Phil Collins’ sudden transformation from the balding bantam drummer for a prosperous British art-rock group into a mainstream pop heartthrob might seem one of the Eighties’ most improbable success stories. But judging from the sly craft and warm, low-key humor of his solo records and his successful productions for Philip Bailey and Frida, Collins’ newfound fame was inevitable. His effortless graft of bright white-R&B bounce to quirky, unexpected melodies is instinctively commercial but never feels overly contrived. His sound mix, which basically consists of brash horns and hard, clipped rhythms, also gives Collins’ records a confident edge. Like his ’81 and ’82 outings, Face Value and Hello … I Must Be Going!, No Jacket Required is not an album that waits to be liked.
About the worst thing you can say about this record is that at times Collins’ charms seem a little overfamiliar. The soft-core romance of the hit ballad “One More Night” occasionally echoes last year’s “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” His continued reliance on staccato horn fills (“Sussudio,” “Only You Know and I Know”) is also beginning to wear thin. But “Who Said I Would” is a refreshing blast of breathless Prince-style funk set at full throttle by guest keyboardist-bassist David Frank of the System. “I Don’t Wanna Know” has a swift rock kick, and “Take Me Home” adds all-star vocal backup (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Helen Terry) to its engaging, circular rhythm and languid melodic texture.
After years on the art-rock fringe, Collins has established himself firmly in the middle of the road. Perhaps he should consider testing himself and his new fans’ expectations next time around.