Philip Bailey – Chinese Wall –
Review by RJM – Rating:In 1984, devoted Earth, Wind & Fire 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 an 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 first two solo efforts, George Duke and Niles Rodgers, made no such attempt.
Collins was about to hit the stratosphere with 1985’s «No Jacket Required», into which he integrated 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» – Philco’s obvious answer to «After The Love Has Gone». Though I like Philco, other reviewers gushing over his effort is comical, claiming his singing and drumming are what’s most memorable on «Chinese Wall» (though his voice is discernible on only two cuts). Please. Phil Collins makes Stewart Copeland sound like Billy Cobham (or Neal Pert).
On a more positive note, «Chinese Wall» features a five member band of good to excellent musicians, including bassist Nathan East, who later joined Bob James’ jazz group, Fourplay. It is the best and cleanest, musically, of Philip’s first five albums. The instrumentation is distinct and uncluttered, and the least electronic or synthesized.
After recording nine singles with Bailey as lead, the two Phils decided on a duet to fill out «Chinese Wall». (Is this not the actual definition of «filler»?) «Easy Lover» (originally named «Choosy Lover»), was released and – much to the shock of this reviewer – nearly hit the top of the pop charts. Of course, the entertaining MTV video helped this single. Though «Easy Lover» ranks only fifth best here, it does place highly among Philip’s singles. This is mostly indicative of a history of weak singles.
Noteworthy 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 «Chinese Wall» is among the most irritating EW&F material since 1972’s «Last Days And Time».
The real winner here is the second single released, «Walking On The Chinese Wall», where Collins’ drumming and background vocals are actually an asset. I shouldn’t be surprised «Walking On The Chinese Wall», though Philip’s best single on his first five solo efforts, went nowhere.
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, though it’s produced by Phil C. Go figure.
order of strength: