May 23, 2013 Web Exclusive
When an artist releases an album after undergoing an affecting personal tragedy, it becomes all too easy for the reviewer to over-contextualize the record itself and condescend to the afflicted singer with sympathy points-out-of-ten. In truth, though, the best albums reflect their circumstances—look at Low or Electro-Shock Blues—rather than exist in a vacuum. As such, Understated, Edwyn Collins' third album since his double brain hemorrhage in 2005, is arguably his best yet.
Understandably, it's not a perfect album, nor his most musically accomplished. When put next to the likes of his biggest hit, "A Girl Like You," the vocals are noticeably low-key and almost slurred in places. Rather than diminish the songs, though, this lends them a tender humanity in someone who (in Britain at least) has been elevated to the level of national pop treasure. "Just understand I've lost some ground," Collins sings on the somber "Down the Line," although you could argue that he is doing himself a disservice, as he doesn't feel the need to share center stage as he did with such guest musicians as Johnny Marr, Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, and Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame on previous release Losing Sleep.
If this review is sounding disquietingly warm-hearted then it's a reflection of the album itself. Fans of his northern soul work with Orange Juice will appreciate the soul-infused sound, most prominent on the likes of "Baby Jean," the organ riff to which sounds like a Motown take on The Beatles' "Come Together," or the upbeat "Carry On, Carry On" with its titular refrain and its near-gospel "ooh ooh" backing vocals. Elsewhere the tangled guitars are still everything that Richard Hawley aspires to.
Given the weight of events that have happened to Collins, there might be a risk of cloying mawkishness in less capable hands, but lyrics such as the "Carry On" refrain and "I'm so lucky to be alive" on "ForSooth" are simplistic and thus avoid being overbearing. The same can be said for the album as a whole: it's a celebration of life by a craftsman intelligent enough to know how to pitch it perfectly. (http://www.edwyncollins.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 7/10