Edwyn Collins is content. When you consider what the one-time Orange Juice vocalist has been through since his near-fatal brain haemorrhage in 2005, that is quite some statement to be making. Yet here he is, chalking up album number four since that particular life-changing event. It finds him fired up and musically as vital as ever.
Collins and his wife Grace recently moved house and studio to Helmsdale, a village on the east coast in the Scottish Highlands and a significant area in the family tree, for his grandfather lived there. Five miles away lies the abandoned village of Badbea, giving the album its title and overarching inspiration. The cliff-top location has a significant and ultimately tragic history from the Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Collins makes direct and thoughtful reference to this “ruined monument to life and death” in the moving title track, which forms a beautiful epilogue to the album. It forms the culmination of a typically direct and economic set where he revisits a whole sheaf of lyrics that surfaced during the move, most of them written prior to his illness.
Much of the album is up, both in tempo and mood. It’s All About You (“insufferably you”) sets a scene where the sky “was Wedgwood blue”, accepting the shift of attention to a significant other while charting an early reminder of Collins’ descriptive powers. Musical and lyrical inspiration courses through songs such as The Morning, where brassy licks and shredded guitar complement the rich vocal tones, and the punchy beats, big brass and wry humour of Glasgow To London. Tensions Rising really lets its hair down, declaring ‘winter’s gone, the skies are clearer’, before the wild saxophone of the coda becomes a musical depiction of Collins’ “getting higher” affirmation.
On other occasions the rose tinted spectacles are in evidence, most notably in the recollections of I Guess We Were Young, where a delectable guitar line pairs with an affectionate chorus to tell the story of the split of his former band. It All Makes Sense To Me is an affirmation of life reminiscent of 2005’s Home Again, like that song bringing a tear readily to the eye. “The shore is my companion, when I walk, when I wake,” he proclaims. “It’s a magical day in my life… it all makes sense to me.” If the hardest heart hasn’t melted by this point, the string-laden coda will seal the deal.
The strength of will Collins has shown in his recovery is evident throughout Badbea, where much of the music takes a lean groove and a soulful stance, enjoying the autobiographical references and revelling in life itself. The songs are on the short side, stripped of padding but packed with riffs and lyrical insights aplenty. A sense of enjoyment is ever present, many of the lines delivered with a knowing glint in the eye.
Badbea, then, is a spirited and triumphant addition to the discography. It puts a smile on the listener’s face, will make their feet twitch and will on occasion bring an affectionate tear to the eye. Form may be temporary and class may be permanent, but right now Edwyn Collins has both.