That’s not David Bowie? I remember my shock upon learning that “A Girl Like You” was in fact written and performed by one Edwyn Collins, former leader of Orange Juice and an obvious fan of Mr. Bowie. Do you remember that song? It was a minor hit that appeared on two soundtracks (Empire Records and Never Talk To Strangers), and it’s a stone-cold classic, led by its crooned Bowie-fied (or Iggy-fied) vocals, a tinkly vibraphone-led groove that’s further enhanced by catchy electronic effects and beats, and topped off by Collins’ fuzzy, razor edged guitar outbursts. Any list of great ‘90s singles should include that one, but I’ve come to love the lengthy (6:36) album opener “The Campaign For Real Rock” almost as much. The dirge-like music on this one has a quietly epic quality, with more fuzzy guitar and biting lyrics about his chosen industry; you can hear the disgust in his voice as he calls out fakes and poseurs, and surely rock ‘n’ roll could use more campaigners/true believers like Mr. Collins. Anyway, the rest of the album can’t hope to compete with that dazzling 1-2 punch, but there are plenty of other good songs, such as the extremely pretty “Low Expectations” and the sarcastic title track, melodic ballads both. A distinct soul influence is apparent on the passionately crooned “Out Of This World” and “If You Could Love Me,” whose lounge-like Philly soul is a little overly synthetic and cheesy yet it’s still smooth and catchy, plus I dig the trumpet solo (being partial to the only instrument I’ve ever learned how to play). “It’s Right In Front Of You” is another long one (6:26) whose slowly swaying groove provides unexciting yet enticing “chill out music” that's perfect for a sandy beach or poolside reflection, while “Make Me Feel Again” is more lively and briskly paced but is still laid back, with an extremely enjoyable low-key melody. Aside from the music, which loses steam towards the end with the hookless folk of “I’ve Got It Bad” and “Subsidence,” plus a pointless throwaway (“Moron”), the album is notable for its cynical lyrics, which can be refreshing in its candor or downright silly in its pettiness (the swipe at Guns n' Roses on the musically average country folk song “North Of Heaven” being the most obvious example of the latter). Still, despite some lyrical misfires and its overly long length, this was a highly accomplished album that deserves to be better remembered, as Collins’ edgy guitar playing and artful vocals are consistently appealing. Note: The Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook provides a surprisingly understated touch on drums.
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