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Marjory Razorblade CD, Import
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Coyne's First "Post Retirment" Album was a Double Opus that Began his Fruitful Relationship with the Then Fledgling Virgin Records. The Avant Garde, Non-commercial Artist Created Music Definitely Not for the Masses, but Found his Audience Anyway. The Years on Virgin were Some of his Most Productive.
The title track kicks off the double album with a bang--it's a cappella and sounds like a very British version of something straight out of Trout Mask Replica. Right off the bat, you know Coyne's got talent (listen to that voice!), a sense of humor, songwriting chops, and the sort of creative ferocity that leads to such successful weird experiments. "Marjory Razorblade" is a bit of a fake-out; for the most part, the album isn't nearly as bizarre (though there are a few strange standouts), but it's all permeated by an inimitable eccentricity that the title track displays in spades.
In many ways, the title track is a blueprint for the rest of the album, and elements of the songwriting, style, and themes for the song crop up elsewhere. The same off-kilter humor rears its head on the hilarious "Nasty" and "Karate King." In other places, this humor gets a bit cutting, as on the sinister, rocking "Eastborn Ladies," the foreboding "Dog Latin," and the desperate but tongue-in-cheek mockery of "This Is Spain." The slight descent into lunacy evident in "Marjory Razorblade" reappears on the isolated "Talking to No One," the heart-wrenching "House on the Hill," and the gorgeous "Everybody Says." That last one is the most Van Morrison-sounding of everything on the album (though Coyne's voice is at times reminiscent of Van), with his wordless scatting blending perfectly with the lead acoustic guitar playing cascading harmonics behind him. The themes of isolation and madness likely result from Coyne's former employment at mental institutions, and his portrayals of mental loneliness are compelling and always warm--this recurring theme and his peerless treatment of it is something I've seen few other songwriters do (and none do as well).
On the rest of the album, Coyne reveals himself as a potent (if radically off-kilter) blues/folk singer, howling through rompers like "I Want My Crown," "Cheat Me," and the joyous "Chairman's Ball"--his falsetto "way way way way waaaaaay" at the end of "Mummy" is priceless, and "Marlene" is an organ-soaked hit folk-rock single that never was. His treatment of the Carter Family's "Lonesome Valley" is a breath of fresh air, and about as authentic as it gets. The instrumentation on the album is always pretty organic, with lots of acoustic guitars and a folk-blues style band that is capable of ripping it up with some gnarly lead guitar and a heavy bottom.
Come to think of it, I don't think there's a weak track on this double album (so rare for a double album), except of course the two bonus tracks at the end which, as usual, spoil the flow intended by the original album track sequencing. If you're a fan of Van Morrison and some of the less stable characters of the 60's and 70's like Syd Barrett,Skip Spence, or Leonard Cohen, you owe it to yourself to check out this fantastic but obscure artist. It's not something you can just throw on at a social gathering--there's too many prickly tracks like "Good Boy" that aren't for the casual music fan--but if you're somebody who really gets into songwriters and opens up to being emotionally-involved, this is a fantastic choice. This was my first Coyne album, and my next stop will be The Dandelion Years 1969-1972, which compiles his two albums with the band Siren, and his first solo album Case History. After that, it's rough going, since most of his catalog is hard-to-find, but totally worth it!
He was also a sharp satirist, as demonstrated by Dog Latin, This Is Spain and Good Boy, in which he respectively mocks organized religion, holidays in Spain and the public school system. Eastbourne Ladies also falls into this category. Everybody Says is a beautiful acoustic ballad and Mummy a sweeping wall-of-sound rocker. His voice is not unlike that of Van Morrison in its timbre and expressive range, but while Van's is affected by spiritual ecstasy, Coyne's tend to be twisted with rage, disdain or anguish as on the title track.
Marlene is a melodious number with gorgeous organ and guitar, a pulsating beat and sinister undertone. Talking To No One and House On The Hill are anguished ballads portraying alienation and insanity. Lonesome Valley is more of the same, but over an uptempo beat and complex vocal arrangement where his voice really soars. Other great songs include I Want My Crown, Nasty and Chairman's Ball.
With his chosen subject matter, it's no surprise that Coyne never gained a wide audience during his lifetime. Still, I think that fans of Nico, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithfull, the aforementioned Nick Drake, World of Skin, Lydia Lunch, Michael Gira and especially Swans, will find much here to appreciate.