, September 24th, 2010 12:08
Who will dare give the new Edwyn Collins album a bad review? Kicking someone when they're down is bad form at the best of times; kicking someone when they've been hit by two cerebral haemorrhages is a bit low, even by current industry standards. No fears, though – and we genuinely mean this – because the erstwhile Orange Juice singer has delivered in inspirational style, not by ripping it up and starting again, but with a little help from his friends.
Previous album Home Again was written and recorded before his strokes in 2005, but mixed and released two years later, by which time - despite having lost the use of his right hand and being forced to relearn his own songs - he'd returned to performing live, dragging himself onstage with crutches. Consequently, Losing Sleep has been a necessarily collaborative project, with songs co-written by various friends and fans – and before you start fretting, this means the likes of Johnny Marr, Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy, The Magic Numbers' Romeo Stodart and so on, rather than, say, Mike Myers (remember 'The Magic Piper of Love'?) and some bloke who's got all Edwyn's albums on vinyl.
Straight up, then: his voice has changed – there's a sort of pushing out of words as he sings, and the occasional oddly memorable conflations ("Turnt taway" on 'All My Days', "I can sensitin your smile" on 'In Your Eyes'), so don't expect the Richard Hawley-like suavity of, say, Home Again's 'Liberteenage Rag' – but that rich, Scots baritone is still very much in evidence. Actually, the vulnerability of ballad 'All My Days' (co-written with Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame) is so striking, it makes some of his previous work seems almost… cocky, in comparison. Like, if you sing a song called 'One Is A Lonely Number' (Home Again's opener) sounding like the coolest cat in the cattery, how lonely are you really?
As you might expect from a man who's had to relearn not only how to speak but how to think, Losing Sleep isn't a complex thesaurus-buster lyrically, but features a hell of a lot of soul-searching, with Collins frequently pondering how he fits in. "Sometimes I'm up / Sometimes I'm down / Sometimes I wonder: 'What is my role?'" he sings on 'What Is My Role?', a stomping Ryan Jarman (The Cribs) co-write, which begins as a 'Paint It, Black' pastiche and turns into something more urgent and epic with each repeat of the refrain. Despite the simplicity, these songs are strong articulations of the bewildering new situation he has found himself in: on 'Bored', it's tempting to read a line like "I'm not sure where my heart is" as a statement of physical discombobulation rather than - as it would be in anyone else's song - a thought that basically translates to "my baby left me etc".
Perhaps surprisingly for such a team effort, musically it's pretty seamless. The most unlikely belter is 'In Your Eyes', co-written with The Drums, which sounds, strangely enough, like something from Primary Colours by Quietus favourites The Horrors. It sits just fine alongside the thumping pop of single 'Losing Sleep' (which has a triumph about it belied by the mainly downcast lyrics), or the Franz Ferdinand-isms of 'Do It Again' (in which Kapranos and McCarthy's backing vocals rather rudely barge their way to the front). Rounded off with some charming artwork that depicts varieties of birds in the style of one of those wallcharts the Guardian used to give away back in the days when we could all afford paper, it's an album that's hard not to feel a good deal of affection for, stroke or no stroke.