honest views on his relationships with several band members. This problem also partially carries over when Collins talks about both his solo career and his soundtracks for Tarzan and Brother Bear. While he goes into more detail on the writing and recording, compared to his Genesis material, it still feels like there is something to be desired for any and all fans who read the book. If music was one element of Collins, his turbulent personal life is another equally important part.
As mentioned earlier, Collins received more than his fair share of criticism over the years. Reading the book, one cannot help but feel like one of his reasons for writing this book was to settle scores with some critics and debunk any and all misconceptions that surround him. Collins goes into great detail over well-repeated incidents throughout his life, like joining Led Zeppelin at the original Live Aid benefit concert for a disastrous first attempt at a reformation, and his supposed divorce by fax from his second wife. Near the end, he talks about his near fatal case of alcoholism that spawned from his retirement.
While this last story is eye opening to say the least, the rest of the scenarios addressed in the book make Collins look like he is desperate for some sort of validation from the masses. However, while Collins comes up short in both areas of his book, he is at the least a very good storyteller. All throughout the book, he permeates his story with a perfect dosage of snarky and even self-deprecating humor. But for all the humorous moments, he also succeeds in tugging a few heartstrings from time to time.
It might not be the best autobiography of 2016, but Phil Collins’ effort is definitely worth a read, regardless of whether or not readers are fans of Genesis or solo Collins.