“Can’t Turn Back The Years” by Phil Collins (1993)/JOE (2001)

1993′s Both Sides marked the end of America’s fascination with Phil Collins as anything other than a marker of the ‘80s. It was the first of his albums to not go multi-platinum or spawn a top twenty pop hit. Both Sides also was Phil’s second divorce album, with the first being 1981′s Face Value. Perhaps America decided melancholy suited it better when represented by sullen dudes with loud guitars and soul patches.

I had and still have a soft spot for Both Sides. As exhibited by many of the songs on this list so far, I have a bit of a melancholy streak. I also really like Phil Collins. The album isn’t great-two songs lean hard on bagpipes, the title track is a piece of social commentary that just seems like a ripoff of Phil’s earlier song “Another Day In Paradise”, so on and so on. The good songs on it-and there are several-are quite enjoyable, though. With the most enjoyable being “Can’t Turn Back The Years”, a song that thankfully offers a cleansing feeling after the bomb of the first single/title track.

“Can’t Turn Back the Years” is spare-just Phil and a. keyboard. It’s almost a demo from a production standpoint. Mr. Collins sings about knowing he fucked up, not being able to change the fact that he fucked up, but still having strong feelings for his ex-wife. It’s as heartbreaking a song as he’s ever written. In his (very good) autobiography (seriously, you should read it), he mentions that “Can’t Turn Back…” is one of his favorites when it comes to his own material. Rightfully so.

Almost a decade later, Phil and some folks at his label conceived of a tribute album to him that would consist of songs performed exclusively by R&B and rap artists. Phil was and is a huge R&B fan, and black music lovers of a certain vintage love Phil right back. Contributions were made to the album (called Urban Renewal) by Kelis, Brandy, Brian McKnight and many others, but the standout cut was JOE’s cover of “Can’t Turn Back The Years”. Joe’s best material has always been cut with a little bit of blue, and he throws himself into the lyrics. The spare keyboard sound of Phil’s original is traded in for a more expansive (but still relatively spare) jazz sound. A saxophone plays the original synth melody. When given the right material, Joe fucking kills it, and this cover is a perfect example.

I don’t know how Phil felt about this particular cover, but I hope he loved it. I certainly do.


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