PopOff! Retro Review: No Jacket Required

I remember watching some MTV retrospective about how, video killed the radio star and Christopher Cross was interviewed saying something to effect of how MTV made looks such a huge factor that it killed his mainstream career and many others. Leaving aside the fact that looks have ALWAYS been relevant to music entertainment I wonder how Cross would explain the juggernaut success of Phil Collins. A man who at face value definitely has no bad boy David Lee Roth going on, no suits so sharp they cut glass like Robert Palmer, and definitely not even on the same planet as goth/new wave cuties Robert Smith and Dave Gahan or Duran Duran.

And yet Phil Collins absolutely came in and dominated much of 80s both as a solo act and as a member of what many OG fans would consider a watered down Genesis (or not Genesis at all). It started with “In The Air Tonight” a seven minute rock epic of brooding percussion and bombastic drums, in 1981. And then was followed by an absolute masterclass in doing a soulless, hit cover of Motowon song. A class not taught since The Carpenters and Captain and Tennille both took stabs at Motown in the 70s. In 1984 he had a hit soundtrack ballad and a hit duet with Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind, And Fire that sounds like the kind of song made for corporate parties and cocaine. And he was still having modest hits with Genesis throughout that time.

Even so, I doubt anyone could have anticipated 1985 bringing us one of the decades most 80s and most slick albums of all time, No Jacket Required. If Collins was not the most hated musician before 1985 he was not long after this (even as the hits kept coming). The album contained five singles and yet I feel like I heard all the songs at some point on radio. This may or may not be true. And that speaks to how every song either sounded like a single or the album as a whole came off as, “more of the same” from one song to the next.

I don’t know. I do know retrospectively Collins himself dismisses this album as a low bar in his career. I wonder if that feeling was influenced by how much hate he and the album got. Also in terms of low bars… his dalliance with the House of Mouse is pretty low. But that’s true for most who enter that rat trap.

Listening to the album now though it is one go for broke production after another that’s for sure. I would say it’s no filler. But is it all “killer”? Kind of, yes, maybe? It’s not bad at all but Collin’s vocals just are missing a little extra something that can take a pop songs to another realm of emotion even if the song is silly. For comparison, listen to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” another banger track from a former Genesis member, which came out the following year. I think you now understand what I mean.

Even so Collin’s wastes no time at all setting the tone and pace with horns and synth-bass ramped up well past 11. It’s starts with “Sussudio” (a nonsense lyric and song about a school crush) and blast off from there. When I said slick above I meant clean and polished with no rough edges. This is not Prince, though Collins admits he was trying to ape Mr. Rogers Nelson a little bit. And that is an important distinction because slick doesn’t mean sharp or tight. Prince’s and his band was TIGHT but it wasn’t polished. Collins and company are much more loose on this record but lack the grease and the sharp timing. This is not a positive or negative it just is. However while, it makes for some GREAT pub pop, the lack of grease also keeps it from entering that realm of greatness, leaving it in the suburbs because the bouncer would not allow it in the downtown club.

I don’t feel any risks are being taken here (i.e. no chance of slipping on any grease). But even so this album makes me dance. And “Take Me Home”, the last track, is possibly one of my favorites of the entire 1980s, if purely out some audio nostalgia. It is the best track on the record. It would be so easy to just whittle the lack of grease down to, “He’s white”. But George Michael had lots of grease and soul. Even in Wham! the grooves were tight on many songs. And then in the later 80s Lisa Stansfield came along and let us know soul is not confined to a race or color.

But Collins was always straight down mainstreet like Taylor Swift today. And I suppose that is why he was so hated and also why he dominated so much of the charts it was food anybody could digest. I think much of the backlash was unfounded though. Bitter Genesis fans and snobs having their say and of course it just being cool to hate the music.

But- and this may be breaking news to some people even today, with the music on No Jacket Required Phil Collins did do the most important thing of all in my opinion, make fun music! Yes! The album is totally fun to listen to and to dance to. No it is not breaking new ground or going deep… it is party music people. So get to having a good time. And while it doesn’t have the purple power in it, you can tell everybody on the record is having a blast. In fact this fits right alongside all the fun Huey Lewis and the News were having in the 80s. After all, the title of the album is No Jacket Required, you don’t have to have a suit and tie to enter you just have to relax, unfold those arms and have a good time. But on this, the 39th birthday of the album, I say it wouldn’t hurt to put on a pastel colored sport coat, slick back your hair, drop the shades down, and get in that Maserati and go.

Tasty Tracks:
Take Me Home
Sussudio
Only You Know And I Know
Who Said I Would
Don’t Loose My Number

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