Glasgow’s coy Orange Juice, de facto leaders of the Scottish neo-pop revolution, typified a UK trend towards clean, innocent looks that unfortunately spilled over into the music. Emphasizing their “unspoiled” raggedness, the band began with clumsy tunes about insecurity and romantic rejection; singer Edwyn Collins mumbles and croons like a slowed-down Ray Davies. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever is supposed to be charming, but isn’t.
Surprisingly, Rip It Up (not named after the Little Richard tune) explores the first album’s ingenuousness in greater depth with thought-provoking results. Though young love remains the theme, tension has replaced cuteness; on the title track, “Louise Louise” and others, Collins responds angrily to being treated like a chump. He’s still a bit of a narcissistic vocalist, but Rip It Up‘s more realistic approach is appealing and rewarding.
Escalating musical differences and other internal conflicts caused the band to split prior to the release of Texas Fever, leaving Collins and drummer Zeke Manyika to carry on as a duo. Salvaged from the original band’s final sessions, the Texas Fever EP (produced by Dennis Bovell) further refines the standards set on Rip It Up. There’s an implicit Western theme, but most of the songs have a quirky, exotic Afro-funk feel, fleshed out with stellar guitar work by Collins and Malcolm Ross (later of Aztec Camera). Their talents make “Punch Drunk,” “A Place in My Heart” and “A Sad Lament” memorable.
Collins and Manyika again teamed up with Bovell for The Orange Juice, which contains some of Collins’ strongest songs: the sadly biographical “Lean Period,” the melodically haunting “What Presence?!” and “Artisans,” a garage-styled raveup.
Embittered by commercial failure, Orange Juice called it quits. In a Nutshell is a posthumous compilation that contains the band’s very best, from the early days on Postcard (“Falling and Laughing,” “Poor Old Soul”) through the last days on Polydor (tracks from the third LP).
Collins and Manyika continue to be musically active. Turning again to Bovell as producer and bassist, Collins made a spectacular solo debut with Hope and Despair, a debonair but rocking album of strongly worded downcast contemplations delivered in a commanding deep voice over varied music that rings and resonates with exceptional songwriting craft. Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame is one of the luminary sidemen; the CD and cassette add the title track as a bonus.