Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 Phil Collins And Philip Bailey: Easy Lover

Seeing the name 'Phil Collins' anywhere in the 'artist' title of a single is never a good start, a bit like a football team being deducted ten points before the season even kicks off. There is something about this eighties Renaissance Man that gets under my skin like few others, so it's a surprise to report that 'Easy Lover' is one of the few Collins tracks that doesn't have me reaching for the 'off' button whenever it's played on the radio.

The secret to this probably lies in the fact that it's a joint venture between Collins, Bailey and Nathan East, with the pedigree of the latter managing to tame the worst excesses of the former. That's not to say they've been banished entirely mind - Collins is in the producer's chair and 'Easy Lover' fair drips with his trademark 'Wagner in a tin bucket' drum sound and bleached out soulless ambience.

Had it been a solo endeavour then it would have sounded as unbearable as the majority of his output, but Bailey is no amateur when it comes to providing a shot of genuine gospel fuelled soul and his counterpoint vocals not only show up Collin's own voice for what it really is, it elevates 'Easy Lover' into a third dimension whereas the Collins production does his best to hammer it flat.

Important too not to underestimate the influence of Nathan East in the final product. Collins' own solo stuff tends to run on a straight rail from open to close, but East brings his Jazz chops to bear in keeping the song moving constantly, shifting keys like a jumping jack and not allowing it to settle in any one place for long. Sure it sounds a bit dated to modern ears, but it's busy enough to never drag or bore and Daryl Stuermer's Eddie Van Halen-like choppy guitar riffs and solo remain a joy (albeit a buried too low in the mix one).

'Easy Lover' is a prime cut of eighties soft rock that, in the final analysis, boils down to a chicken and egg scenario ; it's hard to tell whether it's a good song ruined by Collins' input or an bad song immeasurable improved by Bailey and East. For my own part, the jury is out and has been since 1985.

Similarly since 1985, I've never really 'got' what 'Easy Lover' is all about. The bulk of the lyrics tell of a flighty sounding girl, 'the kind of girl you dream of' indeed, one who will 'get a hold on you believe it' before 'she will play around and leave you. Leave you and deceive you'. That doesn't sound much like an easy lover. Sounds more like a lot of trouble and hard work to me.

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