On Music: Phil Collins misses mark with Motown tribute show

December 15, 2010

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Every artist feels the need to return to his roots at some point. For Phil Collins, his career went full circle when he recorded versions of Motown classics for the DVD Phil Collins-Going Back: Live At Roseland Ballroom, NYC.

Collins’ attempts to preserve what made “The Tears of a Clown,” “Jimmy Mack” and “My Girl” timeless treasures from the label that put Detroit on the pop culture map are evident. The backing band even includes three members of Motown’s original session band, The Funk Brothers. While Bob Babbit, Eddie Willis and Ray Monette can still throw down the licks that appeared on every Motown tune from 1959 to 1972, it’s Collins who makes the project mediocre at best.

While Motown is clearly part of his roots, let’s face it—Phil Collins, as a white Englander, clashes a bit with the style made famous by black musicians who invented the funk style that not all players can deliver with conviction and believability. To Collins’ credit, the show is produced and scripted well, and the former Genesis drummer can still sing. However, an entire concert of Motown favorites sung by a vocalist whose style doesn’t fit the genre gives birth to a pink elephant too big to ignore.

Had Collins not done each tune as originally recorded and allowed his prog-rock influences and pop flair to shine, creating original renditions, the show would have featured Phil Collins—the artist. Instead, the production captures an amplified lounge act led by an aging singer trying to relive days of holding hands outside the Sno Cone stand.

Simply stated, a Phil Collins show with a few Motown tunes sprinkled in would have delivered more credibility to the music and the people performing it. Collins does strike a chord briefly with a version of the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Had he included it between modern versions of originals like “Abacab” and “Follow You Follow Me,” it likely could have turned Phil Collins-Going Back: Live At Roseland Ballroom, NYC into a true classic, instead of a largely uninvented evening of covers.

Phil Collins-Going Back: Live At Roseland Ballroom, NYC is available from Eagle Rock Entertainment.

From the Dec. 15-21, 2010 issue

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