Phil Collins took a long time to deliver Testify, his first record since redemptive post-divorce album Dance into the Light. On that 1996 affair, he was open to all the possibilities that may arrive during this new act and, accordingly, the album felt expansive. He dabbled with new sounds, perhaps excessively so, but it helped mirror his newfound freedom. In contrast, Testify feels a bit hemmed in, the sound of a singer/songwriter marching through the drudgery of life. This isn't to say that Testify is underpinned with despair -- it certainly lacks the melancholy undertow of Both Sides, one of his moodiest and best records -- but rather it feels diligent, with Collins intent on hitting all of his preordained marks. He writes songs about love gained and lost, fatherhood, and society -- all the staples of his mature work after No Jacket Required -- but his musical world-view has shrunk. Instead of attempting new sounds, he excises his eccentricities right along with his trademark thunderous drums, so Testify winds up feeling stiff, sequenced, and safe. An adult contemporary album, in other words, one that's clearly patterned after his big hit "You'll Be in My Heart," his Oscar-winning original song from 1999's Tarzan. Testify sways gently to its interlocking drum loops, a record that relies on mood, not melody. Which isn't to say this album is devoid of melody -- it's there; it's just not hooky, which is a conscious decision. Collins made Testify as a mellow meditation on everyday life, never pushing his themes or his songs too hard, and while that can mean it's pleasurable enough as background music, it also means that the album can feel a little listless, as if he's not sure what he wants to say. Given this vague aimlessness, it's not entirely a surprise that Testify turned out to be his last studio album of original material (as of this writing in 2016).
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine