KEVIN COYNE

OVERVIEW:

A major member of the cult singer/songwriter club, Kevin Coyne made a series of uneven blues pop records on Virgin in the 70s before fading to footnote/cult following territory in the unfriendly 80s.  Too strangely idiosyncratic for the masses but too powerful to be ignored, Kevin’s bizarre vocalisms (think crossing Van Morrison and Captain Beefheart with your drunken old British Uncle) and warped sense of humor destined him for the fringes. But at his best he could write a lovely tune and perform it with charismatic swagger. Virgin pushed the Joe Cocker-Rod Stewart side of Coyne in the mid-70s (The Police’s Andy Summers played lead guitar in his band at that point), but the man was an avant-punk at heart, and even generated some promotional affection out of Lydon and co. He was always a favorite of John Peel, and to this day has some high profile fans like Sting and Will Oldham. You can certainly hear the punk spirit in the Kevin’s spitting vocals and raw recordings, often stripped bare of everything save a maniacal vocal. In the late 70s Kevin’s anti-pop stylings came to the forefront and he basically turned into an art rocker. His best work, though, is almost certainly his 2nd record “Marjory Razorblade,” a minor classic that sums the man up in one brilliant double album, straddling weirdness and accessibility through a beautiful and generous batch of Kevin’s best songs.

THE ALBUMS:

Siren (Siren)
Strange Locomation (Siren)
Case History
Marjory Razorblade *
Blame It On The Night
Matching Head And Feet
Heartburn
In Living Black & White *
Beautiful Extremes
Dynamite Daze
Millionaires And Teddy Bears
Bursting Bubbles
Babble (With Dagmar Krouse) *
Sanity Stomp *
Pointing The Finger
Politicz
Legless In Manilla

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SIREN  (SIREN) (1969)

No Rating

Before he went solo, Kevin fronted this lil’ blues rock band. Apparently John Peel liked them so much he signed them to his label, and set Coyne’s career in motion. Musically, this isn’t far off from what early Jethro Tull or Fleetwood Mac were going for, albeit a bit poppier. Blues covers and blues-tinged originals, very much a classic rock album, well performed and energetic, but not all that distinct. Any major excitement is centered around Kevin: he sounds like a GREAT blues rock singer at this point, not particularly weird or warped, and it makes sense that he was asked to replace Morrison in The Doors! This isn’t essential, of course, but it’s solid 60s blues and roll, and it always deepens my appreciation to know that a given Picasso could also paint normal pictures if he wanted to do so.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
STRANGE LOCOMOTION  (SIREN)  (1971)

No Rating

Another Siren album, even more traditionally blues-oriented than the debut, very very little in the way of originality or melody. Kevin is still a charismatic frontman, of course, but aside from a few fleeting moments and the fun boogie rock of the title track, this is forgettable and pointless. It’s not even close to the debut in terms of energy or freshness. Disappointing.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
CASE HISTORY  (1972)

B+

Stripped to the bone, raw like an exposed nerve, a wacky wrecked British blues-soul voice and a humble bluesy acoustic guitar, bordering on outsider folk but with enough professionalism creeping around the edges of the oddness: ladies and gentlemen, it’s the sound of Kevin’s first solo album. Legend has it that Coyne was working at a mental institution while writing and recording this, and that knowledge lends twisted gravitas to the grooves, even if only a few tunes directly reference insanity and the institutionalized life. One cannot, however, deny the tortured resonance of the stark alienated atmosphere Coyne conjures up via his fragile Van Morrison-went-insane vocals and lonely imagery. This is certainly an example of atmospherics trumping songwriting, and the only album in the catalog that shares a major affinity with British freak folk (Incredible String Band, Syd Barrett, etc.). Moments on here mesmerize and frighten – others bore and drag – but the complete effect is startling. If I were to pick highlights, which is difficult on a consistent record like this, I’d include the sad pop folk of  “Need Somebody,” the psych-folk nightmare “Evil Island Home,” and the jaunty opener “God Bless The Bride,” which hardly anticipates the record it opens and might as well be a Cat Stevens song. But a good one! Some of the more dirge-like poem-songs (“White Horse,” for example) don’t make a huge impact on me, but as album tracks they add weight to the whole. “Mad Boy” and “Sand All Yellow,” are the two insanity-themed songs, both stacked at the end of the album, leaving one with the sense that Kevin is just as nuts as the patients for whom he worked. Coyne’s funny-scary doctor voice is a must hear! The entire record isn’t exactly a must hear, but it’s quite the curiosity and essential for British folk nuts.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MARJORY RAZORBLADE (1973)

