While I’m trying to figure out whether I want to review Phil Collins’ “Going Back” album, I thought I’d clue you guys in to an album that I bet you never even knew existed. Yes, “Urban Renewal” is a real album. Yes, it includes a sea of contemporary R&B and hip-hop artists remaking Phil Collins songs. Although some of you may wonder whose harebrained idea this was, believe me when I tell you that the idea was sound in theory, just really, really (REALLY) flawed in execution.
An R&B tribute to Phil Collins kinda makes sense. He’s always represented for soul music. His first solo album featured the Earth, Wind & Fire horns. The lead single from his second album was a Supremes cover. “Sussudio” was a Top 10 R&B hit in 1985. Soul fans, rightfully, dig the dude. However, a guest list that included Lil Kim, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and TQ (remember him) did not bode well for a good album.
As someone who paid very good money for this album (it was only available as an import for quite some time-I’m still not sure whether the album ever saw a U.S. release), I can say that if you are the least bit interested in what “Urban Renewal” sounds like, don’t say I didn’t warn you. There are exactly two worthwhile tracks on the album: Brandy & Ray-J’s rendition of “Another Day in Paradise” (next time Willie Jr. tries to get all gangsta on that ass, someone should tell him that he was covering Phil Collins not even a decade ago), and Joe’s wistful take on ‘”Can’t Turn Back the Years” (a track on 1993’s “Both Sides” that ranks among Phil’s best). Oh, long-forgotten girl R&B duo Changing Faces delivers a stellar take on “One More Night” that almost allows me to forgive them for making three absolutely boring albums.
Elsewhere? Man oh man oh Manichewitz, what a shit show. SWV’s Coko does an OK job with “Easy Lover”, turning the song into a ballad and changing the lyrics significantly. Deborah Cox tries to slow down “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” in similar fashion and fails miserably. Kelis and The Neptunes try to turn “I Don’t Care Anymore” unto “Caught Out There” (and fail), Lil Kim’s version of “In the Air Tonight” makes Queen Pen’s remake of the song (which also featured Phil) sound like genius, and while I love and miss ODB, no one should have allowed his crazy ass anywhere near “Sussudio”. What’s even more disappointing is when people who should, in theory, do quite well with Phil’s repertoire turn out to disappoint. Brian McKnight should conceivably ace a song like “I Wish It Would Rain Down”. But his version is completely devoid of passion. However, it’s perfection when compared to a travesty like Montell Jordan’s tone-deaf rendition of “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”. As on the fence as I am about that song’s covers by the likes of Mariah Carey and The Postal Service, good Lord, y’all. Montell’s version will make you run out of the room screaming.
Phil definitely green-lit this release. He even contributed to the liners. However, someone was definitely not hanging out at Quality Control HQ when the talent for this album was being assembled. What should have at the very least been an interesting record turned out to be something sitting in between “mediocre” and “complete travesty”. While “Urban Renewal” is pretty hard to get a hold of these days, by NO means am I suggesting that you should go looking for it-unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
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