Review: Ben Connolly
| Edwyn Collins
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|I came late to the pop personality known as Edwyn Collins even though his name, and that of his 80s post-punk/neo-pop group Orange Juice, had cropped up from time to time as obscure references by the bands I’d loved. For one whose ears were planted firmly in the romanticism of Australian pop rock, Collins and his cohorts were just a little too far up the obscure pathway to make that leap of faith. The Scottish group and Collins’ solo work were very much of their time, hardly making dent outside of the British pop charts. That said, iconic tunes such as Rip It Up by Orange Juice and A Girl Like You (from his 1994 solo album Georgeous George) have a familiarity which indicates they permeated the scene along with their more well-known brethren of|
the day (A Girl Like You rose to number six on the Australian singles chart in the summer of 1994/95). Collins’ name has cropped up more and more in liner notes of late as the man twiddling the nobs for groups as curiously diverse as The Proclaimers to The Cribs and The Arctic Monkeys to Mark Ronson (and our own Robert Forster from The Go Betweens).
Losing Sleep is Collins’ seventh studio solo album and one which was almost not to be, thanks to a double brain hemorrhage rendering him out of action in 2005. According to his bio, this is the first new batch of songs written since the medical condition felled him and stole his inspiration (2007’s release Home Again was composed almost entirely beforehand).
It kicks off with a solid return to form with the title track coming straight from the 1960s exuberant soul song-book. The familiarity is there from the start – this is not a re-invention or even a re-interpretation, but rather a straight homage with the beat and syncopated highlights coming direct from Martha & the Vendellas circa 1965. Its hypnotic rhythm moves the song along, while a horn section forces the song into overdrive in the latter part of the track. This is promising stuff and rivals both his previously name-checked numbers in the stakes of cult-hits. It’s a heady way to start an album.
The messy indie rock of What Is My Role maintains momentum into the second track, and also introduces the fact that this is less a pure solo album and more a collaboration. The Crib’s Ryan Jarman is credited as a song-writer and shares the vocal duties and is the first of a who’s who of British music. In addition to Jarman the album features Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy (Do It Again), The Drums (In Your Eyes), The Smiths’ Johnny Marr (Come Today, Come Tomorrow), The Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stodart (It Dawns On Me) and Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame (All My Days). The change in vocals could be seen as a little jarring but, to be honest, it comes as a welcome reprieve from Collins’ plaintive melancholic timbre and also allows a curious schizophrenic air to the track flow, as each song takes on the personality of its collaborative brother.
Lyrically, while there are lighter moments, the album plays generally with the themes of aging and loss of relevance which, considering his recent troubles, one might understand. Given his great body of work since the early 80s, however, the themes do come across a little surreal and surprising. In addition to his musical work, Collins has produced and starred in a British television sitcom and has published a book of illustrations. With fingers in many pies and achievements as long as your arm, I find it hard it to marry that up with lyrics such as “I’m holding on, I’m insecure/About my life, about my worth” from Losing Sleep or “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down/Sometimes I wonder, what is my role” from What Is My Role?
The chopping and changing between collaborators manifests itself in a scatty album flow with numerous peaks and valleys. The opening gambit of “Losing Sleep” and “What Is My Role?” sets a high bench mark which doesn’t quite get surpassed, but a few moments come close. The album languishes in the middle stanzas with lackadaisical, listless tunes, but a double of “I Still Believe In You” and “Come Tomorrow, Come Today” re-establishes this effort as a great pop album and certainly worthy of anyone willing to take the punt.
Artist Website: Edwyn Collins
Review: Ben Connolly
Other article by Ben Connolly…
* Nicholas Roy “In A Shoebox Under The Bed” – LP Review
* Blame Ringo “In A Hurricane” – Single Review
* Jeff Lang @ East Brunswick Club, Melbourne – 11 September 2010 – Live Review
* Live Review: Ball Park Music, Blame Ringo, Tin Can Radio @ The Zoo, Brisbane 21 May 2010