Every one us loves a good recovery story, right? Remember a few years ago when Beach Boy Brian Wilson released Smile (Nonesuch, 2004), some 37 years after he originally conceived it? Was the anticipation around the release of that long-delayed effort due simply to the fact that Wilson hadn’t released much original work in the ensuing decades? Of course not. No, the inescapable themes embedded in our enthusiasm were those of recovery and redemption. Music fans knew the story of Wilson’s decline into addiction and depression, even into madness it was said. Having heard he was working on an abandoned masterpiece, we all wanted this lovable, lugubrious legend to rise again from the ashes. And we hoped he’d come bearing something rarefied. Many believe he did.
So then, consider Edwyn Collins, a witty, acerbic Scottish musician and a founding member of the seminal pop group Orange Juice. Unfairly known here chiefly for his pop masterpiece “A Girl Like You,” Collins is a brilliant solo artist in his own right, with albums to his credit like the groovy, Beatles-mocking Dr. Syntax (Setanta, 2002). Tragedy overcame Collins though in 2005 when he suffered two cerebral hemorrhages, leaving him paralyzed on one side of his body, and the abnormally articulate gent was cruelly reduced to a vocabulary of just four words. It’s an event one can hardly ignore when reviewing this, his first effort after an accident many assumed would leave him permanently incapacitated. You won’t be surprised then to find the theme of morbidity running a thick vein through his seventh solo album. Now, at 51 years old, Collins focuses on subjects relevant to his age and position, subjects made only more poignant when you inevitably consider his health. “I’m losing sleep, I’m losing dignity,” he begins on the first track. And you know as you hear his voice quaver throughout the song that he’s referring to his still imperfect physical condition. Yet, the tone? Upbeat, cheery almost, accompanied by bright horns. If the words are bleak, the tone says, Que sera, sera. What ever will be, will be.
“Sometimes I wonder, what is my role?” he asks next. He’s also “Bored” and “Humble.” Later, he’s even “Over the Hill.” These songs remind us of the human characteristics Collins has so trenchantly satirized in his music before. Here, however, he considers them more tenderly. He’s careful to avoid a pity fest, too: “Humble” actually proves affirming, reverent. So does “Come Tomorrow, Come Today” and “I Still Believe in You,” not to forget the romantic, swirling “In Your Eyes.”
“Fast and quick and speedy” is how Collins has said he wanted Losing Sleep to sound, seemingly in defiance of his physical condition. The effort features an array of collaborations with members of Orange Juice, The Cribs, Franz Ferdinand, The Magic Numbers, The Drums, and Aztec Camera. Despite or perhaps because of those many collaborations, Losing Sleep lacks the wit and depth of Collins’ previous efforts. Compare a tune like the creepy, seductive, ultimately scathing “Back to the Backroom” from Dr. Syntax with the remarkably straightforward, positively jaunty “Simple Life.” Similarly, “Searching for the Truth” sounds surprisingly literal compared to some of Collins’ previous work. Earnest even. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve just been trained to expect something more caustic from Collins. Consider, then, that “Searching for Truth” was the first song Collins penned while recovering from his illness. Or that he still can’t strum the strings of his guitar with his right hand. Perhaps, he’s just been through too much, values his recovering life too greatly to revel in cynicism. He’s moved from the more convoluted trappings of irony to something, in his own words, more “direct.”
In the end then, if Losing Sleep doesn’t tread the path you might expect it to, it’s still a welcome, valiant return from a treasured pop veteran.Visit: Edwyn Collins | Heavenly
Purchase: Insound | eMusic