A

Very few people will guide you to another Coyne record before they lead you to this classic. It’s unequivocally the definitive Kevin Coyne album. A big stuffed double record that shows off nearly everything that’s great about this singer-songwriter, it’s Kevin’s mission statement and masterpiece . All of the man’s best songs were collected onto this platter, and the mood is simultaneously quirky/ bizarre and comfortable/relaxed, surely not an easy atmosphere to affect. There are great breezy Van Morrison pop songs (“Marlene” “Chairman’s Ball”), great tough bluesy rockers (“Eastbourne Ladies” “I Want My Crown”), otherworldly and mesmerizing folk covers (“Lonesome Valley”), and haunting acoustic outsider songs that improve upon the previous record’s vibe (“Dog Latin” “House On The Hill”). And everything is delivered in Kevin’s crazy charismatic early warped blues voice. He’s introduced a full band into the works for over half the record, and they pummel along like a proper rootsy British folk blues ensemble. Being a double album, this is a bit overstuffed, with a few underwritten tunes cluttering up the works – edited down to a single, this would be one of the great singer-songwriter efforts of the 70s. It’s still DAMN great, and even filler tracks like “Good Boy” and “This Is Spain” are funny and strange enough to provide entertainment value amongst the true gems. The first record is obviously the better of the 2, with most of the major songs coming early on, whereas the 2nd record contains more solo acoustic Coyne and eccentric outsider tunes. This is definitely a grower, as Coyne doesn’t hold your hand through the proceedings – his voice is weird, some of his songs are hard to get a handle on, and if you’re not paying attention, you might hear a chunk of this as boring pub rock. But it’s all about the DELIVERY, and no one has ever delivered this sort of material quite like Kevin. It’s telling of Kevin’s style that he opens the album with a lopsided one-two punch: the least accessible track (Beefheart-y acappella title number) followed by the most accessible song in his whole catalog (wannabe single “Marlene”). No matter what kind of listener you are, though, chances are you’ll be able to get into the vibe on display here as long as you give yourself a little push. This is TOP quality songwriting and performing.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BLAME IT ON THE NIGHT  (1974)

B-

How to follow up a defining masterwork, only a year after the fact? Shoot for another one? Take a major detour? Release a toss-off, for fun? Coyne chose a dash of all these roads, and as a result of indecision and weaker material, he delivered a hodge-podgy mess of a record that has absolutely nothing on his first two. The new developments aren’t very positive ones: a few of the tracks here push for an almost commercial Joe Cocker approach to blues rock, and most of ’em fall flat in the process (“I Believe In Love” being the worst offender). Coyne would improve upon that sound on the followup, but here the direction seems tentative at best. Half of this record takes us back to acoustic weirdo folk territory, with the long rambling snooze “Sign of the Times” (not Prince) coming early and dragging down the rest of the A side after the decent muscular pub rocking opener “River of Sin.” The B Side is WAY better, and even includes a couple minor classics: the title track is the album’s haunting highlight, an eerie folk song that could fit in perfectly on any classic Coyne record, and “Light Up Your Little Light” works a similar atmosphere to similarly memorable effect. But though there are some decent tracks, I can’t help but hear this is a marking time effort, leftovers from the previous year – not essential, at any rate.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MATCHING HEAD AND FEET  (1975)

B

Here is Kevin’s first full band electric pub-blues rock album. With its combination Rod Stewart traditionalisms/Captain Beefheart freakisms, it ends up sounding very much like similar efforts by sandpaper-voiced contemporaries Edgar Broughton and Alex Harvey –  albeit not nearly as heavy and exciting. Kevin is now singing in a lower gruffer voice, and he has surrounded himself by a totally professional house band – the result is a standard early 70s classic rock album with the eccentric energy now stemming solely from the lead vocals. Your love of this will depend on how much you enjoy Beefheart’s mid-70s commercial albums, or how much you can stomach a freaky oddball shedding his edges in favor of comfortable blues pop. There’s nothing on here that’s remotely bad or poorly performed/recorded. But there’s also very little that goes beyond your standard 70s Joe Cocker-type material, and while I can surely get into that vibe from time to time, I absolutely miss the unique freak who lent similar (but better) material such inimitable personality on the previous records. That being said, there is only one REALLY off-putting piece of commercial fluff on here: the horn-laden Top Of The Pops wannabe “Rock ‘N’ Roll Hymn,” which might as well be on a bad late-70s Rod Stewart album. The rest is muscular and rootsy enough, and sung passionately enough, to give it edge, and there’s even a Coyne classic on side 2: “Turpentine,” which brings back some of the elusive weirdness and marries it to an awesome chorus hook. The whole record rocks and it’s fun to hear Kevin sound so commanding, but it’s not the most distinct or memorable platter on the planet, that’s for sure.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
HEARTBURN (1976)

