It may seem somewhat trite to mention the double cerebral haemorrhage Collins suffered in February 2005 in every review or article concerning him. Alas, it is unavoidable; such a debilitating incident can denote a ‘Year Zero’ in one’s life. For fans and other music aficionados, it denotes a strong but unavoidable, not to mention unwelcome, benchmark in a person’s life and their career.
We may never know whether or not Mr. Collins dislikes the constant mentions of a confusing and upsetting time, but the three records released since that incident stand as a testament to man’s drive, ambition and desire to claw back normalcy in the face of real adversity.
Understated by name, but certainly not by nature, the record is a sweet mix of old-school Northern soul schematics, wistful ballads and songs that contain many layers to be unlocked with repeat listens.
Opening track “Dilemma”, with its Mariachi-style horns and devilishly upbeat swing, is rendered schizophrenic with its maudlin lyrics: “Dilemma…that’s me all over” and the refrain repeated throughout “What is the point?” lend the song a melancholy hue. Of course, we can’t begrudge Collins in his pondering of life’s more existential questions.
Similarly, “Carry On, Carry On” sees Collins ruminate on the “quaint little things” he sees “when I’m out”; the verbalisations of a man overcoming the most intense of circumstances, finally beginning to get a grasp on life and its supposed meaning. The guitar squalling underneath throughout indicates a strong element of playfulness remains, and the need to push himself musically is as evident as ever.
Elsewhere, “31 Years” carries with it the weight of a man turning through old photo albums or watching grainy home movies while the sprightly rhythm section on “Too Bad (That’s Sad)” is reminiscent of the best of the beat groups the UK has birthed in the last few decades.
The chorus of the album’s eponymous track sees Collins intone “Understated, I am. I was only a boy” before declaring “I’m a singer of sorts.” It’s a window into the mind of Collins, whose line in mild self-deprecation and feet-on-the-ground outlook may have served him well during the darker times of recent years. Most importantly of all, it’s another addition to the fine body of work he has built up since his days in Orange Juice. Being able to grasp a second chance has provided Collins with real impetus, and we as listeners can only sit back and reap the rewards we can from the resulting output.