Pros:high energy, interesting concept
The Bottom Line: Phil Collins takes a break from his usual act, and while the results are interesting, they aren't exactly fulfilling
I'm all in favor of musical experimentation. If no one were willing to take a risk and try something new, The Beatles would have always remained a skiffle band, Bob Dylan would never have tried electric instruments, The Who would never have composed a rock opera, and countless bands since simply would never have existed. But like all ventures into the unknown, musical experiments sometimes go awry.
In the mid-nineties, Phil Collins' career was is a state of flux. He had successfully pushed his band Genesis to change from underground seventies prog-rockers to pop superstars. He had released a number of hugely successful solo albums. His name and voice were instantly recognizable. But, during the most recent hiatus from Genesis, his solo album Both Sides failed to capture the same success that his previous releases had. At this point, most artists would try to keep plugging away at the same old formula in hopes of recapturing the old spark, but Collins saw this as an opportunity shake things up.
Rather than staying in the musical spotlight he had been occupying for years, he stepped back behind the drum kit where he had gotten his start years before. He gathered around him a series of skilled musicians, including some talented unknowns from the word of jazz and some bigger names from the world of pop, including Quincy Jones and longtime Collins supporter Daryl Stuermer. The result became The Phil Collins Big Band. Collins and some arranging partners put together big band instrumental versions of several of his Genesis songs and solo songs, and took these songs out on the road.
During the second leg of this tour, Collins recorded many of his shows, and the result became the album A Hot Night in Paris. The opening track is a brassy, jazzy version of Sussudio. We also get an uncharacteristically swingin' version of I Don't Care Anymore and a languid version of the ballad Against All Odds. Collins also draws several numbers fro his time as a member of Genesis. We get a loud, fast tempo That's All, a slowed down version of Invisible Touch, and a flugelhorn-driven Hold On My Heart. For the album's closer, Collins and Company reach back to the prog-rock days of Genesis with a lush arrangement of The Los Endos Suite.
All of the above are presented with an overflowing helping of energy and enough flash and polish to make Mr. Clean look like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon strip. Nevertheless, I cant help feeling that something is missing. Maybe the problem is that these are pop songs that have been removed from the pop genre where they work best. Maybe Collins has made himself too transparent on the album. Long in the spotlight on stage, Collins has limited his role to that of drummer. There are no lyrics here, so Collins' natural charisma has no chance to support the material. Maybe the problem is that the arrangements here are too slick, limiting the material to little more than polished up Muzak. Whatever the problem is, the resulting music feels hollow and superficial, like a fabulous mansion built out of paper mache.
Oddly enough, the brightest spots on the album are the songs that weren't written by Collins. In between Collins' compositions, we've got renditions of Miles Davis' Milestones, Pick Up the Pieces from the Average White Band, and Chips and Salsa, an original composition from saxophonist Gerald Albright. These songs, originally written as instrumentals, seem to work so much more successfully than the instrumental versions of Collins' songs. Still, the quality of these covers isn't enough to raise the album's overall quality.
Overall, I can't fault Collins for this musical experiment. He felt he needed to do something different, and I applaud him for having the courage to do so. What I can do, though, is advise against this album. This is one musical experiment that just doesn't pan out.