Back in 2005 Edwyn Collins suffered two cerebral haemorrhages. They left him with dysphasia, which causes problems with his speech and paralysed his left arm. The story of his recovery has been documented in the biography Falling And Laughing: The Restoration Of Edwyn Collins by Collins’ partner and manager Grace Maxwell – a fascinating read and well worth seeking out for those interested in his struggles over the last five years.
After such a tumultuous period, to separate Collins’ illness from Losing Sleep is almost impossible; the album’s very existence is testament to his determination and zeal for music and life. But it can be done, thanks largely to the quality of the music, which is both magnificent and timeless in the simplicity of its construction. It would not be unreasonable to expect an album released under such testing circumstances to be dark in tone. Instead, Collins has created a work full of effortless songs that meld ’60s pop, new wave cool and classic tunes that are uplifting and surprisingly catchy.
Opening with a reverb drenched drum kit pounding away, Losing Sleep develops into a lo-fi, Motown flavoured stomp complete with brass section. It eventually turns a corner into more confused and angry territory, with screaming guitars ruling the roost as Collins reflects on his loss of sleep and dignity and how he must struggle to retrieve everything lost to him.
What Is My Role couples Collins with Ryan Jarman of The Cribs for an almost post-punk jaunt which is littered with scathing lyrics and smart harmonies. Simplistic it might be, but the guitars cut through, buzzing with a keen urgency. Collins himself is on fine form here too; any trouble caused by his dysphasia is not in evidence, for his singing voice is perfect.�Jarman appears later too on the garage blues swagger of I Still Believe in You, in which Collins adopts a low growl that evokes the spirit of Johnny Cash. Essentially an ode to self-belief in the face of adversity, it’s as poignant as rock gets.
Come Tomorrow Come Today utilises the guitar of Johnny Marr (at certain points bleeping like Morse code, at others adding grit) but succeeds on account of the glorious harmonies of its chorus. Elsewhere, In Your Eyes takes Joy Division‘s rumble and marries it to a chorus so sweet it drips nectar. Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand pops up on Do It Again, another Motown groover steeped with a sinister tone and blessed with yet another glorious chorus. Collins has clearly not lost the art of writing great pop songs.
All My Days is a stripped back acoustic lament that finds Collins at his most exposed. With some beautiful guitar supplied by Roddy Frame, it pulls on the heartstrings. The introspective closing tones of Searching For The Truth also cause a lump in the throat, but the optimism in the line “I will always be lucky in my life, and I will find a way to get there” provides relief – suggesting that where there is will there is hope.
This is not an album about Edwyn Collins’ state of health per se; it is more about coping, and the determination to lead a normal life. It is also about amazing songwriting and musical craft. With or without the context of Edwyn Collins’ life over the last five years, Losing Sleep is a brilliant record.