Obviously, it’s been one hell of a first week of the new year here in the U.S. Following the white supremacist mob attack on Capitol Building back on Wednesday, I’ve been trying to think of a good way to talk about it on here, while still staying true to what this blog is all about. What’s been said about it already? What lens has it been explored through? And then I remembered that this month marks 40 years since the release of “In the Air Tonight;” Phil Collins’ solo debut single.
Yes, that might sound like an odd transition, at first anyway. What does this well-known Phil Collins track have anything to do with what happened this week? Well, bear with me and I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, a deep dive.
“In the Air Tonight” is the first track off of Collins’ debut solo album, “Face Value.” It’s an instrumentally recognizable song, with its constant, almost unnerving build-up that eventually leads to one of the most epic drum fills ever, before letting it all out. Lyrically, it’s a song that bears a mystery. What is he feel that’s coming in the air tonight? Who is he directing the lyrics at? While the song came about around the time of Collins’ first divorce, he explained in a 2016 interview that he doesn’t really know what it’s about; just that there’s a lot of anger and despair to express.
Since its drop in 1981, it has never not been part of pop culture; ranging from appearances on “Miami Vice” and “The Hangover.”
In my second novel, An Absolute Mind, the music of Collins is sprinkled throughout, but it’s the moment where we first meet Gian where he’s playing that song on his ukulele; a precursor to what Sonya would soon eventually feel in the air (tonight).
However, I noticed that this song has been appearing a number of times even more so than usual this past year. Aside from the viral reaction to YouTubers Tim and Fred Williams’ first time listening to it, it looks like its lyrical content is being valued for its ability to vocalize tense foreshadowing similar to how it appeared in An Absolute Mind. Judith Hill can be heard belting her cover of it at the end of the third episode of the Hulu miniseries, “Little Fires Everywhere,” and The Protomen’s cover plays over the final moments of the latest season of “Cobra Kai;” indicating a point of no going back.
It’s its lyrical context that this song is heavy on my mind aside from its 40th anniversary. Many of us can agree that what happened on Wednesday was unsurprising, but for everyone else, it’s become an overdue wake-up call. The rhetoric that Trump preaches and his followers feed into themselves like IV drips is both dangerous and a rehashing of what has existed in this country since its founding. Although he will be out of office in a matter of days now, it’s obvious that his followers and his messages aren’t fading into the abyss anytime soon. For lack of better words, can you feel it coming in the air tonight?
Unlike previous Recommended Analyzing pieces, I kind of did the heavy lifting by analyzing this song already. However, I still encourage you to do some analyzing of it yourself. Listen to the song, read the lyrics, and draw your own conclusions about it. It’s fair to say it’s become a timeless song, and I wonder how many of you also have had this song come to mind in this turning point we’ve clearly reached.