If you've always found Morrissey a might too perky and Rush Limbaugh a trifle unsure of himself, U.K.-bred rocker Edwyn Collins could be the man for you. With a dossier of critically respected work dating back to the 1980s, a hit single ("A Girl Like You") now earning plenty of airtime both here and abroad, and a Scottish brogue thick as a hunk of haggis, the 35-year-old singer-songwriter has never been shy about expressing his feelings on record or in print. And he seems to reserve his strongest opinions for his peers in the music business.
"For me," Collins says, "music really should be about the refusal of constraints. And people often put self-imposed constraints upon themselves musically, or they imagine there's some kind of demographic to go for, you know?" He concludes, "They won't dare anything outside a very narrow sphere of influences."
On Gorgeous George, his new release on Bar/None, Collins takes the opposite approach; in fact, he posits, "I think perhaps some people are confused by it, because it was deliberately eclectic." His dislike of pigeonholing extends to his listening habits. He reports that he eagerly checks out "anything and everything," with the exception of hardcore metal and "these stupid new punk groups" such as current Spin cover kids Rancid, of whom he states, "They're ludicrous anachronisms."
The crooner doesn't exempt himself from such barbs, either. While discussing the spirit behind Gorgeous George, Collins (whose past includes numerous solo forays and a stint with Orange Juice, an influential early-Eighties Scottish jangle-pop act) admits, "To a certain extent, I was stereotyped in my subject matter. People saw me as always writing perennial kinds of unrequited love songs."
To counter these perceptions, Collins adds, he strove to inject more invective and polemics into his latest long-player. "The Campaign for Real Rock"--an over-six-minute tongue-lashing of everyone from Jimi Hendrix wannabes to people whose idea of counterculture is "Momma's charge account at Sears"--sets the disc's tone. About the reactionary music fans whom the track targets, he claims, "There's people who get all hot under their blue collars if it's not Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp." After conceding that he quite likes some of the music made by these blokes, he continues, "The thing about that is partly that people are selling the idea with these artists of rock authenticity, and Springsteen's most successful album, Born in the U.S.A., was all done on Fairlights--which is a synthesizer."
Elsewhere, "More From Heaven" lays on an utterly gratuitous dig at Guns N' Roses: "Some mothers talking 'bout Guns N' Roses/As if I give a fuck/At best I think they suck/I'm too occupied by my memories/Not non-entities." But far more successful is "A Girl Like You," a lyrically sparse and unabashedly libidinous slice of neo-lounge ennui that's guaranteed to make even teetotalers thirsty for a martini. Crucial to the cut's composition was the home studio in which it was conceived. Collins boasts that the facility is packed with recording technology from "every postwar decade," including Forties-era ribbon microphones, a late-Sixties-vintage sound console that was used to record the audio portions of the films Time Bandits and The Last Emperor, and the latest in sampling software and hardware.
"So I'm not like Neil Young," Collins volunteers. "I don't say `digital's bad, analog's good.' I just think they're different."
"Girl" exemplifies this philosophy. Collins notes that the cut started off as an experiment: "I wanted deliberately to have a sort of Motown-ish drum sound from the Sixties, then juxtapose it with a kind of Isley Brothers Seventies guitar sound and treat the guitars with sampling technology to get the call-and-response sound between the verses." Because of what Collins calls the song's "dumb/smart" structure, "people just homed in on it immediately, particularly at radio stations. And it's become a kind of phenomenon."
Well, sort of. The tune topped the charts in Belgium and propelled Gorgeous George into the top five in Australia and France. Thanks to this international popularity, Collins has taken his live show to such far-flung markets as Greece, Holland and Japan--and his current swing through the U.S. is the most extensive of his career (George is the first Collins platter to see a stateside release).
According to Collins, his most recent gigs, performed with a band that features former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and ex-Subway Sect member Vic Godard, are going "quite well. There's some kind of hardcore people that have been waiting to see me for fifteen years in each city we've played so far."
One thing none of these fans will see Collins do, however, is offer solutions for the ills he so eruditely exposes. Rather than being a detractor, Collins insists, "I'm not being kind of righteous or trailblazing here. I'm just being the kid that says, `The King has no clothes on.'"
Edwyn Collins. 8 p.m. Tuesday, September 26, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $7.35, 447-0095.
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