Edwyn Collins' 2013 album Understated is another milepost in his recovery from the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered in 2005 that almost took his life, and did take away almost all of his language. More than that, it's a great record that stands with his best work from the past. Unlike his 2010 effort Losing Sleep, which was filled with friends and guests helping out, this time out Collins takes all the lead vocal chores himself, and he and co-producer Seb Lewsley rely on a core band that includes Little Barrie's Barrie Cadogan on guitar and former Sex Pistol Paul Cook on drums. Thanks to this focus, there's a satisfying uniformity to the sound and the group is crackingly good throughout. Collins really couldn't ask for a more solid musical group to back him. Together they bust through stomping Northern soul-influenced rockers that jump out of the speakers with a rambunctious fever ("Dilemna," "Carry On, Carry On"), rock out very hooky modern indie pop (the title track, "In the Now"), lay back on thoughtful ballads (the soulful "It's a Reason), and take the occasional left turn like on the midtempo blues "Baby Jean" or the C&W crooner "Down the Line." The marvelously peppy break-up jam "Too Bad (So Sad)" even sounds like a hit record, as it bops along like the Supremes on Muscle Milk. Collins' vocals are clear and powerful, with that trademark deeper-than-deep growl firmly in place, and his lyrics are moving as he looks back on life, observes the world around him, and celebrates being alive. Two songs in particular stand out lyrically: "31 Years" is a life-affirming look at his career and features the perfectly Edwyn sentiment "What the heck I'm living now," and a cool keyboard solo nicked from a Del Shannon record, and "Forsooth," with a Velvet Underground ("Sunday Morning") feel and Edwyn singing quite convincingly about his luck in being alive and his joy in feeling reborn. Many artists sing about that feeling but few of them have meant it as literally, or transmitted it as movingly, as Collins does here and throughout Understated. The album's only stumble is the cover of Rod McKuen's mawkish "Love's Been Good to Me" that closes the album. You can see why the lyrics about love's saving powers appeal to Collins, but his own words say so much more about his life, and the sappy melody is well, sappy. It's a weak ending to an otherwise wonderful album that shows that Collins is truly back in command of his art.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra