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Phil Collins Dance Into The Light

Phil Collins - Dance Into The Light (1996)

Phil Can Dance Into The Light

Much has happened since Phil Collins’ last album Both Sides: He has been on a fourteen month world tour, divorced his wife, been separated from his daughter Lily, moved to Switzerland to live with his new partner Orianne and last not least split up with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, better known as Genesis.  One could look forward to the new album Dance Into The Light, and expectations will not be disappointed.

Dance Into The Light is Phil Collins’ sixth studio album, and it is up there with classics like Face Value and …But Seriously. Where Both Sides suffered from containing more or less incomplete home demos, Dance Into The Light shines, not least because an excellent band with lots of live experience play on it. Collins’s long-time companion Daryl Stuermer is given a competitor at the guitar: Ronnie Caryl plays on some pieces. Says Collins: “We had founded a supergroup back in school. I played like Ginger Baker, and Ronnie was Eric Clapton. We called ourselves The Real Thing. We were 13 or 14 then. I always kept in touch with him. When I asked him to play on the album he thought I was joking. When Ronnie showed up in the studio Daryl was a bit piqued, like “you have another lover besides me?”  But it worked out. Daryl plays lead guitar, he sounds very smooth while Ronnie sounds a bit edgy. They work well together.”

Nathan East makes his second appearance on a Collins album after playing Hang In Long Enough and Something Happened On The Way to Heaven on …But Seriously. His excellent, lively playing closes the gap string teaser Leland Sklar left. Brad Cole, who had succeeded Peter Robinson as live keyboarder, went into the studio with Collins for the first time. The Vine Street Horns (Harry Kim / trumpet, Daniel Fornero / trumpet, Arturo Velasco / tromboune, Andrew Woolfolk / saxophone) Collins put together for the Both Sides tour as well as singer Amy Keys and Arnold McCuller were asked to participate and did their share to make Dance Into The Light a great album. Phil Collins himself plays percussions (drums, kalimba and others) and keyboards (lead, slide & rhythm guitars, bagpipes &al.) – and of course he sings.

Dance Into The Light CoverThe melodies are frequently sung be two or three vocalists (whether Collins accompanies himself or Keys and McCuller join in) which makes the lovingly arranged vocals a very distinctive. The voices work very well amongst themselves. Another remarkable thing is the total absence of drum machines on the album. If you want to go to the unnecessary length to sort the music on Dance Into The Light into different categories you may conclude that the album could have been called Four Sides because there are four basic styles. Typical Collins songs like Dance Into The Light and The Same Moon sit next to South-continental songs (with African or South American influences, e.g. Lorenzo, Wear My Hat), jazzy, funky pieces (e.g. Just Another Story, Oughta Know By Now) and songs one would not necessarily expect from Collins because they are heavy in guitars (Love Police, That’s What You Said). If you are above putting everything in a box and look at the complete thing it becomes obvious that Collins gets his inspiration from all kinds of music. He shows the same degree of openmindedness that brought fame to musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Sting or Mike Oldfield – musicians who hate to live in just a few rooms of the great palace of music. This has led to a very interesting mixture of music that makes Dance Into The Light an album very worthwhile listening to.

For the first time it is not only Collins’ head that graces the cover of the album. In bright, merry colours Phil demonstrates a (slightly blurry) Dance Into The Light. The well-designed booklet shows others shots from the cover photo session.  Let us take a closer look at the thirteen songs on the CD… 


Dance Into The Light

Tempo: 87 beats per minute
key: C Major, changes to D Major
signature: 6/4

The new album kicks off in 6/4, not an exotic signature but nevertheless one that is not used frequently in pop and rock music. A double-triolic drum intro leads into a typical Collins groove with big brass sounds, polyphonic vocals and a catchy tune. The keyboard at the end resembles In The Air Tonight and Hand In Hand as far as sound, the arrangement and the melody are concerned. The lyrics for Dance Into The Light are an ode to the joy of life, self-discovery and the way to psychic freedom to which everybody hold the key themselves. Look ahead, don’t look back – the dance into the light is a dance into happiness, into enjoying the moment. Those who cannot make it on their own will be supported by others: Side by side we have no fear.
Dance Into The Light is one of four pieces on which we get to hear the full band.

