There seems to be a critical re-evaluation of Phil Collins' contribution to modern Pop and Rock music underway. His career, which has spanned more than four decades, has encompassed both the highs and lows of global celebrity. It's been well documented that corners of the Hip-Hop community have an affection for the 65 year-old's best known hits, but now it seems there's genuine warmth growing towards his back catalogue from other voices in the industry. Collins was always a divisive character, but if there's one thing he excels at in his new autobiography, it's the honesty and self-reflection that's always been at the heart of his song writing.
"This book is my truth" he writes, "There are no scores settled, but there are some wrongs righted". For the most part he succeeds in what he sets out to do then. There's less salacious gossip than you may expect, but he does clear up a few tabloid fantasies, including the notorious 'fax-gate', which seemed to trigger his fall from grace in the public eye. Perhaps it's a by-product of the death of David Bowie, but I don't consider the renewed interest in British Rock stars of a certain age a bad thing. Collins certainly has a lot to say, and we haven't heard his side of the story before. There's a dry wit to his writing, which makes his book very readable, even if the content isn't always compelling.
Collins is also likeable, which may shock more cynical readers, and he's willing to acknowledge his critics throughout. That he references the likes of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, is a credit to his awareness of the separation between his public persona and his private life. His admission that during the eighties he was oblivious to the all-encompassing extent of his success seems at first faintly ridiculous, but upon reflection his workaholic nature probably did cloud his view of the wider world. He's certainly gained perspective on this in the ensuing years, but you are occasionally left wondering if he's learnt anything in the process.
That's perhaps the trickiest part of Collins' narrative and it seems to come to a head towards the end of his second marriage. His actions at this point leave him far from being a sympathetic character, but his humble and honest approach to recounting the details are to his credit. Equally his intimate dissection of his recent alcoholism is to be commended, much of this was out of the public eye, and he could have chosen to keep this under wraps, but you wonder just how cathartic the process of writing his memoirs has actually been These deeply personal tales of addiction are also the most shocking moments here, leaving other areas of the book feeling a little bland in comparison.
Highlights certainly include: Collins; multiple early near-misses with his heroes The Beatles, what he really felt about the Led Zeppelin performance at Live Aid, and his three bears film idea with some inspired casting. However by the middle of the book it's the quirky anecdotes that open the chapters, rather than the chronological dissection of the solo years that grab your attention. Despite his tremendous success some of these Rock-star stories feel pretty pedestrian, leaving you longing for the more innocent joys of the tales of his formative years. Regardless of whether you're a fan or just a curious bystander, 'Not Dead Yet' is an easy and entertaining read. It may not quite possess the intimate warmth of an autobiographical story like Patti Smith's recent books, but the honesty on display elevates it far above a less than satisfying ghostwritten cash-in, which some other artists have opted for.
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