Understated is an apt title for an album by a man like Edwyn Collins, for his influence is exactly that. People often talk about how bands like The Smiths and The Stone Roses inspired generations of indie groups, but Orange Juice were also very much pivotal in their own way. Collins was the singer of this group, and after their split embarked on a solo career that produced a number of incredible albums.
But in 2005 his life was shattered after suffering multiple brain haemorrhages, a trauma that many people don’t bounce back from. It was a relief that he survived the tragedy, and just knowing that he was still with us was a blessing. While the man may have lived to see another day, many people assumed that we would probably never hear the musician again. But Edwyn Collins doesn’t give up that easily. And here we are eight years later listening to his new album, his second since his return to doing what he loves most. Edwyn’s recovery has been partly been the result of his sheer determination to carry on making brilliant music, something which helped him rebuild his life, and in many ways his thoughts. For 2010’s Losing Sleep, a range of high profile collaborated were enlisted to help their hero get back on track after the major setback he suffered, and after re-acquainting himself with music again, this latest album sees him take centre stage. It’s perhaps his most personal record as well, several tracks reflecting on the events of his life in a most powerful and open way. It won’t be long until you’re singing along to the choruses, or maybe you won’t be singing along because you’ll want to concentrate on the power of that voice.
Opener ‘Dilemna’ kicks things off with smart horns and a simple yet massively infectious tune, while the strutting ‘Baby Jean’ tells of how his art has kept him going. The lively ‘Carry On, Carry On’ is a joyful piece of Motown-infused soul that doesn’t take for granted the simple pleasures in life, and elsewhere songs like the poignant, bruised ‘Down The Line’ push his vocal abilities to the limit. “Just understand I’ve lost some ground” he sings, highlighting the fact that he’s not trying to hide anything from the listener. While some tracks openly deal with his struggle, others look back to his youth and his early days as a musician, in fact the humbly touching ’31 Years’ does both. But not once does he sound like a man playing for sympathy or feeling sorry for himself, as the truly buoyant northern soul stomper ‘Too Bad (That’s Sad)’ demonstrates, a classic break up song put to the most uplifting of musical settings.
Some of the wit and lyrical sharpness of his pre-2005 material may have been blunted, but in its place are honest autobiographical reflections, and a newfound sense of perspective, while the determination and sincerity powering his performance is nothing short of awe inspiring. ‘Forsooth’ grows from a soft Velvet Underground-like melody into a wonderfully underplayed gospel chorus. Because music has given him so much, he’s giving himself to the music and can be heard truly singing from the heart. When he sings “I’m so happy to be alive”, you can tell that he means it. The thrilling ‘In The Now’ sees him celebrating survival with a defiant energy, pleased to be not only “living and breathing” but also “working”, while the fantastic title track provides another catchy direct hit.
Understated is more than just another step to recovery, it is indeed a fine record in its own right, and utterly life-affirming. It’s also perhaps the ultimate testament to the healing power of music. He lost the ability to read, write, and lost movement in half of his body, but what he didn’t lose was his gift for coming up with an ear-catching tune, as is proved here. It will make you smile, it may even make you cry, and its an album that reminds you how good it is to be alive.
Listen to the album in full HERE
And buy a copy HERE