Der 53-jährige Schotte nahm zusammen mit seinem langjährigen Produzenten Web Lewsley im West Heath Studio sein insgesamt achtes Soloalbum auf und veröffentlicht es über sein eigenes, neu gegründetes Label AED Records. Beachtlich, wenn man bedenkt, dass Collins im Februar 2005 zwei Schlaganfälle erlitt, und in langwieriger Rehabilitation das Sprechen erst wieder neu erlernen musste. Seine Gitarre kann er bis heute aufgrund seines gelähmten rechten Arms nicht bedienen, so dass ihm im Studio zahlreiche Musiker bei der Umsetzung seiner Ideen halfen: Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie, Primal Scream), James Walbourne (The Pretenders, Ray Davies, Pernice Brothers, Dead Flamingoes), Carwyn Ellis (Colorama, The Pretenders), Sean Read (The Rockingbirds, Dexys), David Ruffy (The Ruts, Dexys) undnd Paul Cook (The Sex Pistols).
Edwyn Collins understandably addresses his continuing struggle to recover from the two brain haemorrhages he suffered in 2005. As he puts it on the slinky, horn-augmented Baby Jean, "I've got to find a way to understand the world." He is still unable to play guitar properly, and his taped ideas for songs were fleshed out by other musicians. Down the Line – a confession of how the illness meant "I wasn't there to comfort you" – is heartbreaking, while the lovely It's a Reason similarly tells how the haemorrhages left him "back to front, inside-out". Elsewhere, however, Collins twists his Motown and the Velvet Underground influences into songs that celebrate his extended life and the healing power of music. Delivered in an uncannily similar voice to Orange Juice's Falling and Laughing, Carry on, Carry on sees him finding joy in everyday life, while 31 Years gazes over his career and shrugs, "What the heck, I'm living now." But it's Forsooth's cry of "I feel alive, I feel reborn" that sums up his unlikely, lovely and often inspiring triumph.
Understated lets Collins step out of the shadow of his medical history - partly by shirking the host of guest artists that crowded Losing Sleep, who were perhaps employed to distract from any continuing cracks in his abilities – and is all the better for it. Described by the man himself as "a collection of country, northern soul, soul and folk," it's a powerful record not for any mawkish sentimentality, but for the strength of the band - who work through those disparate genres with ease, the rhythm section a incessant driving force, the backing vocals sweet, the guitars warm, the brass section and keys more than welcome whenever they appear - and the strength of Collins' voice. His rich baritone reaches ever more delightful tones, and his sharp lyrics haven't been blunted over the years. If anything, in honing them to a Hemingway-esque simplicity, they pack even more of a punch.
Whilst it is, for the most part, a sincere album about the small, good things in life, there's a good amount of bite as well: 'Too Bad (That's Sad)' is amongst the catchiest, most passive-aggressive break up songs you're likely to hear, and single 'Dilemma' runs through a lot of questions with no easy answers. Mostly written alone in his home town of Helsmdale where he sat between fields and the sea, Understated is as direct and individualistic a portrait of Edwyn Collins, marvel of modern science, as we're likely to get. Until the next one, that is.