Re-Phil He left Genesis and he left his wife. Now, Phil Collins has a new album and a new love. It's not mid-life crisis, he says it's just that he's finally found what he really wants.

December 08, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

As far as the British tabloids were concerned, it was just another example of the Rock Star Mid-Life Crisis.

Open-and-shut case, really. First, Phil Collins releases an album of intensely personal songs that sound nothing like the light, chipper pop fare his fans expect. Next, he leaves Jill, his wife of 14 years, for Orianne Cevey, a Swiss heiress half his age. To top it all off, he then announces he's leaving Genesis, the enormously popular band he had drummed and sung with for 25 years.

With so many sudden changes in such a seemingly staid life, what else could it be but the actions of a man beset by the fear of encroaching age? So the tabs did what they always do when there's a whiff of scandal in the air -- they laid siege. As a result, Phil Collins spent the better part of 1994 holed up in hotel rooms, trying to avoid reporters lurking in the lobby.

"I remember thinking, 'Please, whatever I've got is not worth this,' " says Collins, looking back. "Because it was on the front page of every paper in England. I was on the hatchet."

Being besieged by Fleet Street snoops is bad enough when you're as used to the cost of celebrity as Collins is, but what really hurt the singer was having the women dragged into it. Things were particularly tough for Cevey, who got cast as "the young temptress" by the tabs. "Her father and grandfather were dying of cancer at the same time of this, and [the reporters] were camped out on the lawn," he says.

"Plus she's half-Thai, so there's the Oriental side of her saying, 'Why are they doing this? All we want is to be happy. Why are they doing this to you, and why are they doing this to my family?'

"And of course, there's the other side -- Jill," he adds. "I don't wish any harm to anybody. I don't want any casualties. I just, I just didn't want that anymore. And I didn't want my little girl, who was obviously seeing this happen, I didn't want her to be harmed. But the tabloids were just stirring it all the time." He pauses slightly, then adds, "But throughout all that, I was incredibly happy."

Happy? He was happy being hounded by the press? Well, of course not. But as horrible as that public part of his life was, things on the private side were going swimmingly. Because despite all the tabloid clamor, Collins had arrived at a sense of what he really wanted from his life and his music, and that gave him great happiness -- a joy clearly audible in the sound of his new album, "Dance Into the Light."

"I wrote a lot of this music trapped in my hotel room, if you like, avoiding the people downstairs waiting for me to come down in the lift," he says. "I've never written on the road. But it was different surroundings, a different environment, different tools. I had different sounds. I was listening to a lot of Youssou N'Dour, because I've loved him since the mid-'80s, and I finally said, 'Yeah. I'll take all these albums out on tour. It's uplifting stuff.' And a lot of it rubbed off.

"But it was a very happy period, amongst the miserable moments of just wishing that this thing would just be left to us to sort out."

'Unfinished business'

Of course, the irony in all this is that Collins actually thought he had everything "sorted out" when he started writing the songs for his last album, "Both Sides." About four years ago, Collins had found himself dealing with some "unfinished business" with a woman from his past. Collins doesn't go into specifics, but he does make it clear he felt that the situation had been dealt with in a fairly conclusive fashion.

"Having got that out of the way and behind me, we tried to fix what was wrong with our marriage, Jill and I," he says. It was during that period that he wrote the songs that became "Both Sides." Looking back, he sees that it's easy to misread the melancholy that lies beneath songs like "I've Forgotten Everything" and "Can't Find My Way." Those songs weren't about his marriage but about that "unfinished business" he had.

Hence the melancholy. "It was a sadness about what I thought was going to happen that didn't happen," says Collins. "I guess half of it was being disappointed with myself, and half was disappointment that what I thought might go somewhere didn't with this very important person from my past.

"But it was just a bit of a dark place, really. I mean, it wasn't a mid-life crisis or anything -- which is what it was later to be looked at because of the divorce. But it wasn't anything like that." He pauses, ever so slightly. "Well, I didn't see it as that, anyway," he says. "I don't have any problem with being the age that I am. I'm philosophical about all that stuff.

"But that was a very enjoyable album to make. I loved it and I do think it's my best record of my past stuff. It probably wasn't great fun to listen to, for some people. Particularly in this country. Which made me angry, actually. It disappointed me that people couldn't see that this was my best work."

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