Good news for Collins fans. After years when she seemed to be lost, she's moving in the right direction again.
Her 23rd album is her first in at least a decade that revives the assured technique of such albums as In My Life and Wildflowers.
Fires of Eden isn't perfect: Collins still lets some schmaltzy arrangements and ornate harmonies trample over her natural talents (Smash those synthesizers, Judy!). Yet the overall tone of the project rings true. Collins's voice is resonant and powerful again. The first tune, "The Blizzard." is a highlight of Collins's 29-year career. Her music and lyrics indeed invoke the beauty of falling snow. Singing to her own cascading piano accompaniment, she tells of meeting a stranger in a storm, a small event that builds to a rewarding moment of vision.
Collins does her best work on her own, but she also co-wrote several pleasing songs with the duo David Buskin and Robin Batteau. Some of these, particularly "Home Before Dark," have the kind of wistful lyrics Collins once specialized in.
Still, she sounds most appealing when she injects a song with strength and even toughness. It's hard to understand why she sometimes picks fluffy material and croons it in a dizzy romantic way. (She does, however, make a success out of one of her weird choices, turning "The Air That I Breathe," one of the lesser gifts of the Hollies to pop music, into a loving lullaby.)
Thoreau once warned, "Simplify! Simplify!" Collins falters when she ignores that advice. When she heeds it, she sounds ready to follow Bonnie Raitt's footsteps on the comeback trail. (Columbia)