Did you know that Phil Collins is one of only three recording artists who have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, both by himself and as a member of a group (you may have heard of the two other people to accomplish such a thing—Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney)? Oh, you didn’t? How about the fact that when you combine all his work—solo records, Genesis records and production credits—from the ‘80s, you can’t find a single other artist who was involved with more record sales throughout the entire decade? Wait, you didn’t know that, either?
It wouldn’t be particularly surprising if you either a) didn’t already know that or b) previously did know that, but refused to process the information because ... well ... it’s Phil Collins. He’s become both the butt of a lot of jokes and the subject of an equal amount of criticism because of how blatantly middle-of-the-road his music can be. “You don’t have to be great to be successful. Look at Phil Collins,” Oasis’ Noel Gallagher quipped a few years ago, prompting the singer/drummer to publicly express how much it bothers him to hear the growing number of voices that insist his work is rubbish.
It’s a sad tale, really. Honestly—what did Collins ever do to harm anyone? Is “Two Hearts” really that bad of a song? Is all the work he did for Disney movie soundtracks later in his career truly so unbearable that it’s impossible to remember how iconic that drum fill during “In The Air Tonight” really is?
He’s always seemed to have a grasp on exactly how bland he can sound, and he’s never been perceived as someone who has argued for his presence among the greatest-ever popular music artists. In fact, he even has a history of portraying himself as a person who has absolutely no problem poking fun at himself whenever he gets the chance. It’s as though the one person who has always taken Phil Collins with a grain of salt has been Phil Collins.
That precise notion is fairly abundant on Phil Collins: Live At Montreux 2004, the singer’s latest two-DVD set featuring two separate concerts, one from what may very well be his final-ever proper tour, and the other, a set his big band performed in 1996 at the same venue. It’s nearly four hours of pure, unadulterated (mostly) Phil Collins music and for non-fans, it’s not nearly as mundane as you may think. Though for true, die-hard, longtime Phil Collins fanatics ...
Both sets prove to be nothing you probably haven’t already heard. Sure, the stage is scaled down from the normal extravaganza-like set-up he’s offered in the past on his Serious Hits ... Live! and Finally—The First Farewell Tour releases, but that factor splits itself directly down the middle here, favoring the ‘96 jazz-centric, more intimate-feeling show and begrudging the ‘04 typical, run-of-the-mill touring band performances. Such a discrepancy ultimately makes the second disc more valuable for long-standing Collins fans who may be in the mood to see something they have rarely seen. For the fair-weather fans, however, disc one should suit you just fine.
Either way, what you see here is a fairly tidy and comprehensive recollection of the singer’s solo career. The 2004 set is identical to his Finally release. A drum duet bleeds into “Something Happened On the Way to Heaven”, and from there, any knowledgeable Collins fan could pretty much predict what happens in his or her sleep. “Against All Odds” is right around the corner, “I Missed Again” is just as welcome as it was almost 30 years ago, and “Take Me Home” closes out the night in much the same fashion it has at the end of every Phil Collins concert ... ever.
The one takeaway familiar fans may be able to gather from the first disc is exactly how low budget his tour can look without the type of bells and whistles that have been prominent in other performances (i.e., the carrousel used during the Serious Hits tour). The slower, more Adult Contemporary-friendly tracks suffer the most. “You’ll Be In My Heart” is particularly low-budget, and “One More Night” is downright boring. Even “In The Air Tonight” loses a small bit of its mystique because of how normal the atmosphere seems.
What makes this DVD set intriguing, however, is the second disc and the 1996 performance Collins offered up with his big band. Conducted by Quincy Jones and featuring a cameo from a surprisingly powerful-sounding Tony Bennett, the shorter Disc Two is worth any longtime fan’s attention, if for no other reason than the almost indecipherable take on Genesis’ “That’s All”.
Yeah, we’ve seen this before on 1999’s A Hot Night In Paris, but that performance came two years after the one offered here. Included on Live At Montreux 2004 is a set that is admittedly more loose and colorful than anything else his big band has officially released. The only time vocals appear is during Bennett’s take on the jazz classic, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and Collins’ “Hand In Hand”, during which the only voices you hear are the silly call-and-response harmonies the singer has been performing for decades, now.
The alternate takes on his songs actually sound fresh here, for reasons that may be tied to hunger and/or desire. “The West Side” pops with its quicker-than-usual tempo and staccato horn runs. “Los Endos” continues to hold over early Genesis fans, its rendition staying true and noteworthy. And both “Sussudio” and “Invisible Touch” gain new life with the jazzy arrangements, reminding us of exactly how much musical ability Collins continues to possess.
Actually, Phil Collins: Live At Montreux 2004 might just end up being the final live document of such an argument. Collins has not kept his desire to stay way from music a secret in recent years and considering he refused to participate in a one-time performance on the night Genesis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, it’s hard to think that he’ll ever have a desire to tour again or that he would be particularly interested in marketing and releasing any future musical project, whether it be from the archives (highly unlikely) or brand new (borderline impossible, with his current health issues).
And considering the way popular culture has seemingly turned its back on one of the highest-selling musical artists of all time, his disinterest in performing arts these days is not only disappointing, but it’s even a little heart-breaking. If nothing else, Phil Collins: Live At Montreux 2004 profiles happier times for the drummer-turned-singer—a time during which he was more comfortable with both himself and the legacy of his career.
It’s a career that is summed up just as good here as it’s been on any other of his live DVD releases, and it’s a career that doesn’t need to be great to matter. Because as Collins has proven time and time again, simply being pretty good has its benefits, too.