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30 August 2011

Kevin Coyne - 'Marjory Razor Blade' (Virgin)

This is Kevin Coyne's masterpiece, and I'm lucky to have the double LP version. It's sprawling and messy, like all double albums, but compared to the spare Case History this is a rocker. Lyrically, Coyne's turning his gaze to the middle class as opposed to the deranged mental patients he chronicled before, but really, is there a difference? 'This Is Spain' in particular resonates with me because of a terrible business trip I was on once that had me stuck in Marbella, a touristy hellhole if there ever is one. I didn't think of that song then but how great it would have been to walk around listening to it on headphones. But what an awesome record this is - the blues edges are sharper, the drums give everything a pounding edge, and Coyne's distinctive voice is the powerful center (even though he's not mixed that high). The title track opens things up in a practically 'Dust Blows Forward' manner, an a-capella dirge with twisted aggro flavours. When 'Marlene' comes out of it, it's a magical explosion, and like the fellow side-A cut 'Eastbourne Ladies', Coyne really never sounds better. The album is back and forth a bit between the drum-driven electric blues and the mellow ballads, with two Carter Family tunes thrown in the mix. The 'blues' is rampant, particularly on side two. 'Cheat Me' is pure knife-edge; 'I Want My Crown' and 'Mummy' feel more like sketches than full "songs" - a place for the band to stretch out with some slide stylings and other affects. Because I tend to enjoy Coyne's acoustic side more, I find these tracks charming, and maybe Marjory Razor Blade is so perfect because the balance is just right. When there is a full band, like 'House on the Hill', it's a nice momentum-builder; this song, feeling like a holdover from Case History because of the frank way it addresses mental illness, is nonetheless one of the album's strongest. Record two begins with my all-time favourite Coyne song, 'Jackie and Edna', a song about loneliness and regret unlike anything else I've ever heard. There's some class consciousness sprinkled throughout Marjory Razor Blade but it's not overwhelming - we're not into Housemartins or Billy Bragg territory, though I suspect Coyne may have been an influence here. This was about as close to commercial success as he ever got, and while I'm not intimately familiar with his later output, the general wisdom is that he never bettered this -- who am I to argue?

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