After taking a long break between records, a six-year gap that can be explained by uprooting his life in London to move to the Scottish Highlands and build a new studio, Edwyn Collins' third post-stroke album Badbea both sticks to the formula he's established and takes a few chances, too. Working with a band of longtime collaborators that includes multi-instrumentalists Carwyn Ellis and Sean Read plus guitarist James Welbourne and drummer Jake Hutton, who's on loan from his son Will's band, Collins has crafted a record full of tightly wound rockers and nostalgic ballads. Tougher and more musically expansive than either Losing Sleep or Understated, this is the first record where Collins' record-making ability has caught up to his evocative singing and incisive writing. As on previous albums, there is a sturdy batch of Northern Soul-inspired knockouts; "In the Morning" is horn-driven and Motown-tough with an amazing guitar solo that brings back the same tone from "A Girl Like You." "Tensions Rising" marries the uptown drive of soul with some gritty guitars and Collins' no-nonsense vocals, and "It's All About You" is a lovely duet between Edwyn and Read that features some deluxe sax playing by the latter. Some pretty, deeply introspective songs balance these and give Collins a fine backing for tender remembrances of the past; "It All Makes Sense to Me," "Beauty," and the title track are all acoustic guitar ballads that Edwyn sings with gentle grace. That loud/quiet, excited/calm dichotomy will be familiar to those who heard his recent work, but the richness of the arrangements and the variety of sonic approaches make this just a little more interesting. He also tries out some new genres, ripping off a quick and nasty punk track ("Outside,") a bubbling, synth-driven dance rock track ("Glasgow to London") that mashes up Orange Juice and LCD Soundsystem with Edwyn delivering a typically sly vocal, a slow-grinding noise rock that puts the JAMC to shame ("I Want You") and a down-and-dirty blues-riffing cut ("Station to Station"). Through it all Collins is in fine voice and his lyrics are intensely personal, touching on his past, present, and hopeful future while managing to sound both devil-may-care and perfectly in touch with his hard-fought and won station in life. It's easy enough to be moved by Edwyn Collins' recovery and continued progress; he's truly an inspirational figure. What makes his continued presence in the recording studio even more wonderful is that his albums keep getting better and better, too; deeper and more fully colored and nuanced in both melody and sound.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra