The past 15 years of Edwyn Collins’ life have been dramatic to say the least. Plunged down into the depths with his health, the Scottish songwriter – together with his indefatigable partner Grace Maxwell – has battled back, regaining independence of mind, body, and music.
2010’s ‘Losing Sleep’ and 2013’s ‘Understated’ presented a talent unbowed, with its cutting wit matched only by the energy of the arrangements, at once classic but also chafing at the edges, constantly bursting out into areas new.
Since then, Edwyn and Grace have shifted their studio from North London to the North of Scotland, a beautifully laid out building on the fringes of Helmsdale, a stunning village dominated by its warm bay and historic harbour.
There’s a punk-ish energy, and impish defiance at work on ‘Badbea’. Named after a nearby village built – and then abandoned – by crofters, its cover photograph shows the maestro at home in his studio, taken by one-time Buzzcocks drummer John Maher.
Lead single ‘Outside’ is a helter-skelter rush of guitar thrash, a miniature rama-lama vignette that recalls everyone from New York Dolls to the MC5 in its brief 1:58 span. Opening cut ‘It’s All About You’ meanwhile, lingers on another Edwyn Collins touchstone, with its graceful Motown rhythm underpinning a wonderfully lugubrious croon from the Orange Juice frontman.
But it’s not all converted classicism, with ‘Badbea’ finding Edwyn Collins grappling with a host of new ideas. The drum machine that underpins ‘Glasgow To London’ is set against squelching synth noise that recalls the experiments which underpinned his 808 driven smash ‘Rip It Up’.
Lyrically louche – “I didn’t give a fuck…” – it’s a riposte to the predictable, a two-fingered salute to the mundane that veers from Northern Soul horns to Giorgio Moroder electronics in the blink of an eye.
‘Beauty’ is a gorgeous piece of acoustic balladry, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bert Jansch catalogue. Curiously it’s set against the drone-heavy ‘I Want You’ and its squealing, psych’d out guitars – variety, as ever, if the spice of Edwyn’s life.
‘Sparks The Spark’ is a wonderfully nuanced dénouement, before giving way to the sombre, epic title track. ‘Badbea’ ripples out in waves of energy, the most explicit signal on an album dominated by a sense of place. “A ruined monument to life and death,” he sings, wandering amongst the remains of a whole village. A song more than anything about survival, if finds Edwyn leaning “towards the wind I fight for breath…”
‘Badbea’ is a key part in Edwyn Collins’ remarkable solo career, one that has defied critics and doctors to wilfully do its own thing. A rich, vastly creative experience, it’s a further sign that Edwyn’s work remains something to treasure.
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