At the risk of sounding callous, there was perhaps a tendency to make allowances for Collins’ previous two albums, fans and critics alike subconsciously judging the records’ merits in relationship to his ongoing recovery from well-documented brain haemorrhages. But while 2007’s Home Again and 2010’s Losing Sleep were both solid but occasionally patchy affairs, Understated is an absolute triumph, matching any of the high-water marks of his past career.
From the soulful mariachi blast of the opening Dilemma to the tender acoustic cover of Rod McKuen’s Love’s Been Good To Me, which closes the album, Collins draws deep from his wells of confident hooks, savvy pop sensibilities and lyrical wit. There’s a smidgen of early Velvets elegance to Forsooth, echoes of his old band Orange Juice’s seductive jangle on the sublime 51 Years, and a slow burn soul groove to It’s A Reason that would make Al Green break out in a grin.
Collins’ past health issues can’t be entirely overlooked, though, as most of the songs above make reference to what he’s gone through (“I’m so happy to be alive,” he sings with gusto on Forsooth). There’s an even more directly autobiographical slant to the pounding melodic grunge of In The Now, the sound of an assured singer and writer undeniably back at the very top of his game.