I’ve been working on a project about the early 80’s, an era that’s near and dear to my heart, and the research rarely turns up a killer song that feels like it went under the radar. The artists at that time were pretty good about leading with the best stuff on singles and videos, and those songs have had a long shelf life. But I hadn’t heard this Phil Collins ballad in quite a long time, and after a few notes, the fondness I had for it quickly came back to me.
Collins gets an unfairly bad rap, if only because of just how ubiquitous he was in that decade, either releasing solo albums or Genesis albums, producing hit songs by the likes of Frida and Howard Jones, guest-starring on Miami Vice, putting out soundtrack songs, and on and on. The guy had a serious work ethic, and eventually he became a bit overexposed (“Sussudio”, which still sends me into spastic shivers when I hear those grating horns, was probably the tipping point for me), but his work from 1980-84 is consistently fine, as the guy, with and without Genesis, shifted seamlessly from arena rock to R&B to balladry with nary an ounce of strain.
This song was a bit of an underdog, considering it came on an album, 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going, which produced the hit cover “You Can’t Hurry Love” and the intense “In The Air Tonight” redux “I Don’t Care Anymore.” By the time they got around to releasing this one, Collins was back with Genesis preparing their next LP.
Like a lot of his early solo work, “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” deals with the wounds of lost love. Unlike the simmering anger that surfaced on songs like “In The Air Tonight,” this one is more graceful and tender, a loving plea from a regretful guy who still thinks he’s the one for the girl he’d addressing, even as a new man moves in. With an understated string section and sensitive piano work underpinning, the pretty wistfulness of the melody shines through. Meanwhile Collins does his vocal thing where he starts off all dejected and then explodes with passion. Check it out and you’ll realize that “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” is that rare beast: an underexposed Phil Collins song from the 80’s, and an exceedingly worthy one at that.
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If there were any doubt about the contrast between the two leaders of Pink Floyd, David Gilmour drives it home on 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the first Pink Floyd project following the departure of Roger Waters from the band. As much of a Gilmour solo album if not more than The Final Cut was Waters’ baby, the album eschews, for the most part wordiness and concepts in favor of the instrumental flights of fancy that were once the band’s calling card. The change in strategy works for half the album before it bogs down in the latter stages.
9. “Yet Another Movie/Round And Round”- Imagine Phil Collins-era Genesis at their fussiest but without the moments of hammy humor or poppy catchiness and you’ve pretty much got the idea of what this slog delivers, even with studio aces Tony Levin and Jim Keltner helping out.
8. “Terminal Frost”- If you’re looking for tasteful if passsionless soundtrack material, then you’ve come to the right place. But you actually bought a Pink Floyd record, so you’re probably quite disappointed with this.
7. “The Dogs Of War”- The one song on the album where the lyrics sort of take center stage is as unsmiling and strident as anything Waters ever spat. It’s not quite eloquent enough to carry that kind of weight.
6. “A New Machine”- The vocoder effect on Gilmour’s voice with the lack of any real instrumentation behind it is a striking effect, but that’s all that’s really here. The two parts of this track are positioned as the bread of a sandwich for which “Terminal Frost” is the meat, making this one of the most askew and forgettable song suites the band has ever attempted.
5. “Sorrow”- It’s got some great playing for Gilmour as well as some lyrics from him that, while a bit busy, are good enough to get by. Still, the whole thing never rises above the moody, airless atmosphere it maintains, making it a closing track that fails to ignite.
4. “Signs Of Life”- Gilmour conjures a “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” throwback vibe on this opening instrumental, which is well-sequenced before the crashing opening of “Learning To Fly.” Rick Wright makes his return to the band with some synthesizer work on the track.
3. “One Slip”- There is a kind of sterile professionalism that was very much of the time that dogs this track a bit, and the lyrics, which seem to be a meditation on the perils of impetuous romance, get clunky here and there. Still, the sweeping chorus cures a lot of ills, and the pinball sound effects at the start are a fun touch.
2. “Learning To Fly”- If there’s a slight quibble with this hit, it’s that the questing, aerial tone of the lyrics doesn’t quite jibe with the lurching rhythm. Only in the final verse, with Gilmour’s voice made to sound disembodied, does that kind of dreamy feel infiltrate the track. Still, this is a focused, well-produced rock song (great backing vocals in the chorus, by the way) that nods to the band’s spirit of experimentation but still stays accessible throughout. And, say what you will about the lyrical content elsewhere on the album, but the words here, inspired by Gilmour’s flying lessons, are excellent.
1. “On The Turning Away”- Writing a message ballad is always tricky business, since things can get sappy real quick. But Gilmour, who wrote the music and got an assist on the lyrics from Anthony Moore, avoids that trap by keeping things balanced between dour realism and tentative hope. The melody is one of the loveliest in the band’s catalog, while the words are humbly poetic and subtly stirring. Gilmour gets the chance for an extended solo rip at the end, all fiery anguish and unchecked emotion. Probably the best song released under the Pink Floyd banner after Waters’ exit.
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