"I'm losing sleep, I'm losing dignity," Edwyn Collins sings in the title song of his new album, Losing Sleep. Powered by soul-music rhythms and sung in a tough, terse tone, Collins sounds impatient, eager to get on with his life. The music is the work of a man on a mission.
If the PR angle for Losing Sleep is Collins' near-miraculous recovery from two cerebral hemorrhages that ought to have left him unable to make music, Collins hasn't approached it as a comeback, or a recovery. "No more tears," he admonishes in "Come Tomorrow, Come Today." It features a strong yet delicate guitar line by Johnny Marr from The Smiths and The Cribs. But Collins and Marr don't use the occasion for 1980s nostalgia. Another member of The Cribs, Ryan Jarman, helps Collins achieve an almost angry urgency in "I Still Believe in You."
Collins knows how to address his past with bracing clarity. He mocks his own youthful arrogance as an obstreperous would-be hit-maker leading the band Orange Juice. In "Over the Hill," Collins begins with a pun in the phrase, "At 21, I had a grand conceit," but then divulges what that conceit was — "clarity, simplicity."
These qualities are more in evidence here than they ever were in Orange Juice's pulpier music, and Collins' sound is the better for his middle-aged clarity and simplicity.
Even when he lets his rasp become soft and low, Collins doesn't let it lapse into sentimentality. There's a strong theme of gratefulness running throughout Losing Sleep. But his vocals and his melodies deny any attempt at sympathy. It's an occasion for questioning, quite overtly. "What is my role?" he asks on a song of the same name. The implied word that's left out is "Now" — as in, "What is my role now, having lived to make this music?"
He answers that question by bearing down as hard as he can on every syllable, giving every phrase vehemence. Collins' role is to fight for, and to enjoy, his life.