Sunday, 15 May 2011

Chappy's Album Pick: Sleeveless and Backless – No Jacket Required (1985)

Another Album from 1985! Honestly, when will my 80s obsession cease – not here! One of my favourite albums in the world, No Jacket Required contains some of the most enjoyable tunes that I have had the greatn pleasure to listen to in my time. Yes, it is a real product of its time, the production values are somewhat ‘state-of-the-art’ and ever so slightly dated, but it is an album that I defy critics to not enjoy.

Back in the black depths of the mid 80s when the miner’s strike ruled the news feed and Miami Vice ruled the tubes, Phil Collins was beavering away in the studio recording what would become his most successful and iconic album to date. Studio technology had made massive leaps since his debut and with albums like Hall & Oates’s Big Bam Boom, Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock and Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise the possibilities that could be explored were endless. Having had reasonable success with Hello, I must be going, various sessioning, production credits and the dynamite duet Easy Lover with Phil Bailey (from Earth Wind & Fire) Collins must have realised that he needed to release something which would secure his place in pop history, and catapult him into superstardom.

If there is any album that really captures the over-the-top excess that so many people associate with the yuppie, America-facing, aspirational 1980s Britain, then it is No Jacket Required. Just listening to the track ‘Inside Out’ confirms this - if the city could be defined by an album it would be this one. The amount of car journeys I had the pleasure of going on when I was growing up (especially those long and stormy holiday ones) that I listened to this album are unquantifiable! Zipping around capital and countryside in my father’s red Peugeot 205, this was a staple on the tape deck, so much so that it was worn out and has to be replaced!

Even the album sleeve reeks of the fast buck, with an atmospheric and unflattering head shot of Collins under a red filter, his balding pate just showing that you didn’t have to be glamorous make it big! On the back there is a full profile of Collins in his idiosyncratic suit and white Converse All Stars sporting one of the strangest haircuts that I have ever scene (which would become even more ridiculous for Genesis’ Invisible Touch Album).

Granted, many of the tracks are pounding, with the hardest rockers being the astounding ‘Only You Know and I Know’, which introduces a theme of paranoia running through the album on other tracks like ‘Don’t Loose my Number’ and ‘Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore’. But there are dark moments (‘Long Long Way to Go’), slushy moments (‘One More Night’) and plain old-fashioned silly moments (‘I Don’t Wanna Know’). For me – as I cannot account for the taste of others – there is not one duff track on this album, and the structure is so good that the first song sounds like a opener (‘Sussudio’) and the last song (‘Take Me Home’) sums up and closes the album without leaving any open ends.
Compared to other Collins outings there is a dramatic difference to No Jacket Required and both its predecessors and successors, and that is the absence of filler material. As I have already stated above, this is an album filled with a number of classics, most of which would make up the bulk of his Serious Hits…Live tour in 1990. There is not an out-of-place note on the album where some others have had a tendency to include a couple of fun but unnecessary or not terribly interesting tracks (A few from Face Value and But Seriously… immediately spring to mind!). This is the music of an artist who stood on the brink of world conquest and it would be this album that topped the charts in 1985 earning Collins a deserved Grammy for Record of the Year.
I always wonder what it would have been like to buy this oeuvre back in 1985 as I’m sure then I wouldn’t level the popular criticism that No Jacket Required shares with a shed load of other records produced that this time. Over-production was fashionable at the time and, if you were to listen to Collin’s other production credits with John Martyn, Frida (From ABBA), Adam Ant and Eric Clapton it is easy to see why he embraced the new studio technology on offer. Meticulous and arrangement heavy, Collins techniques focused on complex rhythm patterns layered to create a complete sound. Often the basslines and Drum loops would be complex with punchy horns, driving guitars and/or spare keyboard riffs. Using state of the art equipment to achieve these layered arrangements can be risky in the long term as technology moves on, and it would be disingenuous of me to say No Jacket Required hadn’t aged at all. However, I think that the appeal of this album is that it has dated, it serves as a perfect example of the sort of music people were listening to in 1985 and when all is said and done you cannot fault the accomplishment of the musicianship and the strong song writing.
The other factor that makes this album a joy is the associated publicity that accompanied it, Collins’ appearance in a shiny gold suit on the hit cop show, Miami Vice is a definite must for any fans – in spite of his appalling acting! Then there are the various promotional music videos that complemented the album. Sussudio is by far my favourite in which we see a suited Collins and his backing band reversing the fortunes of a flagging band night at the local pub! Then there were his constant chat show appearances and his marathon gig at Live Aid where he played both Wembley and Philadelphia to swathes of cheering crowds. Collins was indeed top of the world and at this point unstoppable. Next year he would return again with another Chart Topper with his band Genesis and his reputation as one of the most prolific acts of the 1980s would be secured.
From the first bars of ‘Sussudio’ to the fading chants of ‘Take Me Home’, No Jacket Required maintains those rare qualities of strength and consistency at a time when most albums were merely a vehicle for a couple of singles. Yes the sound is definitely rooted in the time of the record’s conception, but it is an enjoyable and easy listening experience and I would commend it to anyone who is looking for something which will give them hours of listening pleasure!

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