The Billboard history books are awash with one-hit wonders. And yet Gary Numan, Soft Cell and even the Knack still maintain enough devoted fans to justify stateside catalog reissues and reunion tours. While Edwyn Collins's day in the sun might not hold the immediate resonance of "Cars," "Tainted Love" or "My Sharona," the first mere seconds of "A Girl Like You" should rattle the memory cells and snap the fingers of anyone who was tuned in to mid-'90s modern rock radio.
A slinky, irresistible martini of Spector-ish boom, Nuggets-derived fuzz and Glaswegian droll, "A Girl Like You" rode its inclusion on the otherwise dismal Empire Records soundtrack to a spot high in the Hot 100 in the fall of 1995. Astute consumers who opted for Collins's own Gorgeous George album -- from whence "Girl" originated -- wound up with a refreshing treat. George incorporated everything from Bowie/Eno-inspired electronic groove to unironic disco homage, both of which were set against the artist's barbed declamations on huge rock festivals and Guns N' Roses. ("At best I think they suck" was his verdict.) Despite a wealth of candidates, no follow-up hit materialized, and Collins receded into the cult background he had established as the leader of early-'80s Scottish popsters Orange Juice.
Doctor Syntax, Collins's fifth solo album, emerged this spring. It's his sturdiest work since Gorgeous George, a valentine to the American R&B of the past three decades that has enthralled him throughout his career. On his Web site, Collins points to specific precedents: romantic opener "Never Felt Like This" rewrites the Chi-Lites, "Should've Done That" honors the smokier (Smokier?) side of Prince, and "No Idea" revises Sylvia Robinson's Sugarhill stable with psychedelics and kazoos, of all things. The American edition adds three bonus cuts, including "Message for Jojo," written and performed with frequent collaborator/London Suede exile Bernard Butler.
In addition to Doctor Syntax, Collins has spent the year producing new material for the Proclaimers, compiling an overview of his solo and Orange Juice material, and...yes...okaying the continued use of "A Girl Like You" for film and television use worldwide. His appearance at Stuka this Friday marks his only American engagement in support of Syntax -- a rare exception to the common practice of cult acts overlooking Houston on Southern treks. Collins also serves as DJ for the evening, and doubtless he will be spinning the soul classics that continue to fuel his creative juices. Come for the hit, stay for the enlightenment. Doctor Syntax is in.
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