Saturday, 23 January 2010

2000 Mariah Carey Featuring Westlife: Against All Odds

My regular readers will have no doubt picked up on my antipathy to most things Phil Collins; it's no secret, I don't like the man. Collins and his earnest worthiness plagued my eighties the way the Harpies plagued Phineas, but despite my irritation I'm also big enough to confess that it wasn't always thus. I still have a soft spot for the post Gabriel/pre 'Duke' Collins led Genesis output as well as a grudging admiration for his 'Face Value' debut album. Why? Well I'm also happy to admit that the man is not totally without talent within certain parameters and it was in these pre-fame years that that talent was allowed to flourish before the walls were knocked down by the ubiquitous, larger than life everyman geezer character that took over and in the process spread that talent so thinly it became transparent.

You see, Collins has always known his way round a ballad. The 1973 'More Fool Me' (on Genesis' 'Selling England By The Pound') laid down a template that Collins' most successful work has followed ever since; fragile lyric of heartbreak sparsely arranged for maximum effect. Written over ten years later (it dates from 1984), 'Against All Odds' takes the same, simple self pity and applies it to good effect - Phil's woman is walking out on him but he's pleading for a Lot's wife glance back in the hope she'll remember what they had and reconsider. Phil knows he's probably wasting his time, but he's not too proud to beg ("I wish I could just make you turn around turn around and see me cry"), yet though we're not told if she does or not, it's a fair bet that by the song's end he's facing the wrong side of a closed door.

What always catches my ear is, in the middle of the careful build up of 'we're still good together' pathos, Collins lobs in a non scanning, non rhyming line of self interest that reveals a mask off vulnerability and long term thinking that's probably the root cause as to why he wants her to stay - "You're the only one who really knew me at all"; he's scared of the relationship ending not for it's own sake but because he thinks he'll never find anyone to replace her. It's a clunking line but it's meant to clunk, a moment of singular self pity drowned out by the shared empathy of the rousing "So take a look at me now" chorus that drowns it out.

It's a neat touch and it's one from a man confident in his craft. In 1973 in a played down tempo and minor key it would have been killer, but 1984 was the height of Collins' fame and Phil was too full of his own Phillness in 1984 to entertain that. Any fragile emotion inherent in the song was bulldozered by Phil's wailing wind through a rusty lock vocal and a typical, unconscionably heavy handed eighties production that insisted a sole piano had to resonate like an orchestra in an empty cathedral. Horrible in fact, and a good number of bricks in the wall between me and my liking of him.
But whatever, it's a song ripe for rediscovery and re-interpretation. Unfortunately, Mariah Carey and Westlife are game for the former, but not the latter - their version of 'Against All Odds' is a cover of Phil Collins 'doing' 'Against All Odds' rather than covering 'Against All Odds' itself. And in so doing, Carey and Westlife, two acts for who 'restraint' is a word from a foreign language, make the same mistakes all over again, only moreso.

For a start, 'Against All Odds' is a song written for a single voice and splitting the lines into a 'duet' at a stroke whips away any building tension or emotion though linking the lines together and instead it becomes more of a duel between the lads and the lass as to who is the more overwrought in building their chain of hysteria (it's Carey, if you're wondering), completely losing sight of the fact that they're all meant to be on the same side. Add to this the usual power ballad bombast and 'Against All Odds 2000' puts me in mind of a tag team of heavyweight boxers taking it in turns to beat a disabled child into a submission it was already expressing. Frankly, it's ugly - 'Against All Odds' deserved better than the hand Collins dealt it and it certainly deserves better than this. But just what has caught Bryan McFadden's eye on that cover shot?

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