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New Phil Collins Album Turns Retrospection Into Emotional Ballads

PHIL COLLINS is the first to admit he doesn't look like a traditional rock star. He doesn't have the tousled locks of Rod Stewart, he's missing the scowling eyes of Sting, and he certainly doesn't sport the pouty lips of Mick Jagger.

``I don't have a lot of that going for me,'' Mr. Collins says in an interview. ``Would I rather look like Sting?'' he asks himself laughing. ``Probably. I suspect it might be more interesting for me and my wife.''

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Always the joker, a serious look comes over Collins. ``What I do have, if I analyze it, is the fact that I am kind of the man on the street. I was brought up very average,'' he says. ``So, I write directly, and more people relate to that because [they think] `Here's someone writing my language.' ''

On his latest album, ``Both Sides,'' Collins draws on the retrospection that often accompanies midlife (the singer's 40th birthday was three years ago).

``When you turn 40,'' he says, ``there are all kinds of things that you look back on in your life and you say, `Well I wonder what would've happened if I had done that? If I had actually gone out with that person instead of that person?' ''

In the song ``Survivors,'' Collins tells an old lover he never meant to break her heart, but he mourns a love that left him in ``Everyday,'' perhaps another song referring to his first wife, who divorced him in 1979.

``The lyrics are very personal. What you see is what happened as opposed to the `what if' songs,'' he explains.

``I guess turning 40 is the kind of time where you blow the whistle, sit down for 10 minutes and have a half-time break,'' he says. ``Let's look at the statistics from the first half, like a sports reporter, and then you have a look at the second half of what's coming towards you.''

Asked to look back at the biggest turning point in his life, one might expect Collins to point to the day in 1975 when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, allowing Collins to come out from behind the drums and emerge unexpectedly as a charismatic lead singer. But Collins says it was the breakup of his first marriage, because the emotional fallout prompted him to start writing songs.

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``I never had the time or inclination to follow a song through. Then suddenly I got faced with a situation in which my family had left. So I ended up writing songs as messages for her,'' he says.

Many of the songs appeared on his first solo album, ``Face Value,'' which produced two hits, ``In the Air Tonight'' and ``I Missed Again.'' That first solo outing in 1981 led to a string of commercially successful recordings and a slew of Grammy awards.

Yet Collins is unsure of the reception of his latest attempt because, in part, it is void of the usual slick R&B-influenced and horn-driven tracks such as ``Easy Lover'' and ``Sussudio.'' Instead, it concentrates more on ballads oozing with heartache and angst.

``Nervous is not the right word. It makes me more apprehensive and a little ... worried is not the right word either,'' he says with a laugh. ``In a way I don't need to do anything else for the rest of my life. So, financially, it's not a concern anymore. It's interesting to see if I can still write music that people like, you know what I mean?''

While the album deals with issues in the past, Collins is thinking about the present. He's preparing for a world tour and working on a movie project about ``The Three Bears'' to star Collins, Danny DeVito, and Bob Hoskins.

As for the fate of his band, Genesis?

``Who knows what life has in store for Genesis, I certainly don't know,'' he says. ``But I'm definitely looking ahead. This is the beginning of the second half.''

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