POP MUSIC REVIEW : ONE MORE TIME, ONE MORE NIGHT
Got a couple of extra minutes this morning? How about helping me keep track of the number of times I can work the words one more night into this review of Phil Collins’ show Sunday night at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
The challenge is to mention “one more night” as many times as Collins does in his recent hit--you know, the one titled (what else?) “One More Night.”
That’s no idle--or easy--task because Collins sings “one more night” 26 times in his tale of romantic heartache, usually in clusters of three--as in "(give me just) one more night . . . just one more night . . . one more night.”
(Hey, that’s seven times in the review for “one more night” and we’re just getting started. Make that eight.)
It’s appropriate to dwell on “One More Night” because it helps illustrate the familiar and repetitive elements in Collins’ handsome, but far too passive, music.
These characteristics, of course, are what have helped make the English pop-rock singer and songwriter so enormously successful in his solo ventures away from Genesis.
Thanks to the success of the moody “One More Night” single, Collins’ “No Jacket Required” album spent six weeks at No. 1 before being booted out of the top spot by the new Prince album. Collins’ tour is equally hot. After sold-out stops Sunday and Monday at the 15,000-seat Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, Collins opens a three-day engagement tonight at the 6,000-seat Universal Amphitheatre, where all tickets were sold weeks ago.
That adds up to 130 repetitions of the phrase one more night during Collins’ Southern California swing alone. You don’t need a program at Collins’ shows; you need a calculator.
Time for another chorus: "(Give me just) one more night . . . just one more night . . . one more night.”
A big fan of the Beatles and early Motown, Collins moves in his music from a McCartney-like fondness for smooth, highly accessible ballads, like “One More Night,” to the friskier R&B; style of his current, Prince-sounding single, “Sussudio.” While he asserts some of the technical craft of those traditions, Collins rarely shows the imagination or wit that made the styles so endearing.
Much like Lionel Richie (hmm, how many times did he sing “all night long” in his big hit?) Collins has excellent instincts for simple yet seductive musical textures and he surrounds himself with top-level musicians, including on this tour bassist Leland Sklar and a four-piece horn section. Collins’ soulful but polite vocal style is also capable of capturing the pain of going through yet one more night without her.
When he employs those instincts for more than simple atmosphere, he can be quite affecting. The best example is the title song he wrote for the film “Against All Odds.” It is a marvelously designed statement of romantic yearning that conveys a genuine sense of passion.
However, the only other time he came close to that graceful excellence during Sunday’s two-hour concert was on the equally dramatic and ambitious “In the Air Tonight,” his 1981 hit.
Otherwise, Collins’ cautious, mainstream approach seemed much too middlebrow--though he clearly sees his music as something more substantial, as evidenced by his joke about throwing in a few Barry Manilow numbers during the evening. The audience laughed mightily at the suggestion, but this crowd didn’t seem all that different from the conservative, upwardly mobile stereotype we have of the Manilow audience.
Similarly, Collins did a takeoff on a corny Las Vegas lounge entertainer during a tedious introduction of band members--only to spend much of his time between songs telling jokes that were every bit as dumb as you’d hear in a lounge.
(But--wait--the pace is starting to lag. Let’s throw in another chorus from “One More Night”: “Give me just one more night . . . just one more night . . . one more night.”)
For someone who shows so little personality in his videos, Collins on stage is intent on being this quirky but appealing guy next door. Wearing a suit with an open-collar shirt and tennis shoes, he spent much of the evening hopping around the stage like a rabbit stretching his legs after being let out of a cage.
While it is nice to see him not take himself seriously, his attempt at being a cheery camp counselor was no more satisfying in the end than the majority of his songs.
None of this--or even the occasional rain flurries--dampened the audience’s enthusiasm. Collins’ slight, fragile tales strike an obvious chord in his audience. The mystery surrounding Collins isn’t why he is so extraordinarily popular, but why there’s such a gap between his best songs and the rest.
But maybe I’m underestimating this guy. I’ve only been able to work one more night into the story 21 times. Pop stardom obviously isn’t as easy as it looks.