Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2004)
Shot in 1990 during his eight-month, 127-concert tour, Serious Hits... Live! finds Phil Collins at the end of an amazing run. Collins dominated the charts in the Eighties but would not achieve that level of consistency in the following decade. How he’ll end up when the first ten years of the 21st century concludes remains to be seen, though at least Collins will go out on his first tour in seven years in 2004. (Apparently Collins suffers from hearing damage that makes live performances more difficult for him.)
Serious Hits lets us revisit Collins as he toured behind 1989’s ...But Seriously album. A generous performer, Collins does 24 songs in this 160-minute concert. The various numbers span all four of his solo albums as of 1990 as well as some miscellaneous other tracks. From 1981’s Face Value, we find “In the Air Tonight” and “Hand in Hand”, while 1982’s Hello, I Must Be Going! produces “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “The West Side”. Off of 1985’s smash hit No Jacket Required, we locate a remarkable seven of its 11 tracks: “Sussudio”, “One More Night”, “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Who Said I Would”, “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore”, “Inside Out” and “Take Me Home”.
Off of the then-current ...But Seriously, we discover another seven numbers: “Another Day In Paradise”, “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”, “Hang In Long Enough”, “Do You Remember?”, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, “Colours”, and “That’s Just the Way It Is”. A few odds and ends finish the set. “Against All Odds” comes from the film of the same name, while “Separate Lives” appeared as a single in 1985. “Easy Lover” comes from a guest spot Phil did for Philip Bailey’s 1984 album Chinese Wall, and both “Two Hearts” and “A Groovy Kind of Love” stemmed from 1988’s Buster soundtrack. Lastly, “Always” covered an old Irving Berlin tune.
Since Phil didn’t want to do any Genesis material, obviously the set required all his material to come from the Eighties. Nonetheless, it seemed imbalanced since it skewed so heavily toward the latter half of the decade. All but five of the 24 songs came from 1985 or later, and “Easy Love” just barely made the cut-off; Chinese Wall hit the shelves at the end of 1984. Yeah, Jacket and Seriously were successful albums, but it would have been nice to hear more from Phil’s earlier records.
Still, it becomes hard to quibble with the hit content in the show, though a few moderately well known numbers fail to make the cut. For example, we don’t find 1982’s “I Don’t Care Anymore” or 1989’s “I Wish It Would Rain Down”.
How much one enjoys the material clearly will depend on your affection for Collins. I remain a pretty low-level fan. I grabbed this DVD because it sounded like a good representation of his better-known material, and the various extras also made it appealing. I also remembered Collins as a fun live performer, so the set seemed interesting.
The “fun” part only gets partial credit here, as Phil does his best to be a buzz kill throughout the show. When the crowd gets rowdy prior to “Colours”, he chastises them that there’s not time for that. He then reads a solemn declaration about the lack of freedom of speech in South Africa. On its own, that’s fine, if somewhat condescending, but unfortunately, Collins offers more than a few similar moments throughout the show. Apparently Phil decided that he needed to devote a concert to educating his audience about rather obvious subjects. I mean, by 1990, did anyone not know that South Africa was a repressive state?
It’s all very well meaning, of course, but Phil just can’t pull it off with any sense of aplomb. Springsteen can do this kind of thing, as can Bono, but Phil is more of a goofy showman. That means his stabs tend to seem forced and self-conscious.
Despite those missteps, most of the show works fairly well. Phil indulges in a few too many extended instrumental moments. The combination of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” with “The West Side” really meanders, though the peppy “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” helps redeem things.
Much of the show comes across fairly well. No one expects grand theatrics from Collins, but he still presents himself as a fairly genial master of ceremonies, despite the public service announcements. Actually, he holds a stage surprisingly well and manages to offer a strong focal point.
Don’t take my earlier comments to indicate that Phil never lightens up during the show. Indeed, the portion from the band introductions through the end offers virtually non-stop fun and frivolity. Much needed fun and frivolity, I might add.
Jim Yukich directs Hits with a minimum of fuss and muss. A pretty average production, the DVD replicates the concert with reasonable effectiveness. It eschews quick cutting or gimmicks and seems like it demonstrates a logical focus much of the time.
It suffers from a lack of flair, though. While I don’t care for self-consciously flashy concert programs, this one tends to plod at times because it feels like a rote production. The cuts and angles never become terribly inviting or involving. The DVD documents the show with reasonable accuracy but not much spark.
In the end, Serious Hits... Live! stands as a good but unremarkable document of a good but unremarkable performer. Phil Collins is a likable composer and musician but not someone who inspires much passion. Hits demonstrates his various strengths and weaknesses and seems like a decent examination of his music.