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Thank The Lord For Edwyn Collins!
on 28 March 2013
We probably don't realise how lucky we are to still have the great Edwyn Collins making music like this. Having made a near miraculous recovery from his double stroke in 2005 and returned to recording with the stonkingly brilliant Losing Sleep in 2010, he has now surpassed himself with a collection of songs which are right up there with anything he has done thus far in his illustrious solo career (which has also, of course, included other highpoints such as the Gorgeous George and I'm Not Following You albums). If this album with its vibrant pop music sensibility is a measure of the potential of Analogue-Enhanced-Digital (Collins' own humorously titled label) and his London West Heath Studios, then I am all for it.
For Understated, the great man has eschewed the all-star line-up (and shared composing duties) employed on Losing Sleep and instead has penned all the songs himself (other than the syrupy, but no doubt heartfelt, cover of Rod McKuen's Love's Been Good To Me that closes the album), performing them with the accompaniment of his current regular collaborators such as Paul Cook, Sebastian Lewsley, Sean Read, Dave Ruffy, James Walbourne, Barry Cadogan, etc . Given the album's rather muted title, it is perhaps not surprising (on a number of songs) to find Collins in quite a reflective lyrical mood. On the melancholic but sublimely soulful Baby Jean, Collins reflects on life's struggle ('I got music to see me through, I got art to ease the pain'), whilst two of the album's standouts are 31 Years, in which this Scots poet recognises the contribution to his soul's well-being of his 31 years in the music business, whilst the heart-breaking magnificence of the album's title song, with its superb piano opening and mellotron-backed lilting melody, accompany Collins' simple autobiographical tale.
But the thing that is frankly revelatory about Understated is the positivity that emanates from its grooves (I suppose CDs have grooves). This takes both musical and lyrical form. Each of Carry On, Carry On and Too Bad (That's Sad) wouldn't be out of place on a new Four Tops (or maybe Dexy's) album, so full of Motown (or Northern Soul)-inspired ebullience are they, whilst each of It's A Reason and, in particular, the life-affirming Forsooth are as clear a statement as you could get as to where Collins is in his life at the moment (and it is a true joy to behold). Similarly, the beautifully melancholic Down The Line, whilst being shot through with life's frustrations, still reflects a residual positivity.
But what Collins continues to bring to modern 'pop music' is his unfailing sense of witty irony all dressed up in rambunctious rhythm and melody, and nowhere are these qualities better encapsulated than on album opener, the darkly satirical Dilemna - spelled that way because apparently Collins' mother-in-law Mrs Maxwell says so - ('That's me, that's me all over') and (my current favourite), the pulsating statement that is In The Now, with its Suede-like guitar, where Collins' preoccupations with the modern world are finally dispelled ('Racing through my landscape, it's wild and free'), all to the accompaniment of James Walbourne's searing guitar solo and Sean Read's Andy Mackay-like saxophone.
I can hardly wait for next month's gig at the Union Chapel. Post-gig update: Truly amazing (and heart-warming) performance from Edwyn - and a special mention for the astonishing guitar of James Walbourne (one of the finest I've seen in years) and for Carwyn Ellis' superb bass and keyboards.