C

Though this studio album serves as a companion of sorts to Kevin’s great live album from the same year, it’s an oddly neutered product, almost entirely lacking the gravity and eccentricity of the tour supporting it. Indeed, it’s the most boring and commercial record of Coyne’s classic years, crammed with cornball reggae grooves and dull pub rockers. Among the tunes here I count exactly one of minor interest: the quirky bouncy blues popper “Happy Band.” Even that one stinks of fluffy irrelevance, though not nearly as badly as anemic fillery crud such as “Don’t Make Waves” and the embarrassingly forced ironic anthem “America.” Dull ballads and duller blues rocker abound. The record oddly opens with a cover of Kevin’s earlier Siren track “Strange Locomotion,” leading me to believe this was a rush job to capitalize on good press. The band sounds professional and nothing more, Kevin sounds disengaged, the material is almost entirely a wash (and barely improved upon even on the great live record), and there’s zero atmosphere. It’s a substantially subpar record showcasing an artist adrift, with little of the flair of his best work – and you need not bother.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
IN LIVING BLACK & WHITE  (1977)

Not Rated – Live

I’m not a huge live album fan, in general, but THIS is an incredible live album. Here’s why it’s particularly great: outside of “Marjory Razorblade,” ’tis hard to fully take hold of Kevin’s comic-insane British blues freak persona. He usually sandpapers his edges off in the studio. But this long double record allows the full package to shine through, with all sorts of crazy banter and monologues, plus story songs and bizarre characterizations. Kevin is not against stopping the band mid-song to reel off oddities that sound like extensions of the “sketches” occasionally found on the earlier records. Speaking of extensions, the band tears through a raging 8 minute version of “Marjory Razorblade” the short vocal track that opened up that record, now expanded into a mammoth blues rocker, and it’s one of the greatest songs and performances in Kevin’s catalog! We also get a brilliant cover of “Ol’ Man River,” a highly energized take on “Eastbourne Ladies,” and a whole lot of hilarious absurdism. The major flaw here is that this was the “Heartburn” tour, and thus leans heavily on that poor record (there’s tellingly nothing from “Blame it on the Night”). On the plus side, the lesser material certainly sounds better here than it does in the studio. This record greatly expanded my understanding of Kevin’s “thing,” and shows him off at his most unique and entertaining. Other than “Razorblade,” it’s the only Coyne album where he truly lives up to his cult hero status,  and thus it’s an essential part of the catalog.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BEAUTIFUL EXTREMES  (1977)

Not Rated – Outtakes Compilation

An acoustic outtakes collection spanning the years 1974-1977. From what I gather, it’s a fan favorite. It presents Kevin unadorned by overproduction – harkening back to the “Case History” days, which may have seemed a welcomely eccentric change in the midst of more commercially considered products. Unfortunately, the songs don’t come close to matching the haunting poetry of the debut. There’s a uniformity, a drabness, to the proceedings, and whether or not Kevin intended them to be, these do really sound to my ears like leftovers. I’m depressed listening to this thing – it lacks the spark prevalent in other Coyne releases. A few of the hooks might have worked with a bit more production work, “Roses In Your Room” in particular, but this is really a fans only affair (meaning, if you absolutely love Kevin’s style and voice, you’ll find things to love here. If you’re a fair-weather fan like myself, this will mostly likely bore you to tears).

