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20 years of Both Sides by Phil Collins

Phil Collins – 20 years of Both Sides


It was twenty years ago today that, on 08/11/1993, a special album in Phil Collins' career came out and was called Both Sides. After the worldwide smash hit album ...But Seriously, for which Collins had invited many famous musicians – amongst them Marcus Miller, Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton – to play with him, he relied only on himself to do his most personal album since Face Value. Pure Collins – this caused many debates, and hard-core fans have been known to have come almost to blows with each other as to how to properly appreciate the album. Peter Maiwald, himself a musician and a critical fan of the Genesis camp, reminisces and reaches an evaluation that is most apt for this album, as both are utterly subjective and unabashedly personal.


Once upon a time … On November 8, 1993 the long-awaited new album by Phil Collins, Both Sides, was released. This is not a review like all the others that have been written about the output of the Genesis camp. It is rather a look at what this album has triggered in the last 20 years.

The fans had to wait for a long time. There was precious little information as to what was in store for the listener. And the inevitable happened – obviously, the logistics of delivery were not quite as sophisticated as they are today. There were many delays, but finally! By mid-November I had on my table Phil Collins' fifth studio album.

Expectations were very high, after all, this was the successor to ...But Seriously. Nobody had expected this to become Phil Collins' most personal record. It was a brave experiment of him to record all the instruments himself.

It is, of course, a well-known fact that Phil Collins was a brilliant producer to whom many of his colleagues would turn to produce their recordings. But Mr Collins playing every single instrument on Both Sides himself was a surprise. The only assistance he took was from Mark Robinson and Paul Gommershal as producers. The latter had given Serious Hits … Live its excellent sound. Taking that line of view the music press mercilessly tore the album to pieces. I remember many a scathing review.

The insults some colleagues from print and broadcasting media poured over Collins and the album were shattering. The quote from the New Musical Express can be found a hundred times all over the internet. Personally, I find this behavior intolerable because the very people who wrote those scorchers sat meek as lambs in the press events where they had one-on-one interviews with him. But this bit is not about quarreling with the press, it is to be about Both Sides!

In 1994 the album went triple-platinum in Germany, and sales figures worldwide were breathtaking, particularly from today’s point of view.


Now then, track by track, my impressions two decades on :-) I think I can dispense with long-winded descriptions of what the songs are about; that has been done elsewhere (e.g. here) over the years, so if I do it, I will do it only in keywords.


Both SidesBoth Sides Of The Story

Few listeners are actually aware of the first two seconds of the album – the creaking of the drum stool before the song actually begins. And then the big beginning – the drums, this “manual loop”! After 20 years, the chord sequence still gives me goosebumps, even though it has been used in so many songs before and after. The brilliant dramatic keyboard blanket has remained lively and up-to-date to this day. And Phil’s voice, stronger than ever! A pleasure and one of my all-time favourites –the live version of the tour that followed, too!


Can’t Turn Back The Years

Where would the world be without this kind of ballads, without the ever returning woe of the world when a big love is over.


That is the kind of schmaltz we love about Phil Collins’ songs. When the song came out as the second single in January 1994 the radio edit lacked the striking piano intro that the album version had. Of course the intro did not fit the computer parameters of the radio stations. Note the guitar chords alluded to on the keyboard that create a very emotional mood.


I’ve Forgotten Everything 

As (partially) unclean in the final mix, as brilliant is the performance. Even the synth brass has some charme. Until the time somebody mentioned your name I had forgotten everything about you. Bloody memories!


We’re Sons Of Our Fathers

The image of banjo, cello and jazz drumkit for a live rendition of this song brings on memories of the jazz musician Phil Collins. Unfortunately this image did not come true.


Can’t Find My Way

By now one would think Phil Collins had entered the midlife crisis. It is commendable in him that he apparently goes over his whole life lyrically. One might wonder whether it is the fact that he opened himself up so much that he unconsciously drew the wrath of the papers to his music. Art in music, as in other genres of art, is not merely the pretension of a beautiful world. This song shows that Phil Collins a sensitive and vulnerable person.


After the title song the most formidable song on the album. I was very excited to see the version on stage – and audiences of the 1994 tour were in no way disappointed. The "asynchronous" use of snare and tambourine offer a stimulus rarely found in pop/rock music!

We Fly So Close

Emotions, desires, love's labours lost – all the things you think of listening to this great ballad, which is best for quiet hours near the fireplace!

There's A Place For Us

Pure jazz … Imagine a jazz club in New Orleans. As you approach the entrance you hear the sounds of this fine performance... „I don't wanna go – we don't know much about it...“ An anthem to love!

We Wait And We Wonder

Somehow this song is as current as it was 20 years ago. "These brave heroes only know to hit and run." Musically an intense anthem against everything war. A political Phil Collins speaks many people's minds. No names are named, though they could, of course, change easily – the theme remains the same!

Please Come Out Tonight

This ballad made tears stream twenty years ago and today. A very emotional ode to love, to fears of loss – and also to the hope of a new beginning...

All in all

This is the big one in Phil Collins' solo career! As I wrote for one of the songs, he deserves high praise to „strip“ like this musically. It is one of the most personal albums in recent music. It is done beautifully, not just the lyrics but also the music. Thank you for this great album, Phil, and for its wonderful performance on stage. What is kinda missing is the sequel...

Oh, and another thing, Mr Collins: I was quite okay with the fact that when I saw those four consecutive shows in Hannover, Germany, the rain ruined clothes with a four-digit worth. Rarely has an artist played a better tour!

Peter Maiwald is freelance musician and journalist. Amongst others, he works for a local radio station in Hamburg, Germany, and runs the webradio
Peter Maiwald's website (in German)

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