Edwyn Collins Understated Review

Released 2013.  

BBC Review

Knockout stuff that suggests Collins’ knack for melody remains intact.

Chris Parkin 2013

As incredulous as it might sound after one play of his latest album, Edwyn Collins still describes the music he’s made since his two brain haemorrhages in 2005 as works in progress. Even the keenest fan of Collins and Orange Juice will struggle for ways in which the irrepressible Scot might improve this eighth solo album.

It’s a thankless task sidestepping those haemorrhages. Not least because, struggling to strum his guitar, Collins has to call on a crack team of musicians (Barrie Cadogan, James Walbourne and Paul Cook among those here) to bring his ideas to life. The theme of the album, too, never strays far from his trauma.

But where his last album, Losing Sleep, saw Collins getting to grips with song structure – the least of his problems when he’s relearning how to make a cup of tea – this is knockout stuff that suggests his knack for melody remains intact.

Here he marries his art-rock past to classic and country soul in elevating, jangle-heavy high definition. There’s nothing faithful about the Motown or Stax influences, either. He weaves them seamlessly into bristling art-pop for a sound that fits like a well-worn suit and dovetails perfectly with songs remembering his youth and coming to terms with his present.

The slinky horn-accompanied Dilemma features the album’s most touchingly self-deprecating words – “Dilemma, that’s me all over” – while the strutting Baby Jean is more defiant: “Got music to see me through, I’ve got art to ease the pain.” It’s deftly done thanks to an openness – the same he showed in faltering interviews in the aftermath of his illness – that gives these songs their beating heart.

The tear-jerking It’s a Reason (“It’s a reason to die for, it’s good reason to strive for”), the Velvets-y Forsooth (“I’m so lucky to be alive, that’s why I’m living my own youth”) and what sounds like a long-lost Wigan Casino classic, Too Bad (That’s Sad), are all so upliftingly buoyant that even the blackest horizon holds promise.

Thirty-odd years after singing about ripping it up, then, Collins is calling on the past to help him through. It’s working brilliantly.

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