That's What You Said (Spirit Of '65)

Tempo: 128 beats per minute
key: E flat Major, bridge in G flat Major
sgnature: 4/4

In 1965 The Beatles released their album Help, and That’s What You Said (Spirit of ’65) would fit there perfectly with its total Ticket To Ride feeling. The Spirit of ’65 really comes alive in this song.  The predominance of guitars on this song is very conspicuous with three musicians playing guitar – Stuermer, Caryl and Collins himself. Genesis had worked with Beatle-esque guitar solos in Tell Me Why. The song at hand, though it begins so harmlessly, shows an interesting pattern of time signatures:

1st verse:  7 bars / 7 bars / 3 bars
1st chorus: 4 bars / 5 bars
2nd verse:  7 bars / 7 bars / 3 bars
2nd chorus: 4 bars / 5 bars
1st bridge: 4 bars / 7 bars
solo: 7 bars / 7 bars / 3 bars
3rd chorus: 4 bars / 7 bars
2nd bridge: 4 bars / 7 bars
3rd verse: 7 bars / 7 bars / 3 bars
4th chorus: fade-out, hence not countable

You can bet that Collins spent quite some time to come up with this pattern! The change from D flat Major to D flat Minor occurs in a similar way at the end of the chorus in Land Of Confusion (where the harmonies change from A flat Major to A flat Minor). That’s What You Said (Spirit Of ’65) may also remind listeners of the Beatles song Norwegian Wood. The lyrics are about a man who cannot cope with the fact that his Juliet left her Romeo. The song was recorded without any brass and keyboards; the vocals are Phil’s alone.


Tempo: 118 beats per minute
key: A flat Major
signature: 4/4

The „jungle song“ Lorenzo resembles a mixture of Find A Way To My Heart and Biko. The Gabrielesque effect is even enhanced by a guitar riff that could have been David Rhodes’s. The deep drone (in A flat) that underlies long parts of the song is Collins’ invention. The middle section sees Collins drum his heart out; the quick rolls on the toms are particularly impressive.  The gripping final passage with the line “Come with me I’m going back…” has just one flaw in that it is too short. The lyrics are actually not by Collins, but by Michaela Odone. She tells the true story of her son Lorenzo with whom the family lived in East Africa until he was four years old and who contracted ADL, an uncurable disesase of the metabolism (the story was actually turned into a film called Lorenzo’s Oil). The song features the whole band except for the brass group.

Just Another Story

Tempo: 84 beats per minute
key: E flat blues
signature: 4/4

The style of Just Another Story shows that this piece has its roots in Collins’ work with the big band. Never before has Collins sounded so cool and jazz-like. Just Another Story is (warning, categorizations ahead!) a slow hip hop cool jazz version of In The Air Tonight. Note the chords! At times you can sing the chorus of In The Air Tonight over the music. Brad Cole is given the rare opportunity to play a piano solo in the middle, but who on earth picked the actual piano sound? A real piano would have sounded much better. Later (3:35 – 3:42) Cole quotes Supertramp (as in the final bit of Child Of Vision) – of course Cole was Supertramp’s live keyboarder in the 80’s after Roger Hodgson left. The song ends with a keyboard trumpet solo in Miles Davis’ style. Why was no real trumpet used? A trumpet bit without a real trumpet? Peculiar. Perhaps the notes in the booklet are wrong and these are real brass instruments after all.
Just Another Story offers social criticism, it encourages the listener to wake up, use your own brain, go your own way far from peer pressure and manipulation, false friends, drugs, violence, social blindness and cowardice.