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
DYNAMITE DAZE  (1978)

B

And thus begins phase 2 of the Kevin Coyne experience. Inspired by and putting his bets upon the punk onslaught, he dropped the Cocker schtick and headed back to artsier pastures, this time with an ear to the raw gritty stupid emotional music coming out of late-70s England. Half of this record is stripped down to the bone, just Kevin and a piano or a guitar, singing droning “songs” that are thin on melody and thick on tortured atmosphere. I can’t say I find too much to love about tunes like “Are We Dreaming” and “Cry” and “I Am,” though I’ll surely take this kind of Coyne over the pub rock dullard from the previous platter. The OTHER half of this record, though, is where you’ll find the meat – it’s the electric tunes with a nasty band and some menacing glam punchy guitar tones. That half is actually the best thing Kevin has done since “Marjory,” and it’s where you can really hear the man grasping for a new way of presenting himself.  “Amsterdam” is a genuine Coyne rocking classic, sung in that patented wild-man voice, with a great double tracked chorus hook that’s more melodic than anything else on the record. There’s also the glammy “Brother of Mine,” a bluesy tune that could have come from “Matching Head and Feet” if it weren’t so warped and aggressive – dig that guitar tone! “Woman Woman Woman” is another bluesy highlight, basically the same song as the previously mentioned one, but with acoustic guitars this time and a hilariously dumb hook, though intentionally dumb and thus brilliant. This is one of the best post-Marjory Coyne albums, though it loses points for the meandering ballads and general lack of focus and flow. It shows us an re-invigorated Kevin who was not going to sit back and watch the punks walk over him – and I believe some of them even came to recognize him as one of their own.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MILLIONAIRES AND TEDDY BEARS (1979)

C+

A curious record, this, with an unfinished quality, almost like outtakes from the previous record. “Dynamite Daze” clearly initiated a newly experimental phase of Coyne’s career, and he now comes off like a genuine weirdo outsider art rocker as opposed to a pub rocker Joe Cocker-type. A lot of these tracks sound like tossed off one take drunken acoustic larks written in five minutes, though of course Kevin sells things with his hard-hitting vocals, adding weight and urgency to even the most sketchy song. I understand that Kevin is not a craftsman – he comes from the Dylan school and prefers spontaneous raggedness to well worked art pop – but some of these songs REALLY beg for more interesting sonics and arrangements. Though I’m not a fan of more than half this record, I am a big fan of two tracks, both Coyne classics. Firstly, and most importantly, is the centerpiece – nearly 6 minutes of magical hard-hitting blues pop known as “Pretty Park.” It’s a Coyne keeper for the Coyne canon, and would be a highlight on any of his best records. There’a also the minimalist bitter jab at the music industry, “Having a Party,” which is essentially the title track, and one of the only tunes on here that sounds like it was pre-planned and developed as a piece of art rock. The way it moves from a nervous barebones verses into slashing chorused guitar “choruses” – well that’s just cool, folks. And edgy. It’s the kind of Coyne I like to hear. I don’t like to hear the underwritten folk strumming of tracks like “I’m Just A Man” or the dull generic piano ballad “Wendy’s Dream” or the boring acappella experimental opener “People.” It’s a matter of preference, I realize, as some people really like this record. If it were a single with “Pretty Park” as the A-side and “Having A Party” the B side, i”d like it too.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BABBLE (WITH DAGMAR KROUSE)  (1979)

B+

A collaboration with the freakishly wonderful Dagmar Krouse, lead singer of art pop giants Slapp Happy, this was Kevin’s most conceptual project of the decade. It’s a song cycle centered around the love between a most twisted killer couple, though the details and specifics aren’t particularly clear. Due to fandom from some more contemporary indie musicians like Will Oldham, the record has grown into one of Kevin’s most recognized and beloved works, and it is indeed one of his greatest records. The conceptual framework lends it urgency and depth, and it certainly helps that Dagmar is singing lead on half the album – she is a mesmerizingly bizarre and beautiful singer. The songs themselves are simple and generally based on the same folk and blues patterns Coyne has employed many times before, but he makes an effort to switch up the instrumentation and production styles here and there. Much of the record is stripped down and acoustic, but there are also a few great driving avant-rockers like my personal favorite – the Dagmar-sung “Sweetheart.” But while the signing is impassioned and the songs often melodic and memorable, the real heart of this album is of a literary nature, as these are perhaps the greatest lyrics of Coyne’s career. On “I Confess,” Kevin marries a yearning Van Morrison-like melody to ironic lyrics dripping with disgusted guilt. “Shaking Hands With The Sun” contrasts a Sesame Street groove with death wishes and positive accounts of Hitler and Mussolini. THESE are the sort of dark theatery Kurt Weill-esque tunes I knew Kevin could muster up after hearing the oddities scattered throughout “In Living Black and White.” Had he pushed forward int this direction, he may have become a Tom Waits rather than a mostly forgotten fringe cult figure. Even though it wasn’t meant to be, this is still the closest Kevin ever got to a truly epic character piece, and at its best this is a tortured intelligent gem.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BURSTING BUBBLES  (1980)

