"Yet all this time you've been inclined, To watch me from the sidelines."
Released several years after the splendidly varied I’m Not Following You, and years after the wave of interest caused by “A Girl Like You” had long since dissipated, Doctor Syntax found Edwyn Collins at an interesting point in his career. Quietly critically lauded, any new release by the former Orange Juice frontman would always achieve a certain level of acceptance among die-hard fans, but whether it would crossover to a wider audience was never definite.
Doctor Syntax finds Collins favouring sample-heavy material, delving deeper into a world he had regularly explored on Gorgeous George and I’m Not Following You. While fans of his more guitar-orientated work may have their misgivings, as one of those fans, I can confirm that those misgivings are unfounded, as Collins is one of those rare talents that can blend such an approach with a reliable level of song-writing genius. Lyrically and vocally he’s at the top of his game, and while some may yearn for a more traditional ‘band’ sound and musical arrangements, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Collins remained one of the few 80s veterans with his creative marbles intact.
Having said that, the reliance on sampling results in a sound that the more organically inclined among us may struggle to emotionally connect with. As great as many of the songs on Doctor Syntax are, I have found myself wondering how some of them would sound recorded as a lo-fi guitar number, or accompanied by nothing but some stark piano. Perhaps there are some dusty demo versions of these songs in Collins under-stairs cupboard that would thrill some of us, but then again that is not the album that Collins wanted to make, and who are we to second-guess such a beloved songwriter?
Some consider Doctor Syntax to be Edwyn Collins’ ‘experimental’ album. Truth is though, he’d been gleefully immersing himself in sampling technology on and off throughout his career, it’s just that this was the first album on which it formed the musical focus of an entire album. This ultimately resulted in a pleasingly quirky album that a lot more people should have heard. Yes, it’s a bit too long for its own good, but so were many albums during that time, but few were as creatively satisfying as Doctor Syntax.