Philip Bailey – Chinese Wall – 1985
Produced by Phil Collins for Kalimba Productions
Arranged by Phil Collins, Thomas Washington and Arif Mardin 

Review by RJM – Rating:

In 1984, devoted EW&F fans felt great joy upon discovering Philip Bailey’s second solo project, "Chinese  Wall". Philip got Phil Collins, the hot British pop star of Genesis fame (and EW&F fan), to produce "Chinese Wall" and it does represent a real upgrade over the previous year’s "Continuation". However, make no mistake about it: "Chinese Wall" is definitely Phil Collins’ interpretation of what EW&F might sound like. But give Philco credit for trying. The producers of Philip Bailey’s other solo projects, George Duke and Niles Rodgers, made no such attempt.

Collins was about to hit the stratosphere with 1985’s "No Jacket Required", in which he integrated into his music EW&F’s sound and horn section (the Phenix Horns appear on "Sussudio" and Don Myrick does the sax solo at the end of "One More Night"). Although I like Philco, it’s absolutely comical to read other reviews gush over Collins’ effort, claiming that his singing and drumming are what’s most memorable on "Chinese Wall" (even though his voice is discernible on only two cuts). Please. Phil Collins makes Stewart Copeland sound like Billy Cobham (or Neal Pert).

One attractive thing about "Chinese Wall" is that it features a five member band of good to excellent musicians, including bassist Nathan East, who later joined Bob James’ pop-jazz group, Fourplay. "Chinese Wall" is the best and cleanest, musically, of Philip’s solo career. The instrumentation is distinct and uncluttered, and the least electronic or synthesized. 

After recording nine singles with Philip Bailey as lead vocal, the two Phils decided, as an afterthought, to do a duet to fill out the album. (Is this not the actual definition of "filler"?) As it turns out, "Easy Lover" (which was originally named "Choosy Lover"), was released and – much to the shock of this reviewer – went all the way to the top of the pop charts. Of course, the entertaining MTV video went a long way in helping this single. Even though "Easy Lover" ranks only fourth or fifth best on this album, it does rank high among Philip’s best singles. This is an indication of a history of weak singles more than anything else.

Noteworthy on this album are the Prince-esque, "I Go Crazy", the moving, albeit depressing, "Children Of The Ghetto", and the EW&F-like (but somewhat predictable) ballad, "Show You The Way To Love". These form a solid core, but the rest of the album is ordinary, and among the most irritating EW&F material since 1972’s "Last Days And Time".

The real winner on this album is the second single released, "Walking On The Chinese Wall", where Collins’ drumming and background vocals are actually an asset. It turns out that this is Philip’s best single out of his four solo albums that I have heard and redeems the album. No real surprise that "Walking On The Chinese Wall" went nowhere. Go figure. 

So let’s review. Phil C does EW&F music ("One More Night" and "Easy Lover") and it’s a smash. Phil B does EW&F music ("Walking On The Chinese Wall"), and no one cares, even though all of this is produced by Phil C. Uh-huh.


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