With the notable exception of the three Peter Gabriels, every solo album from a Genesis member or ex-member has proudly displayed the lessons learned in that band — and been the worse for it. But Phil Collins’ initial foray is neither art-rock nor the fusion jazz that Collins favored in Brand X. Instead, he keeps the fluid vocal tone he’s lately developed in Genesis, yet ignores the group’s high-blown conceits in favor of some basic pop and R&B lessons apparently gleaned from Face Value‘s backup musicians, the Earth, Wind and Fire horn section and Stephen Bishop.
Like “Misunderstanding” (the best song from the last Genesis LP), Face Value is pop music about personal turmoil: in this case, the dissolution of Collins’ marriage. At times, the singer’s broken heart is too clearly on his sleeve, and musical missteps abound: the annoying Munchkin-like Vocoder effects in “I’m Not Moving,” some rote horn charts, a batch of indistinguishable ballads and a flaccid cover version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
But Collins hits more often than not, adeptly blending moody keyboard trills and bone-crunching drumbeats in “In the Air Tonight” and shifting with surprising sure-footedness from the Eno-esque repetition of “Droned” through the percussive horn blasts of “Hand in Hand” to the persuasive intimacy of “If Leaving Me Is Easy.” Face Value is far less ambitious and important than Gabriel’s solo debut, yet it’s also unmistakably the most worthy Genesis product since that record.