C

Where “Heartburn” is Coyne’s limpest album at his most pro-pop and boringly commercial, this is Coyne’s limpest album at his most anti-pop and boringly uncommercial.  Two limp albums for entirely different reasons, the reasons residing at both ends of the Coyne spectrum. Indeed, this is the first overtly experimental in Coyne’s catalog, with nearly the entire A-side taken up by tuneless seemingly improvisational vocal howling against minimalist instrumental backdrops. At least Kevin had the decency to call one of these tracks “No Melody,” so as to clue listeners into the fun time they’re about to have before dropping the needle. As other reviewers have mentioned, this was recorded during a bleak time in the man’s life, and there is indeed a lot of pain and exposed nerves in these vocal performances. But I’m a believer in marrying raw pain to actual craft, and songs like “Mad Boy No.2” strike me as tossed off wannabe poetic nonsense rather than Beefheartian avant-genius. Thankfully the record has a pop side as well, with a run of mediocre but listenable folk pop songs, the likes of which Kevin has done better before, and a dumb fake jazzy standard called “A Little Piece of Heaven.” So many 70s singer-songwriters ended up with silly fake-jazz songs doing filler time on their records! The album’s second track “The Children’s Crusade” is probably the highlight overall, a good example of a pained delivery married to something resembling a real composition – Kevin sounds great on this one, which seems a bit like Roy Harper, though I’d lose the noodly saxophone. Some people might get off on the weird abstract atmosphere represented here, but some people are confusing to me – I like me some Coyne, but this is just not very good music.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SANITY STOMP  (1980)

B+

Kevin closed off his Virgin contract and his ‘classic years with this shockingly inspired double album, easily his best record since “Marjory Razorblade.” It’s really more like two albums combined into one collection, as each record contains a totally different band and aesthetic. But they’re both strong and intriguing, and the overall package is perhaps the most musically sound record in the whole catalog. Harkening back to my previous discussion of Kevin’s bipolar personality as represented in the subpar commercial “Heartburn” and subpar avant-garde “Bursting Bubbles,” here we get the same split on each record, only this time both sides are presented with skill and energy and musicality! The first record was recording with The Ruts, and it’s the most overtly power pop/punk creation in the Coyne catalog – tight energy, fun simple rockers, and no pretense at anything more than good time pop and roll. The songs are mostly fluffy and forgettable, but the band sounds great, much exciting and rocking than any other on a Coyne record. Kevin himself sounds like he’s having a ball. There ARE two near classics on here: “The Monkey Man,” a expertly played reggae-tinged pub rocker straight out off a Costello/Lowe record, and “Formula Eyes,” a chugging new wave weirdo rocker. When I heard that that the 2nd album here was an “experimental” record cut with Robert Wyatt, I dreaded the worst. But the worst ever came – this is Kevin at his experimental BEST, with interesting soundscapes and sharp focused pieces that don’t at all forgo melody or understandable concepts. Most of the tracks are improvisational, and Kevin often sounds like he’s reciting warped poetry, but the improv is exciting! And it’s not all so extreme – there are strange pop songs like “Fear of Breathing” and a pretty acoustic closer. There’s also the nearly 8 minute chanted word oddity “Wonderful Wilderness” – with its gorgeous cascading Fripp-like guitar part and alien atmosphere, it’s like a Robert Wyatt solo track crossed with a Beefheart song, with some King Crimson mixed in for good measure. And I guess I might as well add Kevin Coyne in there too, as this album is wholly idiosyncratic and very accomplished, proof that even a wild card like Coyne reached the heights every now and then.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
POINTING THE FINGER  (1981)

