Phil Collins was the King Midas of pop in the 1980s. Love him or hate him, he was a musical tour de force whose signature pipes and ear for memorable hooks resulted in a series of multiplatinum albums and an unparalleled string of chart hits.
Having successfully transitioned to the role of lead vocalist in Genesis following Peter Gabriel’s departure in the mid-1970s, Collins brought his songwriting to bear on radio-friendly fare like “Follow You, Follow Me” and “Misunderstanding.” To old-school Genesis fans who preferred Gabriel’s cool introspection and outlandish theatrics it was the end of the world. For others, it was the musical second coming of Christ.
But there was an undeniable menace to Collins’ craft. Beset by a broken marriage, he followed Genesis’ Duke (1980) with a dark, cathartic confessional solo debut. Just as Gabriel’s solo debut established him has a unique musical force, so did Face Value (1981) evince Collins’ singular creativity and potential for studio magic. With its gated drums, ethereal guitars, and eerie vocal, “In the Air Tonight” was a classic from the word go. Back with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, Phil reconnected with his sinister side for “Man on the Corner” (Abacab, 1981) and “Mama” (Genesis, 1983).
Then there were the bona fide hits. Collins lightened up on his sophomore effort, Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982), which contained sunny, horn-laden selections (“I Cannot Believe It’s True,” “It Don’t Matter to Me”) and a catchy cover (“You Can’t Hurry Love”) to offset the devils inside (“I Don’t Care Anymore”). Genesis’ self-titled ’83 effort saw Phil and his mates shuffle ballads (“Taking It All Too Hard”) and piano-driven heartbreakers (“That’s All”) with quirky concoctions (“Illegal Alien”) and AC rockers (“Just a Job to Do”).
And it sold like hotcakes.
Then there were the duets, soundtracks, and one-offs: Collins filled his downtime with session work (Eric Clapton) and guest appearances (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?) and tried his hand at acting (Buster). For better or worse, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” “Separate Lives,” and “A Groovy Kind of Love” cemented Collins’ reputation as a soft-rock superhero. His snyth-laden collaborations with Howard Jones (“No One Is to Blame”) and Phil Bailey (“Easy Lover”) barely braced the world for the phenomenon that was 1985’s No Jacket Required (“Sussudio,” “Don’t Lose My Number,” “One More Night”).
It was as if everything Collins came in contact with turned to gold. If he appeared on your song, you were all but guaranteed instant success and a healthy royalty check.
Some accused Phil of staging a publicity stunt when he chartered a Concord to ensure a spot on both the London (Wembley Stadium) and Philadelphia (JFK Stadium) stages at Live Aid. But of all the artists listed for Bob Geldof’s charity bash, Collins was least in need of newspaper headlines. If anything, his transatlantic flight only directed attention to the benefit for Africa’s hungry and homeless.
Rather than take a break, Collins parlayed his MTV solo success into another Genesis record. Largely written and recorded at The Farm studio in Surrey, Invisible Touch (1986) became the trio’s quintessential post-Peter release, a slick pop gem that polarized audiences like no other. For every Trespass and Foxtrot aficionado willing to follow Collins, Rutherford, and Banks into the future on such quasi-progressive exercises as “Abacab,” “Home by the Sea,” and the two-part, ten-minute “Domino” there were two turned off by the growing number of shameless ballads (“Taking It All Too Hard,” “Throwing It All Away,” “In Too Deep”).
Not that their opinions mattered to the larger body public, many of whom remained unawares Gabriel (now as famous for “In Your Eyes” as “Shock the Monkey”) cofounded Genesis some seventeen years prior with Banks.
I was on the edge of fifteen when Invisible Touch (Charisma / Atlantic) was foisted upon the world. And while my musical tastes had started down a rebellious path into prog (Yes, Gentle Giant) and punk (Misfits, Dead Kennedys), my upbringing predisposed me to singer / songwriters (Billy Joel, James Taylor, Kenny Loggins) with sharp hooks and moving melodies.
So (much like Genesis and No Jacket Required) Invisible Touch—with its unapologetically bright, repetitious title track as calling card and beer commercial-bound “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” tying the threesome to its more experimental past—was right up my alley during that summer following freshman year of high school.
“You keep tellin’ me I got everything, I got everything I want…please get me out of here!”
It was another kick through the uprights for Collins, who’d eventually amass more Top 40 singles (solo, duet, or with Genesis) in the ‘80s than anybody.
We could wax philosophic over the existential sting of “Tonight” and the pining pop ardor of “Anything She Does” or pontificate on the cultural significance and Zeitgeist-tapping furor of “Land of Confusion” (with its Spitting Image puppet video) all day long. Suffice to say, Genesis’ thirteenth studio album turned us on our heads.
We wore the shit out of that cassette. On the boom box at home, in our parents’ cars, everywhere. I remember who I was dating when the album came out. I remember not always seeing eye-to-eye with the ‘rents at the time (I’d recently run their Oldsmobile station wagon into a utility pole). The ‘80s was a strange realm of Ronald Reagan, Sylvester Stallone, and Oprah Winfrey ... and I was just another troubled teen trying to find his place in it (or out from it).
I distinctly recall lending my Invisible Touch tape to a friend to listen to in his Walkman while we distributed fliers around our neighborhood for the pizza shop we both worked for (he lent me Big Country’s The Seer in turn). That’s how musical horizons widened back then, with the sharing (and dubbing) of cassettes and liberal borrowing of 7-inch singles.
And now—suddenly—it feels like a lifetime ago that a Collins’ Miami Vice cameo constituted a major event in my universe. Invisible Touch turns thirty this week, and I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed Genesis in concert on that tour (April 1987 at Richfield Coliseum) and on its reunion outing (September 2007 at Quicken Loans Arena) prior to what appears will stand as the group’s ultimate dismantling.
Is the album dated? Sure, a lot of it (particularly “Invisible Touch” itself) sounds hopelessly dated. But so does a lot of music by lots people issued during the ‘80s. Phil was a pop prophet—not a pariah—and no amount of revisionism by naysayers will ever convince this Collins devotee that he was somehow more (or most) guilty of homogenizing the sounds in our collective headspace.
I should mention before closing that (despite my Phil fixation) my favorite Invisible entry always was (and remains) the album’s sole instrumental cut, the Banks-written “Brazilian.”
I love, love that tune.
So happy birthday, Invisible Touch. Thanks for keeping us company all these years.
And cheers to Collins, Rutherford, and Banks for consistently producing fun, inventive music without caring whether the results adhered to past Genesis paradigms or pop dialectics of the day. Like The Beatles before them, Genesis refused to confine themselves to any one thing, and its members didn’t mind chasing a good groove at the risk of ostracizing snobbish “Supper’s Ready” holdovers who insisted every musical measure part the skies and break the mold.
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