There is a track on the outstanding new Edwyn Collins LP “Understated” titled “31 Years”, the length of time that Edwyn has been in the music game. We have been lucky to have him & his music around for so long. We are double lucky that he is still around. Over those years, every now & again, Edwyn has been responsible for the best British music of its type & time. “Understated” is a comeback record in the proper sense, included among the classy 11 tracks is the pop single of 2013. “Too Bad (That’s Sad)” is a Northern Soul re-write that hits all the necessary spots & that is so retro that it’s nowtro. Paul Weller could only dream of getting this good. There’s a Sex Pistol on the drums too.
In 2005 Edwyn suffered a double cerebral hemorrhage which limited movement on the right side of his body & reduced his speech to an aphasic 4 phrases. There has been a long period of rehabilitation which his partner Grace Maxwell has recounted in “Falling & Laughing”, an account written with love & without sentimentality. Music surely had to play some part in Edwyn’s recovery. There was an LP in 2007 taken from tracks recorded before his illness. In 2010 “Losing Sleep” was a set of collaborations with friends. The richness & resonance of his voice, his always succinct, sometimes sarcastic, turn of a word were still there. I’m sure that there is still a way to go for him but on “Understated” we hear a confident singer’s & writer’s voice. Of course it makes you happy that Edwyn is able to produce songs of such quality. It is naturally poignant that he had to go through so much crap to get to this. The thing is is that there are those perfect melodic hooks, deadpan but heartfelt lyrics which make the record unmistakably an Edwyn Collins record.
So. I look back for 2 more tracks & there’s this queue of dead-stone classics jostling for inclusion. Orange Juice were an archetype because they got that indie post punk thing so right. From the 60s they tried to cram the Beatles, the Byrds & the Velvet Underground into the same lo-fi, DIY recording. They loved their 70s Glasgow youth club soul/disco, filtered through “Young Americans” Bowie. If a thing was worth doing then it should be done with style. Their debut LP “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever” was released in early 1982. It remained at the front of the stack for the rest of the decade. Another time to celebrate Orange Juice (& Collins’ production work) on here I think.
It would also be the easy option to select 2 more of his Soul inflected excitations because there are a few & he does them so well. However, he does other stuff well too. “Adidas World” is a slice of rocking agit-pop that was a single from the 1997 LP “I’m Not Following You”. It’s a wonderfully direct attack on the “three stripe shoes” with a video which brands the company’s customers as sheep & makes an overt reference to possible Illuminati involvement. His previous record “Gorgeous George” had gone kind of nuts & deservedly so. It was a Top 10 record & awards were, erm, awarded. Now the label wanted to shift some units of the “I’m Not Following You” but the release of a song like this shows that Edwyn was happier observing & sniping from the sidelines. Fantastic.
You know in 2013 the most radical of American troubadours, Steve Earle, Included a song on his new record called “Burning It Down”. It was a story of a guy who was thinking about an arson attack on his local branch of the supermarket giant Wal-Mart, In fact the original title included the company name. I can understand Earle’s alteration, Wal-Mart’s lawyers care little for an artist’s articulation of anger & defeat, they would have kicked his butt. So how refreshing to hear “Adidas World”, a lovely fuck you to corporatism which, of course, barely got played on the radio at the time of release.
It is a bit of a miracle & a total delight that Edwyn is still around to write, record & perform. There are lyrics on “Understated”, an LP I am liking more on every hearing, which synopsize years of tribulation with an uncomplicated honesty & a painful beauty. Edwyn Collins has always had the ability to capture an emotion in just one line. “Just Like the 4 Tops, I Can’t Help Myself”…Man that’s good & man that’s clever. “Low Expectations” is a song from “Gorgeous George” the 1994 LP chock-full of hits. This wonderful new performance of a lovely old song blurs the lines between any before & after the strokes. Edwyn’s illness, his recovery & his musical renaissance are both life-defining & inspiring but from 1989 to 2013 the quality & engagement of his solo work has been continuous. Edwyn is so much more than a guy who got ill.
Edwyn Collins turns up on lists of one-hit wonders & that makes me scratch my head. All those great singles from “Pale Blue Eyes”, through “The Beatles”, “Keep On Burning”, “The Magic Piper Of Love”, were they not hits ? The new LP is so good, any of his solo records reward the listener with intelligent, sometimes vituperative but considered lyrics allied to a knowledge & melodic appreciation of the best of our music. Edwyn is the Nick Lowe of his generation & you should know how much of a compliment that is. Praise Jah that he is still around & that there will be more of his music to enjoy.