Phil Collins: Going Back

Posted November 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

On super-sized Motown tribute, Phil Collins has the time of his life with some of his favorite 45 r.p.m. singles from his youth

After leaving his mark on the drums with prog-rock outfit Genesis and unveiling a cluster of pop and R&B-influenced hits and selling over 100 million albums worldwide after going solo in the ’80’s, Phil Collins never seem like the guy to pump out a cover’ album. Even when he journeyed into the land of big bang jazz with his Phil Collins Big Band, he did cover his and Genesis material; escaping the fallout of being coined a humdrum washout. But covers’ albums are big moneymakers in the industry today, and even with their high levels of nostalgic wandering they are enticing people back to catalog albums and are creating a curve of appetite for classic genre revivalism. After enduring a few health setbacks with the loss of hearing in his right ear and corrective surgery on his neck’s vertebrae indefinitely affecting his ability to play the drums at 100 percent, Phil Collins found his way to golden era soul music. With Going Back.

The album opens with the Temps’ “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)” and swings through infectious uptempo grooves like “Heatwave” and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”  With eighteen tracks assembled, the album paces like a Motown “greatest hits” collection but Collins does his best to pick and choose from a wide range of Motown acts and classics to lay his vocals on. He’s also in good company as Funk Brothers’ veterans Bob Babbitt, Eddie Willis and Ray Monette join him on the trip back in time. With Motown crew members on board, Going Back recreates the oldies with a glow of sweet reminiscence; displayed best with the distorted bass, the mono-sounding production, chilling tambourine chants and the noticeable 45 rpm energy.

Where Collins, the blue-eyed soul first tenor, runs across proportions of scrutiny is his balzy attempts at Martha Reeves’ phrasing (“Love Is Like a (Heatwave)”) and the less-than-charismatic key drops of “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” and “Jimmy Mack.” And then Levi Stubbs’ powerful gusto is missing on Collins’ take on “Standing In the Shadows of Love.” The songs are so embedded in our consciousness, even in the minds of karaoke masters, that Collins slides across those tweaked offerings with an exaggerated share of comfort and ease. Certainly Martha Reeves and Levi Stubbs didn’t sing their golden records with this much tranquility and that familiar knowledge tends to be a troubling spot for Collins. It makes you wonder if soul purists will question his attempts at fiery soul using lukewarm pop precision.

Collins’ rebounds on some of the odds-and-ends featured, particularly with the Stevie Wonder offerings. Stevie Wonder’s “Blame It On the Sun” sounds like a Lionel Richie pop-seasoned single awaiting for its appointed day of release. His refreshingly peaceful reinterpretation of Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” is just as important. Rarities like “Something About You” and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” give the album that extra spice and relevance to run back to. His choice of bringing in Curtis Mayfield soul (“Talking About My Baby”) and a Carole King reflective ballad (“Going Back”), although it goes against the grain of the Motown sovereignty, shakes up the album’s predictability and warrants something new and organic to the experience.

Of all the album’s standouts, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” – a song that has been covered by droves of artists lately (like Craig David and several American Idol finalists) – kicks off its hard-to-detect copy-and-paste production of the original. His six-minute duplication of the Temps’ dead-beat dad anthem remains one of the album’s strongest and liveliest moments. While the gritty groans and timber of his voice are certain to grab our attention, the sweeping strings and guitar plunks proves to be definite retreats into psychedelic soul.

But Collins’ approach to Motown is respectful, reverent and are done with the best of intentions. If measured, the songs cover a range from easy-listening averageness to three or four standouts. What gives Going Back a major advance over most covers’ albums is its variety of flashbacks and the long-playing feature. With almost twenty songs (25 on the expanded ‘Ultimate Edition’ set) and comfortably clocking under sixty minutes, you get to hear a unpretenious interpretation of Motown gems without all the unnecessary filler and uncomfortable arrangements.




  • Release Date: 13 September 2010
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Producers: Phil Collins
  • Track Favs: Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue), Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, Going Back

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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