C+

Kevin’s post-Virgin records never made much noise, and I’m only going to look at the first few (I can barely find most of them). This was the first of two he released on Cherry Red in the early 80s, and it’s a disappointment on multiple levels. It’s a full band album, and heavily jazz-influenced in a fretless bass/chorused early 80s manner. It seems Coyne was going for a “Hejira”-like free lite jazzy feel, though this is often more structured and always far less adventurous than Joni’s album. On the plus side, this is a totally unique brand of instrumentation for a Coyne record, so that sonically this doesn’t feel like a repeat of past efforts. On the minus side, the songwriting is absolutely stagnant and very few of these tunes go beyond your standard folky-bluesy Coyne fare. There is one standout in the fresh department – “As I Recall,” an avant-guitar tune based on a weird fractured heavy riff, stripped down to the bone, and disgustingly a-melodic. It’s a totally bizarre track, and I’m not sure it’s particularly GOOD – it borders on outsider music yet again in its self-conscious ugliness. But it’s not like anything else in the catalog, that’s for sure! It also sounds nothing the rest of this thing, which ranges from free-flowing improvisational tunes like “One Little Moment” to acoustic folk pop like the title track (an accusatory rant against dear old England). “Old Lady” ends the record with a bouncy African-influenced guitar part and sounds like a warmup for Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album! There are minor pleasures to be had here, but none of this stuff is very memorable or exciting. The vocals sound tired and the overall effect limp and scattered. We all know how commercial and focus-grouped rock and roll became in the 80s, and with strange obtuse records like this, Coyne was bound to slip away into the sad land of cult heros. But I surely respect his refusal to play the game!!! (Research tells me his brain had pretty much checked out around this time, a slave to alcohol and anxieties, so perhaps I’m being too harsh….all I can do is listen and point the finger!)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
POLITICZ  (1982)

D+

What on Earth is going on with this ridiculous record!?!? Here’s the deal: one of Kevin’s bandmates had some synth pop instrumental demos laying around, and he showed them to his boss. His boss, apparently in a rather dysfunctional frame of mind, decided to take the demos and overdub rants and chants on top of them, resulting in nearly half a new record of utter garbage. Yes, this is Kevin Coyne’s “Trans,” if you will: a partially electronic album that reeks of half-assed drunken Mark E. Smith-esque behavior. The synth experiments make up most of the B-side here, and they’re uniformly embarrassingly bad, though one has to imagine Kevin found them funny at the time. If treated as a joke, there is indeed an absurd ugliness to them that is almost funny in a Ween fashion. Kevin screams and shouts “Bonzai” repeatedly  like a maniac over one of them, and that’s a highlight. The backing tracks themselves are dated beyond belief and sound like an early synth pop programmer’s discarded experiments in beat making. The joke doesn’t land. BUT this album comes with some good news: just like the aforementioned “Trans,” the other half is a normal acoustic Coyne album…and it’s a GOOD one! As a matter of fact, these are some of the more interesting solo acoustic numbers I’ve heard the man put to tape. “Your Holiness” opens up with a caustic driving jab at religious gurus, and the epic “Fun Flesh” harkens back to “Case History” with its warped atmosphere and rambling but sharp structure. “Flashing Back” and “I’ve Got The Photographs” are both lovely and nostalgic sounding songs that couldn’t be further away from the electronic silliness staining this album. Treat it like an EP and it’s a solid Coyne product – as a full statement, though, it’s crammed with some of the worst music I’ve heard by an artist I like, and thus not very recommended to anyone but the curious.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________LEGLESS  IN MANILLA (1984)

C+

Back to relative normalcy with a brief and low key effort that finds Coyne spinning his wheels comfortably. Acoustic folk pop, sometimes with a swinging house band, and the occasional avant-foray, with chanted vocals and surreal lyrics. The sound is rather raw, and I can’t imagine there was a particularly large budget, or a particularly large demand, for this thing –  the project reeks of stagnant irrelevancy. But for those already hip to Coyne’s style, fans and even some tourists, this is one of his more appealingly casual post-peak records. Minor classics include the very pretty folky “Black Cloud” and the oddball “Nigel in Napoli,” which makes excellent use of some hilarious phrasing and awkward rhyme schemes. That tune also employs a technique used elsewhere by Coyne: spoken half-whispered overdubs reciting the lyrics on top of the actual sung vocal track. It’s a deliberately strange maneuver, and I can’t say it works for me on a musical level, though one has to appreciate the absurdity and disregard for regularity. I forgot to mention the memorable and hilarious opener “Big Money Man,” a pathetic and self-loathing piece sung with happy-go-lucky folk pop flair. It’s the ironic distance between vocal and music, see, that Coyne likes to employ – just like your Randy Newmans or your Steely Dans. But you can’t be Randy Newman or a Steely Dan if you consistently make records that sound like this one, and thus Coyne never got to that level of craft and brilliance. But he got far enough, farther for some. He moved to Germany after this one and continued to pop out record after record, though very few of them have garnered any discernible internet recognition. But I believe I’ve had my fill of Mr. Coyne unless someone points me to the right 90s/2000s record – though I assume I’m missing a share of great songs, I have a hard time believing he expanded his approach too far beyond this album!

 

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: