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Commentary: The magic of "Face Value"

It is one of those days. I have put my work away, opened a beer and wonder what to listen to. My CD collection is not small, but on days like these I like to put on a classic. Yesterday it was Brothers In Arms and today it is…

"Face Value"

When I took my first steps into the world of Genesis I came across …But Seriously and No Jacket Required and then Face Value – as an audio cassette; yes, in those days it was not a rare thing to buy an album on cassette.

My first thought was: How can you release such an incredible album? The music was as far removed from …But Seriously as from the Selling England By The Pound album I had bought shortly before. I was 14 years old then and did not know a whole lot about the evolution of Genesis or anybody else.

Face Value hit home and it has not lost its grip on me to this day. It took me years to understand many things and to realize the real level of this album. And to spot Eric Clapton’s playing on If Leaving Me Is Easy.

I’m Not Moving was the song then. Today You Know What I Mean has become the mother of all ballads. Because at some point one had experienced the things oneself that tear Collins apart so passionately.

Droned for the first time … what a stupid song that was. And now? There are few Collins piece that are as superb as this one. Hand In Hand is almost the same, and in 1997 it seemed as if Phil Collins were playing the best song as the opener. Hand In Hand had lost absolutely nothing of its splendor, something one could hardly say about Sussudio.

Who are Genesis anyway? The fascinating thing about Face Value is that the more you listen to it the more it grows apart from any Genesis album. Everybody thinks they are able to or need to compare …But Seriously to Invisible Touch. But Face Value – it stands on its own, and it stands tall. Taller than many other things. And way different.

Everbody talks about In The Air Tonight. It is Collins’ biggest burden. It is no coincidence that this song is the highlight at every concert. The very concept that to sit down at the kit and rumble across the skins could make one a legend is brazen. But that is exactly what happened. Collins never topped that. On every new album he did he became a bit more cramped, as if he knew that he would never again create something like Face Value.

Shankar’s remark on the Face Value DVD is remarkable: “We had no idea what kind of album that would be. Whether it would be pop, jazz, instrumental or fusion we did not know. But the way Phil works, he can spontaneously change everything – Phil Collins reminds me of Frank Zappa.”

Huh? When I began to develop an interest in Genesis & Collins, the latter had long ago become the favourite person to hate for the press and had as much in common with Frank Zappa as Mike Rutherford with Brad Pitt.

But Face Value is something no one dares attack. Face Value is too big for that, and Collins has made himself far too small over the years to create something similar.

I could listen to this album forever and would never get sick of it. There is no wrong time of day for it. I am a passionate fan of Peter Gabriel and I love Selling England… and A Trick Of The Tail, but when someone asked me: “What do you think is the best album Genesis or someone related to Genesis have ever released?”

I did not have to think very hard, there really was only one answer.

by Christian Gerhardts in April 2006
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Face Value - CD review
The Making Of Face Value - DVD review