By BRUCE DENNILL
Phil Collins: The Singles 8
Echosmith: Talking Dreams 6.5
Sonskynwoud: Sonskynwoud 5
Foreigner: I Want To Know What Love Is – The Ballads 6.5
The recent reissues of some of his biggest albums and the release of his autobiography brought Phil Collins back into the spotlight more acutely than at any time since his heyday. This three-disc, 45-track compilation shows why those reminders of his career to date are so worthwhile. It also shows how incredibly prolific he was as a songwriter, with over 90% of these songs written in a solo capacity. Not everything here was a hit – I Missed Again, If Leaving Me Is Easy and Thru These Walls are early markers that show how Collins’ sound developed and that more development was necessary between some of the chart-toppers. There is so much more hit than miss, though, and long-time listeners will likely be interested to see how many songs they’d forgotten and how versatile Collins could be, from the high-school slow-dance of Why Can’t It Wait ‘Til Morning to the Disney soundtrack sparkle of You’ll Be In My Heart via the social commentary of Another Day In Paradise. The arrangements sometimes begin to feel a touch familiar – gated drums, horns, keyboards and so on – but it must be remembered that Collins pioneered many of the sonic ideas he utilised, so fair play to him for making the most of them. Massive hits, enjoyable but not completely successful compositions and a few duds. An extraordinary career, however you look at it.
A band of brothers-and-a-sister (the eldest male sibling has left the band since the release of this album), Echosmith made a splash in their previous incarnation as Ready, Set Go! before changing their name and breaking through with big hit Cool Kids, included here. There sound is tight, poppy and ambitiously tailored for radio success, with opening pair of tunes Come Together (no, not that one) and Let’s Love both comfortable playlist fodder without shooting the lights out. Cool Kids is not representative of their general style, with a rather more slick, lounge music-style chorus that’s impossible to shake once you’ve heard it. March Into The Sun has handclaps and people shouting “Hey!”, plus a melody that is the very definition of “summer tune”. Bright is appealing acoustic pop in the ballpark of the Plain White T’s, while Ran Off Into The Night has a rock in edge in its rhythm and lead guitar tracks and suggests an intriguing potential direction for the band to explore in the future and Nothing’s Wrong has a touch of the kwassa kwassa influence that’s made Vampire Weekend so popular. This is a supremely capable collective, and there is likely much to come going forward.
The cover notes for this two-disc collection proclaim: “Sonskywoud was born out of God’s heart through a mother who loves her own and other children”. As such, it’s a particular kind of passion project, presented with love and certainly useful for its small target audience – Christian Afrikaans families comprising parents and young kids. That niche is in one of the more supportive buying audiences in the South African market, but sincerity and good intentions – on the part of the artists or the listenership – shouldn’t preclude trying for the best possible production values. On that score, Sonskynwoud is solid but not spectacular, the short songs (only four of the 23 tracks exceed two minutes) and stories having an earnest feel rather than a polished one.
In terms of putting your best foot forward first, there can be few stronger statements – certainly in soft-rock – than I Want To Know What Love Is, one of the genre’s defining tracks and Foreigner’s biggest hit. It’s just one of a number of examples of that particularly enduring songwriting subset, the ballad, that Foreigner (to judge from the sustained quality of this 14-track collection) specialise in. Original singer Lou Gramm has rather been written out of the picture, which is unfortunate, with Kelly Hansen handling the vocals on these recordings of older songs. Hansen does a fantastic job, but as a historical document, there’s something missing in Gramm’s absence. To be fair, this is not simply a re-cataloguing of material for further marketing reach, as many of the songs are re-arranged and stripped down, giving them an entirely new feel and confirming the strength of the writing. Feels Like The First Time and Say You Will both appear in attractive updated form, and the 2010 single In Pieces suggests that Train couldn’t have existed without Foreigner. That track and a number of others are full production numbers, and the sequencing (which doesn’t group dynamically similar tracks together) feels a bit weird. For all of the minor distractions, though, this collection – which, it must be remembered, only looks at a specifically themed part of the group’s output – showcases top-notch songwriting. The songs that were not hits here are still superbly constructed and performed. And a second disc, containing a previously unreleased recording of an acoustic concert in Germany, is a wonderful bonus, including a handful of tracks not on the ballads album.