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Happy Birthday, Phil Collins!

With a career that boasted a slow ascent and then followed with a perilously rapid descent, Phil Collins became an example of an artist who displayed both the best and worst of what fame and fortune could bring. 

Born January 30, 1951, he rose to the helm of Genesis, one of Britain's best progressive bands of the early to mid-'70s, then helped bring them to commercial success before venturing on after they reached the nadir of their creativity and craft. 

He then struck out on his own, beginning his solo career with promise. Although, his ingenuity quickly plummeted once his fortunes rose. Collins made the case that artistic innovation and commercial rewards are often mutually exclusive and that following a formula rather than one's headier instincts is the inevitable way to get the masses listening.

Collins began his musical career playing drums for the all-but-obscure band Flaming Youth and contributing incidental percussion to George Harrison's landmark solo effort All Things Must Pass. He advanced to the drum kit in Genesis, then still a fledgling outfit well outside the mainstream. Mainly a backup singer to lead vocalist Peter Gabriel, his role was largely relegated to playing drums and singing solo on only two songs prior to Gabriel's departure. These were "For Absent Friends" on Nursery Cryme and "More Fool Me," a track on Selling England by the Pound. Apparently, that was enough convincing for the band to thrust him into the spotlight once Gabriel left the group, and under Collins' stewardship, Genesis soldiered on. 

In time, however, their artful experimental approach gave way to albums full of frothy pop songs and all-too-conventional melodies. The hits came rapidly from that point on, but the band's credibility as prog pundits all but disappeared. 

With his commercial potential all but assured, Collins began doing solo projects and eventually left the band entirely. He still dabbled in outside involvement, much of it of an intriguing nature. This included his side band, Brand X (an instrumental fusion outfit), and various for-hire assignments that found him backing the likes of Eric Clapton, the occasional Led Zeppelin reunion, a solo Robert Plant, a tantric Sting, jazzy folkie John Martyn, and individual efforts by his Genesis bandmates past and present. But once he hit paydirt on his own, Collins wholly focused on maintaining his grip on the pop charts, much to the disappointment of those who had once held him in high regard. 

Inspired early on by his disintegrating first marriage, he later retooled his focus toward danceable pop hits guaranteed to win him both airplay and an expanded audience that cared less about his early prog-rock positioning. 

A brief reunion tour with Genesis in 2007, frequent soundtrack work, and a final album consisting of Motown covers in 2010 notwithstanding, Collins has pretty much become inconsequential in the past decade or so, given that his albums offered perfunctory and predictable material (the sole exception is 1993's Both Sides, which attempted to reinstate an experimental approach but was slammed by critics regardless). 

Despite accolades -- a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, numerous Grammys, an Academy Award, several Golden Globe Awards, the Brit Award, extraordinary sales, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (alongside Genesis) -- Collins is largely retired these days, at least by his own admission. 

Here, then, is a brief list of some of the pluses and minuses scattered throughout Collins' career. 

Plus: Before getting into music, Collins was on his way to becoming an accomplished actor. He played the role of the Artful Dodger in a British stage production of Oliver and later was one of many extras in the Beatles' first film, A Hard Day's Night. He resumed his acting career later on, appearing in the films Hook, Buster, and The Band Played On to generally favorable reviews. 
Minus: His soundtrack compositions likely earned him a huge wad of money, but they've been among the most abysmal efforts of his career. "Against All Odds," "Separate Lives," "You'll Be in My Heart," "Groovy Kind of Love," and "Loco in Acapulco" are among the many songs that contributed to the continued sludge polluting adult contemporary radio. 

Plus: He helped resuscitate Genesis after Peter Gabriel left the fold. Several of the albums released in the wake of that transition were excellent examples of the band's creative craft. Wind and Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, and A Trick of the Tail are prime examples. 
Minus: The later Genesis albums under Collins' command were prime examples of a band that had lost its spark -- specifically, Duke, Abacab, Genesis, Invisible Touch, and We Can't Dance. Suffice it to say, they weren't the same band that they once were, both physically and figuratively. 

Plus: Face Value, Collins' first solo album, showed promise, and its first hit, "In the Air Tonight" was a genuinely intriguing song that deserved its unblemished accolades. 
Minus: Every album and single after that pretty much sucked. We can start with "Sussudio" and go on from there. But really, do we have to? 

Plus: Collins was an outstanding drummer.
Minus: He didn't stick to simply playing drums. 

Plus: It looks like this retirement thing might actually stick. Phil hasn't been heard from much lately. 
Minus: He could always opt to return. Besides, it will take many years with him out of the spotlight to make up for the overexposure we've had to contend with up until now. 

Plus: Collins is a very charitable guy and supports a wide variety of worthy causes. 
Minus: He was once touted as a potential candidate to run for Parliament. We can't imagine a worse blow for Anglo-American relations.

[Editor's note: Only Phil Collins plus, the puppets in this video. HBD, Phil.]

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Lee Zimmerman

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