Phil Collins was at a crossroads in 1980. With Genesis dropping their most successful and accessible album to date, the pop-driven Duke, he felt secure enough to undertake a solo album, one that would find him drifting even further from his roots in British progressive rock. At the same time, his marriage to Andrea Bertorelli had crashed and burned, leaving him to gaze at the wreckage and ruminate on what went wrong. It's this peculiar mix of outward artistic confidence and inner emotional despair that steered the making of Face Value, arguably the most ambitious and determined album of Collins' career.
Sonically, Face Value is a distillation of what Collins was grooving to throughout the second half of the 1970s: jazz fusion, soul music (Motown in particular), Beatlesque melodicism and ambient-flavored atmospherics. The album's watery textures and muted colors are very much inspired by "New Music," a phrase Soundcheck host and music critic John Schaefer coined at the time to describe a slew of pioneering musicians, from Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson to Jon Hassell and Philip Glass, who were exploring the intersection of synthesizers and other electronic instrumentation, world music, modern classical, jazz and, of course, pop.
Nowadays, the thought of Collins associating himself such avant-garde heavies might seem more than a little odd, yet in the '70s he worked with some of New Music's most probing artists, among them his old Genesis mate Peter Gabriel, Robert Wyatt, John Martyn, Brand X and the aforementioned Brian Eno. Right from Face Value's opener, the ceaselessly stunning "In the Air Tonight," it's obvious he gleaned a lot from these collaborations.
That said, Collins just might've learned the most from Martyn. In 1979, he lent his skills (drums, percussion, backing vocals) to Grace and Danger, a harrowing document of Martyn's own marital failures, one that very much inspired Face Value in a profound and personal way.