Can we be honest with ourselves, for just a minute, and admit how ballsy it is to put your pasty British face with your (very obviously) thinning hair front-and-center on the cover of your album? Is there a measurement for the number of fucks Phil Collins simply does not give for how pop superstardom was supposed to work in the 1980s?
No Jacket Required, released in 1985, was a big part of the soundtrack of my childhood (along with George Harrison’s Cloud 9, it was one of the two tapes that I actually wore out from listening to over and over again). I have the album memorized and can break into virtually any song from the set, be it “Sussudio” or “Take Me Home,” with the slightest provocation. I am, I admit, an unabashed fan of Phil Collins, and it’s all because of this album.
It’s kind of funny to think that this record won a Grammy for Album of the Year back then. Looking back on it from 2013, the record sounds horribly, horribly dated. Synthesized horns, processed and programmed drums everywhere, vocoders…you don’t think it could get more ’80s on you, then you hear the sax solo in “Who Said I Would,” and realize that there’s always a way to add more ’80s to a song.
Things start off strong if nonsensical with “Sussudio,” which Collins claims is a word (I’m still a bit dubious). It’s a punchy, upbeat number, and I remember the video for it being very self-effacing and funny as hell. You have to give Collins credit for that, if nothing else: he didn’t ever take himself too seriously.
“Only You Know and I Know” continues the trend of up-tempo, horn-and-drum machine-driven tunes, adding a guitar solo straight out of Miami Vice for good measure. Things slow down with “Long Long Way To Go,” an Asian-tinged track with lots of atmosphere and backing vocals from Sting. Things pick back up with “I Don’t Wanna Know,” a mid-tempo adult-contemporary rocker with a chugging guitar line and layered vocals that has one of the best sing-along choruses about moving on that the ’80s could offer. The first side of the album (I still remember it from the tape) is the ballad “One More Night,” which is exactly what you’d expect from a Phil Collins mid-80s ballad: mannered, just enough emotion in the chorus to really get the sense of pleading across to the audience.
Side two opens with the drum machine-driven “Don’t Lose My Number,” one of those ambiguously dangerous-sounding songs (like “In the Air Tonight” or “Just a Job to Do,” owing more to the latter than the former in this case) that Collins pops out every album or two. “Who Said I Would” features the aforementioned sax solo and vocoder backing vocals, and is probably the most ’80s-sounding song I’ve ever heard (and, oddly enough, I love it). “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore” features Collins doing his famous polyrhythmic drumming. “Inside Out” was always my favorite song when I was a kid, largely because of the guitar part (especially in the chorus, with that great delay effect. As an adult, though, my favorite song is “Take Me Home,” which I’m pretty sure was the last song on the cassette I had as a child (but isn’t the last song on the CD version I bought a few years ago). “Take Me Home” is a beautiful song with unique percussion and gorgeous keyboards, not to mention the soaring vocals in the chorus (with backing vocals provided by the likes of Sting again and Peter Gabriel, among others). I always thought it was the perfect song to close the album, and it’s usually where I stop listening now.
The final track, “We Said Hello, Goodbye,” is a piano-based clunker of a ballad, and it feels very out of place with the rest of the album. It’s a very straightforward lost love song, the sort that Collins usually does with much more aplomb and effort, and the sort of thing he did much better on tracks like “One More Night.” It feels…unfinished, compared to everything else, and I’d swear it was just a bonus track added to the CD of a demo from the same time period as the rest of the stuff on the album, but I can’t be sure. Like I said, it wasn’t on the tape I had of the album when I was a kid.
Regardless of the last-track blunder, No Jacket Required is still a consistently great album from start to (almost) finish. It’s a stronger album overall than Face Value, and on-par with just about anything else released by any other band at the time. Collins knew exactly who and what he was – a pop singer with a knack for catchy songcraft – and never loses sight of creating engaging, memorable tunes with sing-along choruses. Here it is, almost thirty years later, and I still can’t stop listening to this album. What more could you want from a pop record?