Tuesday, February 19, 2013

There's no such thing as underrated these days

I was tweeting yesterday about Face Value by Phil Collins. Somebody responded that it was underrated. Since it sold ten million copies I think it's a bit of stretch to describe it as underrated. Abused, yes, dismissed out of hand, sneered at for reasons that had nothing to do with music, all these would serve as descriptions, but not underrated.

It's funny the way we use that term. Underrated was always a popular thread in The Word magazine and on its website. Readers like to think that the music they like is underrated, presumably because it plays to our image of ourselves as fearless swimmers against the tide.

I'm not sure there's very much you can call underrated these days. The big hits reach a level of ubiquity of which even The Beatles could only have dreamed. At the other end of the scale, the tiny cults of yesteryear now have entire evenings devoted to them on BBC Four. Scott Walker put out another album recently and while very few people bought it or heard it he can't complain that it has gone unnoticed. I sometimes think that the real reason groups reform is that they know that this time they'll be overrated.

Furthermore time and chance eventually ensure that everybody gets their chance to be rated, even overrated. I'm sure it amuses Wilko Johnson greatly to see his inbox jammed with interview requests from people who have been avoiding his PR's calls for years. The only aspect of his current situation which could remotely be described as satisfactory is he's getting the chance to read his obituaries. In which he will probably be described as "criminally underrated". 

P.S. One of the small children who's pictured on the gatefold of "Face Value" is now forty.


  1. On reflection, I stand by my assessment of Face Value as underrated. By that I meant it’s undervalued - a usage that has a place, still.

    In the case of Face Value, a lot of people own it, but do they play it? Most of the copies sold were bought before you could stream an album online or even rip a mate’s CD. A big single on the back of a couple of Genesis hits promised much. What emerged was something unexpected: a quiet, sometimes jaunty, sometimes reflective collection of songs. And only one big drum break. I was disappointed at the time.

    Time has passed and Collins’ star has waned, but playing that album again yesterday it stands up as an honest and personal piece of work. If there was more space on Twitter I might have expressed that sense of the gap between popularity and perceived quality in a different way, but underrated did the job pretty well. I think there's a place for it.

  2. Those who bore the tag underrated used to work on a different floor to those who were known as National Treasures; these days they share the same desk.

  3. First song on Face Value is In the air tonight. The mention of the album took me back years ago, and being told it was about a tragic drowning.

    I have never thought about it since, so straight to Wikipedia, which says it was an enduring urban myth which Collins has found him having to correct over the years.

    I expect eveyone here knew all that already though. The version of the story I heard was the one in which Collins contrives to invite the mythical guilty bystander (in the story he stands by while the man in the water drowns)to a concert. Then when the song comes he tells the audience what happeded and puts th esoptlight on the bystander.

    Interesting how these stories spread so widely, pre-internet.