Say what you will about Phil Collins; the man has a reverence for Motown that Michael McDonald only wishes he had. Anybody can cover soul classics, but few would actually hire The Funk Brothers — the legendary backing band that recorded every Motown hit– as the backing band. Instrumentally, the songs sound exactly like their ’60s predecessors. The horns and percussion on Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” are dead on. The guitar romp at the beginning of “Heat Wave” is just right. The only difference is that you’ve got Phil Collins on vocals.
But it begs the question: Does this album need to exist? Yeah, Phil Collins said it’s the most fun he’s had recording an album, and he clearly has a very specific idea of how the songs should sound. But more than the feeling of, “Oh wow, Phil Collins does a great version of ‘Jimmy Mack'”, this album more often brings to mind, “Wow, ‘Jimmy Mack’ is a great song– I should be listening to the original instead of this Phil Collins version.” It’s not that his versions of the songs are bad– on the contrary, the arrangements are amazing, and his voice sounds great. Plus, it’s fantastic to hear The Funk Brothers here. But Collins doesn’t bring anything new to the table for these songs.
According to Collins himself, that was the idea. He didn’t want to make a new sounding record– he wanted to make an old Motown record. And that’s exactly what he accomplished. He stood over the band and told them exactly how to play every chord. And Going Back isn’t remotely the fantastic catastrophe of Motown and Motown 2 by Michael McDonald. At least Collins’ voice is subtle, nonintrusive, and the arrangements aren’t just overblown muzak. It’s nice to hear the funk-infused Bob Babbitt bass line on “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Of course, it’s also nice to just listen to The Temptations’ version.
Going Back is strictly for Motown and/or Phil Collins fanatics, but it’s surprisingly not the terrible, schmaltzy Michael McDonald/Rod Stewart/Harry Connick, Jr. soccer mom album we all thought it was going to be. It’s just a nice reminder of how wonderful the Motown sound really is.