Love Police

Tempo: 118 beats per minute
keys: E flat Major, changes in the middle section
signature: 4/4

Collins told German music magazine Musikmagazin (10/96) in an interview [re-translated from German]: „When I wrote these songs I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan CDs, old ones and new ones, just to have another input. It is as if you tuned into a radio station for classical music instead of pop. I also examined Tom Petty’s music and imagined how different the songs would sound if the guitars were replaced by keyboards. With my songs I did it the other way round, replacing the keyboards by guitars.” That is what happened with Love Police. Dylan’s influence is obvious, and you can sing his Mr Tambourine Man over the “If I asked him nicely…” line. Other listeners found that this song sounds like Smokie.  The guitar solo is quite Beatle-esque again, and Love Police has the same instruments as That’s What You Said (Spirit Of ’65), though Collins has added some barely audible keyboards here. The obtuse lyrics of Love Police are about someone who is unhappy with their overall situation.

Wear My Hat

Tempo: 138 beats per minute
keys: F Major, changes to F sharp Major
signature: 4/4

Before Dance Into The Light was released Collins said in an interview that he had bought all of Youssou N’Dour’s records and that that had a certain influence on Wear My Hat. When another interviewer (for Musikmagazin) put it to Phil that Wear My Hat resembled Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al Collins explained [re-translation!]: “That was always my favourite Paul Simon song. But I do not think these two songs have much in common musically other than that they have a South African feeling and that Paul and myself are white. To be honest I was afraid that these songs would be compared to each other. The lyrics are about the fans you meet in hotel lobbies. I wrote the song when I was stuck in my hotel room because of the media circus around my divorce. Everytime I went to the lobby there would be some fans there, total strangers asking me ‘Here, Phil, do you remember me?’ “ What is musically interesting and very good in this song are the vocal arrangements. It is unusual that Phil hits the snare drum at the beginning of every beat. Wear My Hat is another full band song.

It's In Your Eyes

Tempo: 120 beats per minute
keys: F major
signature: 4/4

It’s In Your Eyes has nothing in common with Peter Gabriel’s similarly titled song. Well, except for the similar title, of course. This song completes a trilogy of sorts with Love Police and That’s What You Said (Spirit Of ’65). The guitars are coming to the fore again, and it may have been inspired by another Beatles song. It’s In Your Eyes sounds like a slow version of the classic She Loves You. Says Collins [re-translation!]: “My sister thought It’s In Your Eyes was about my ex-girlfriend, about the relationship because of which I got divorced. But the lyrics came to me without any particular context. It could as well be about my daughter Lily. It’s In Your Eyes sounds a bit like Britpop a la The Beatles or Oasis.” Without this first-hand information one would probably describe It’s In Your Eyes as a love song about a man who woos a woman who has left him, but whom he still desires and who, he feels, feels the same [I just love this sentence; MK]. According to the booklet this is a full band song but the reviewer has been unable to identify either the brass section or other voices than Collins’.  Then again it took him years to hear Eric Clapton’s guitar on If Leaving Me Is Easy…

Oughta Know By Now

Tempo: 78 beats per minute
keys: D flat Minor, changes to E flat Minor
signature: 4/4

The song begins with a tricky drum intro: the beats are a bit off time and the brass comes in a quaver early. Inspiration for this song could have come from bands like The Temptations. Who has not heard their hit Papa Was A Rolling Stone? A kind of Spirit Of The 70s is grooving in this slow number that is the more intriguing because of this languid groove. Ronny Caryl plays a funky guitar riff on the first four quavers of each bar which lends a hypnotic effect to Oughta Know By Now further enhanced by the percussion (?) seemingly taken from Dreaming While You Sleep. The change of keys is interesting in Stuermer’s guitar melody and in the two solos he plays. The lyrics are about a man urging a woman to be with him who put him on hold, as it were. He waits for a signal to be relieved from this unbearable situation. For the third time we hear the full band.

