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On Phil Collins Day: Appreciating ‘Both Sides,’ his most overlooked album

Feb 15, 2013

Today marks NYC’s annual Phil Collins Day celebration and parade, although this year it’s moved from its traditional Brooklyn location to a new home in Rockaway, Queens. Organizer Heather Feather says she was inspired to move it to her new neighborhood after it was hit by Hurricane Sandy. Like Phil’s music, she promises that this year’s event will serve up “hot cider and hot catharsis” for the region.

Going with the underdog theme, I’d like to celebrate Phil Collins Day by drawing your attention to “Both Sides,” the under-appreciated, unsung hero of Collins’ catalog.

Released in 1993, “Both Sides” was Phil Collins’ first album without a major hit. Up until this point, Phil had been a machine, reliably cranking out ubiquitous radio bangers every time: “Face Value” had “In The Air Tonight,” “Hello, I Must Be Going” had “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “No Jacket Required” was of course packed with hits including “Sussudio,” and “…But Seriously” had “Another Day In Paradise.” And then there’s “Both Sides”—the first point in Phil’s discography with nothing you’d recognize from grocery store aisles. Its single “Both Sides of the Story” was Phil’s first lead single in a decade not to reach the top 10 on the Billboard chart.

For that reason it’s largely been forgotten, considered minor Collins. But in the absence of unforgettable hooks that smash you over the head, “Both Sides” runs deep with a subtlety and an earnestness that on repeat listens may just make it the filet of his work.

The album starts with the upbeat and striking “Both Sides of the Story,” a song that radiates open-heartedness and empathy and whose tone reminds you why this guy used to share a band with Peter Gabriel:

From here the real brilliance of the album unfolds as Phil brings us down before bringing us up again. Songs like “I’ve Forgotten Everything” are so disarmingly honest and the lyrics so piercingly sad we almost forget this is the same guy who brought us “Sussudio.” When Phil sings “I’ve forgotten everything about you/ ‘Til someone says your name,” we are deeply blue and thrust into the heart of regret:

And then after the dark, a dawn. When the music opens up into a major tone and Phil reaffirms, “We are survivors in the night,” it’s downright cathartic:

Sure, “Both Sides” might not have any anthems like “Take Me Home” or “In The Air Tonight.” But it’s an altogether different kind of album, an album to listen to by yourself—when you’re down but not out, when you’re trying to find your way back to hope, and almost succeeding.

Happy Phil Collins Day, everybody.

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