I heard “Throwing It All Away” this morning. Even if you accept the argument that Genesis and Phil Collins had become indistinguishable with the release of the best-selling Invisible Touch, this ballad sounds different fron most Collins material. The nagging rhythm hook, the synth patch thundering over the chorus, the ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-AHH’s; the humility of the production — a Collins solo track walloped you with horns and percussion, for better or worse. This is a “prog” band essaying an adult contemporary hit in the year of “On My Own,” “The Next Time I Fall in Love,” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” It’s obvious to me now that the four other singles, ubiquitous to this day, strike poses: the go-for-the-jugular title track (there’s no way it could NOT have hit number one in 1986; it would have charted lower a year earlier or later), the deeper exploration of adult contemporary textures in “In Too Deep,” and the attempt at a yuppie “La Marseilleaise” called “Land of Confusion,” a song so confident that its success mitigates its sanctimony. “Our generation WILL GET IT RIGHT/We’re not just making promises that we’ll know we’ll never keep” is garbage out of the “Boys of Summer” mode unless you accept that, like the Don Henley hit from the previous year, it does keep its promises. Note how the band puts verse, chorus, and middle eight in the service of what is in essence a proto-Rhythm Nation musical bed. The thing moves. No wonder Patrick Bateman is a fan of this album.
For years my least favorite single, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” gets a sympathetic reading from Tim Finney:
In some senses the album is better than I remember, but only in senses that I was too young to articulate or care about at the time, so it would be more accurate to say it has characteristics I can now identify with approval: those snazzy programmed beats in the title track, and its across-the-board panache; the Moroderesque middle section of “Domino”, which I cannot remember at all, and now seems like some weird cross of Donna Summer’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ and Simple Minds’ ‘Empires & Dance’ (the joy and pain of rediscovery often boiling down to shifting reference points in the interim), the buzzing pomp and circumstance of “The Brazilian” which just about defies comparison with anything ever (if only because not all sounds which can be made should be) – unless it’s the theoretical possibility of what would have happened if Trevor Horn had joined Yes only after producing Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
In other ways, it’s lesser – most obviously in the vocals, Phil Collins frequently sounding pinched and strained, as if he was patched in from a toilet. But mostly, it’s not that the album is bad so much as that what moved 6 year old me doesn’t move 28 year old me quite so much – in particular, the middle-class agit-pop of “Land of Confusion” is nowhere near as evocative as I remember, though I still love the guitar riff that arrives at the end of the chorus (otherwise you can stick with Alcatraz’s superior dance-pop version, “The World We Live In”).
The song I was most interested to rehear, and the one which also stands up best today, is “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”. Even going by a twenty year old memory, I had a feeling that the tune’s pitchshifting syncopated rhythm and cricket-chirp synths would connect with a current (and perhaps modish) weakness I have for opulent eighties stabs at greenhouse global lushness – see also Fleetwood Mac’s marvelous “Caroline”, in some ways this tune’s superior successor; on a different plane, the gentle but widescreen mysticism of the extended mix of the Commodores’ “Night Shift”.
I was right, and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” has a cracker arrangement, eerie and foreboding and excitingly disjointed and ultimately so epic that even the weirdly corny first section middle eight can’t hinder it much. It’s also a stout defence of the brave pomp of mid-eighties drumming. But what startled me on returning to this song was not how much it appealed to an older version of me; rather, it was the rush of remembered associations and feelings, like a familiar scent whose origin in memory you cannot place. This song, rather than the title track, bore the full burden of a six year old’s moralising treatise on the dangers of sexuality, becoming a tragic declaration of submission to the alluring enemy, laden down with dramatic irony (“don’t do it!” I had wanted to shout at Phil through the speakers, like I was watching a pantomime).
A fear of sexuality filtered through Moroder, Simple Minds, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Caroline.” This is the world I want to live in.