Judge Clark Douglas can feel it in the air tonight. Y'know, the humidity.
"Phil Collins' solo career seems to be more commercial, and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way."—Noted music critic Patrick Bateman
I kind of feel bad for Phil Collins. Not too bad, mind you—surely all his troubles are greatly alleviated by the large piles of money he has sitting around—but the man has been vilified to an alarming degree over the years. Yes, his material is often cited as the epitome of bland, but he's also written some strong melodies and affectingly introspective lyrics. Collins is clearly a talented guy, subjected to harsh criticism primarily because his music is so incredibly overexposed; most adult contemporary radio stations are still pumping plenty of Collins' hits. Granted, there have been moments where hearing "Sussudio" has made me want to bang my head against a wall, but that's only because I've been subjected to it a billion times. Given that level of exposure, there are countless other derivative pop songs which prove equally irritating.
I say this because, for a star of his stature, the liner notes written for Phil Collins: Live at Montreux 2004 seem strangely apologetic. Collins hopes we enjoy the concert, despite the fact that there will inevitably be songs we skip over. He goes on to suggest we give some of those tunes a chance, in the hopes we discover they've aged well or work better in concert. For a guy with more Top 40 hits than any other artist of the 1980s (if you include his hits with Genesis), this is an intro lacking in self-confidence. While the concert (recorded as part of Collins' cheekily-titled "First Final Farewell Tour") isn't a stunner, it showcases an impressive catalogue of Collins' many solo successes.
The show opens and closes with Phil Collins pounding through extended drum solos, a welcome reminder of what a vital force he can be on that side of the musical spectrum. We don't see much of that talent throughout the concert, but the bookends do leave a lasting impression. For the remaining two hours, Collins croons his way through one hit after another: "Against All Odds," "Don't Lose My Number," "You'll be in My Heart," "True Colors," "Another Day in Paradise," "Two Hearts," "Sussudio"…the list goes on. There may not be a tremendous deal of variety in this presentation (save for an incredibly silly bit of hat-changing during "Wear My Hat"), but it's a rock-solid performance from start to finish. Remarkably, 2004 Collins sounds more or less the same as 1984 Collins, and the music hasn't been tampered with much at all. In fact, given the backup dancers' particularly dated costumes and the show's overblown color scheme, the whole thing feels very much like an '80s affair.
For me, the unquestionable highlight is Collins' performance of "In the Air Tonight." This remains a legitimately great song, and it's a thrill to see Collins play the drums and sing at the same time. When just holding a microphone, he's an amiable though not particularly memorable crooner. When at the drums, he's filled with passion and energy. Collins tears through "In the Air Tonight" with a raw energy the rest of the show never quite reaches, and the elevated crowd response reflects that.
Phil Collins: Live at Montreux 2004 (Blu-ray) has received a respectable 1.78:1/1080i high definition transfer. The level of detail is impressive, and you can see every drop of sweat on Collins' face (he's soaked after twenty minutes, and remains so for the rest of the performance). There are a few moments of softness, though the lighting may be largely responsible. More frustrating is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which leans heavy on the bass to the point of distraction. I'm all for concert discs with an aggressive bass, but not when it overwhelms the vocals. It's rarely bad enough to bother the average viewer, but audiophiles will be perturbed.
The lone bonus feature is a big one: a 1996 concert of swinging, jazzy instrumental arrangements performed by the Phil Collins Big Band…led by Quincy Jones! Collins plays the drums, though Tony Bennett does appear to croon "There'll Be Some Changes Made." A compelling look at a brief but intriguing chapter in Collins' career, the concert is presented in rather lackluster standard definition. That's a shame, because it could be argued this performance is even more compelling than the main HD feature.
Phil Collins: Live at Montreux 2004 provides exactly what it's supposed: an extensive, impressive overview of a musical superstar's career. Though Collins' reputation has taken a drubbing, his music remains as stellar and hook-filled as ever. Fans should definitely give this one a look.
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