Take Me Down

Tempo: 137 beats per minute
keys: E flat Major
keys: 4/4

Take Me Down could be called an Afro-swing spiritual, for it has elements of a spiritual such as the vocals, the rhythmic clapping and the lively organ sound right out of the movie versions of African-American Sunday services in the U.S. Daryl plays interesting guitar ostinati. The brass at 1:49 reminds one of It Don’t Matter To Me. The music supports the interpretation that Take Me Down is a prayer of someone who finds their faith. It could also be someone who experienced much pain, was lost in darkness and is now looking for orientation through a human role model or friend: Teach me what I should know, give me a sign so that I can use the opportunity to get a grip on my life. Take Me Down is the fourth and last song on which all musicians who worked on this album can be heard together.

The Same Moon

Tempo: 80 beats per minute
keys: A flat major with a transition to C major
signature: 4/4

The Same Moon looks back on the Both Sides album. Collins’ home demo synth guitar ruined several pieces on that album, and it is just as annoying here. As far as the music and the arrangement (short, dry guitar notes) are concerned The Same Moon resembles All Of My Life on …But Seriously. The middle section is a highlight, though it seems a bit unfinished – mainly because it is a clever device to switch to a different key than a part of its own. Collins’ percussion is quite interesting. It sounds like a drum machine, but it was recorded on a real drumkit. The Same Moon is about a couple who are separated but try to overcome their loneliness by looking up at The Same Moon wishing they will soon be reunited. The lyrics don’t really tell whether it is just the man’s wishful thinking or whether his feelings are requited. The Same Moon features the full band (sans brass).

River So Wide

Tempo: 140 beats per minute
key: D flat Major
signature: 4/4

A fantastic intro takes us into a powerful song with an almost constant bass drone. Drum trioles after the intro resemble those in Colours. River So Wide is a kind of musical brother to Lorenzo as both show a dominant African influence. It is hardly necessary to point out the terrific vocals. In the middle Stuermer plays a brilliant guitar solo that embodies his style: perfect technique, but a bit soulless at times. At the end of the song Stuermer has a second opportunity to shine when he weaves a carpet of sounds from several guitars. Next to him we hear the full band without the brass. River So Wide picks up thoughts from Dance Into The Light: It is about the way into the light, albeit this time with a more global approach. People are divided by a wide river, and they ought to leave their stormy past behind and understand that it is high time for change, that this is perhaps the last chance to build a bridge across the river to make a better present and future for us because, after all, we are all equal, so let us cross the river that divides us.

No Matter Who

Tempo: 93 beats per minute
key: F major / G major /  F major
signature: 4/4

No Matter Who is a wonderful, easy-going lovesong (perhaps comparable to James Taylor’s style) that caresses the ears and therefore resembles Everyday. The guitar solo is played by Ronnie Caryl, and it it a breath of fresh wind (sorry, Daryl!) to hear someone other than Stuermer play the guitar. The harmonies at the beginning of the middle section resemble Do You Remember. No Matter Who is the fourth song mainly based on guitar - the other three are That’s What You Said, Love Police and It’s In Your Eyes, but this song has a different style. No Matter Who was recorded by the trio of Collins, East and Caryl.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Tempo: 98 beats per minute
keys: G major, changes to A major
signature: 4/4 and 6/4 or 2/4 throughout

Is this the musical farewell to Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford? Hardly, for both the eminently political lyrics and the music were written by Bob Dylan, whose Knocking On Heaven’s Door Collins covered in a reggae version on the Both Sides tour. After a mono (!) intro on which Collins plays piano and sings, this song develops into a groove a la Driving The Last Spike from verse 3 onwards. The signature pattern of this song is rather interesting: You could count a 2/4 throughout, but if you go for a 4/4 it works, too, but the song seems to have shifted across the bars in a peculiar way. The best way to count it is probably a change between 6/4 and 2/4 with the following pattern: 6, 6, 4, 4. 6, 4, 4, 4. 4, 4, 6, 4, 4. See for yourselves!
While Collins would replace the keyboards by guitars on some previous songs he did exactly the opposite here. It should be mentioned that Collins plays the bagpipes – synth bagpipes most probably. The final song on Dance Into The Light is presented without brass and vocals by Keys/McCuller.

by Bernd Vormwald
translated by Martin Klinkhardt
first published in it magazine #21 (December 1996)