The high school flashback continues with Phil Collins’ 1982 album Hello, I Must Be Going!. Just like Making Movies, this was another teenage mainstay for me, especially when in the throes of relationship angst. I have vivid memories of loading up “I Don’t Care Anymore” and driving way too fast on country backroads while singing at the top of my lungs. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)
Now, let’s face it, at some point Phil Collins jumped the shark. In fact, I have argued in the past that the musical equivalent of jumping the shark should be called “Sussudioing.” However, I would also argue that what makes his shark-jumping so clear is how great he was before it happened, and this album was definitely part of the great period.
Not that there weren’t a couple of hints. Probably the clearest indication of his future direction is in his cover of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Now, credit where due: this is a bright, breezy, fun version of the song. In fact, as an 80’s kid, I think Collins’ version was my introduction to that song, and alongside reruns of The Big Chill on cable, it prompted me to seek out a bunch of Motown originals. I’m richer for that. Not only that, the song was a big hit for Collins, hitting Number One in the UK and breaching the Top Ten in the US. Phil probably saw this as a big neon finger pointing the way to what the public wanted to hear from him.
In the context of this album, though, it’s quite jarringly out of place. The only other track with a similar lightness of tone is “Like China”, in which Collins adopts a broad, comedic Cockney accent to play a rough-edged character in love with a girl from a different social class. Collins totally hams it up in character, singing “Oy know ‘oo oy am!” and so forth, promising to hold this delicate girl like china, prove to her brother that he’s no “limp-wristed wimp”, and make himself presentable for her parents. It’s all pretty goofy.
Compare that to the other character piece on Hello, an incredibly dark piece of work called “Thru These Walls.” This is the story of a lonely man in an apartment, whose pleasure comes from putting a glass to his wall and listening to his neighbors’ sexual romps. At least, that’s his night-time activity. During the days he gazes out his window at the children below, struggling with his sexual desire for them. “Am I really asking a lot?”, he muses, “Just to reach out and touch somebody?” Well, yes. That grim, desperate tone is much more typical of the rest of this record.
Oh, there are horn sections and plenty of them. But while The Phenix Horns (who had also appeared on Face Value) may have polished songs like “It Don’t Matter To Me” and “I Cannot Believe It’s True” to mirror-brightness, they couldn’t disguise the snarling anger of the lyrics. Both of these songs are furious accusations of lies and betrayal. “I Cannot Believe” lives up to its title as an incredulous expression of disbelief, but it knows the truth underneath — “(Over and over) I keep on telling myself / (Over and over) I’m hope I’m gonna wake up / But (over and over) I know it’s really happening / And there’s nothing that I can say.” “It Don’t Matter” takes the matter a step further, accusing the subject of lying (“I’ve heard it all so many times before”), and following up with a menacing promise: “There’s no way that you can run / Cos I’m gonna find you / And there’s nobody that you can turn to / Cos I’ll be behind you, just to remind you…”
Yes, they’re peppy, and yes they’re poppy, and yeah, they’re pretty brassy, but these are not lighthearted pop songs. Rather, they are seething with rage underneath the dazzling horns. Sometimes Collins just goes straight to the rage, as in the rather self-explanatory “Do You Know, Do You Care?” Again, the theme is lies and betrayal: “You said you would, you didn’t, and I wanna know why / And don’t make no excuses.” And once again, there’s an underlying threat: “I watch you, yes every day I watch you pass me by / I’ll get you, yes in the end I’ll get you / Just watch me try.” But there are no happy trumpets here, just a huge drumbeat, a ringing vocal echo, and a deep, buzzy synth drone.
And that brings us to “I Don’t Care Anymore.” In my estimation, this song is the absolute masterpiece of Hello, I Must Be Going!. Collins divorced his first wife in 1980, and critics called 1981’s Face Value his “divorce album”, but it seems he still had plenty of anger a year later. It’s in most of the album’s songs, but this is the most concentrated dose, and its place as the opening track makes it very clear what the record will be about.
“I Don’t Care Anymore” starts with a portentous drumbeat, unadorned, pounding out fury. Of all the songs on this album, this is the one most ruled by Collins the drummer, and the drums stay center stage throughout the song, underlined by sustained chords on the synth. Over this foundation, Collins lays venomous lyrics in an anguished vocal, spurning his former lover with unbelievable ferocity. Truly, if you’ve been burned in love, this is just the song for you. I recommend high volume and high speeds. (NOTE: Not an actual recommendation.)
Finally, towards the end, when the anger has spent itself at last, we get a couple of tender and exhausted songs. “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away” starts with a lovely piano, and contrition: “You were lonely and you needed a friend.” From there, the song goes into some familiar possessive territory (as the title indicates), alongside apologies: “What else can I do but say I was wrong?” Then at the end of the album we hear a man who’s worn out from marital strife, facing another fight and asking, “Why can’t it wait ’til morning?”, thinking that things will be clearer in the daylight, and hoping that if they wait until “next time”, that time may never come.
The irony is, as this song was released, his marriage was long over. The conflict he’d tried to put off had blown up in his face. Not only that, we as listeners now know that Collins had two more marriages and divorces in his future, not to mention a fair bit of sussudioing. So let it wait ’til morning, but in the morning it’s still there, unavoidable. Phil Collins is a bit of a tragic figure today, once respected but now serving as a punchline more than a role model. But damn, back in the day he sure could write a hell of a divorce album. Or two.