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Music Review: Kevin Coyne – Room Full Of Fools

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Well, I made a huge mistake. I thought I was on to Kevin Coyne, which in retrospect was pretty stupid when you think about it, to assume you know anything about a musician of any stripe after only listening to one album. If they have streak of innovation or a creative bone in their body, they're going to change things from disc to disc.

Kevin Coyne is more than just your average musician churning out discs due to an obligation to a studio, so I don't know why I was so surprised when I put on his year 2000 disc Roomful Of Fools. It was unlike Sugar Candy Taxi, which was more self-mockery and gentle irony than anything else.

So the aural assault that is "Turning Sugar Sour" didn't merely catch me by surprise, it took my breath away. First, it was the grinding guitars and driving beat catching me off guard, and then it was the harsher tone to Kevin's voice. In a lot of ways this is an angry album, which has him reacting to the indignities so many people face on a daily basis with only some sort of vague promise of eternal peace following as consolation.
Kevin Coyne.jpg
This isn't a new idea, "Pie In The Sky" was a song by Joe Hill using the tune to "Sweet Bye and Bye" to protest what he saw as the exploitation of the workers by telling them not to worry about their lot in life on earth as they will get their eternal award in heaven for working seventeen hours a day, seven days a week in the coalfields. Kevin was not so much worried about the rights of the worker, rather those of the mentally ill.

Without reading the lyrics to the songs, and in fact without even paying that much attention to them while he's singing, but judging solely by his tone of voice on the majority of the tracks, you know he's a man who has been pushed to the edge and over on occasion. Kevin worked for three years as a social worker and psychiatric nurse prior to taking up a music career, and then he had a nervous breakdown.

So he knows what it is like to be suffering from a mental illness and the manner in which society treats you like a pariah. Listen to the song "Speak To Me" with these lyrics: "I wished I could hear a call, that said home, come home, but all I know as I sit, in this room I feel so all alone". Tell me you don't hear the desperation of a person who has been abandoned by everybody he thought loved him.

Even some of the titles are enough to let you know this disc will be a hard slog to listen to because of the content; "I Can't Take It Anymore", "But I Love You", "Take Your Pain Away", and "God Watches". From the first in this list, which is a heart felt cry for help and an exclamation of pain to the final song which voices the hope, almost a plea, that maybe a God does look after us and keeps us from harm.

What's amazing about the disc, aside from the outright power of the emotions and the naked honesty in any of his songs, is the complete lack of self-pity on his part whenever he touches on matters that pertain to him. He's just grateful for whatever gifts he has been given and the opportunity to be making use of and or enjoying them. Maybe it's just because he knows that it's almost impossible to appreciate your life when you are The Rock Star, and it's not until the bottom falls out that you realize how important the little things you used to ignore are.

Even now, in these songs, he's not confident of 'success' however you want to define it. It sounds like he might even just be using the opportunity to express those emotions he needs to get off his chest. His voice rises up and down the scale, on occasion hitting almost primal scream levels. The music on some songs is so discordant it's almost painful, but the two working together are able to give you an understanding of some of the hardships and anguish that could be involved with mental health issues.

This is one of the most emotionally raw albums I've listened to in a long time and it's not one I'm going to be able to listen to on a regular basis. But that doesn't diminish the power and the amazing strength of the disc. If ever you wondered what it is like to feel so much that it hurts – listen to the Kevin Coyne disc Room Full Of Fools and you may come away with a little more understanding of how even awareness can be harmful.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • tony donaghey

    This article nails the essence of Coyne’s work better than any I’ve read for a long time.
    When discovering music as a teenager I was listening to the Doors and happened on a glowing review of Coyne’s In Living Black and White which mentioned him turning down replacing Jim Morrison. Intrigued I went out and got the said album. If you thought Room Full Of Fools was harrowing then play the first side of Living. A discordant piano puntuates a song about a black Brush chasing down the street.
    Just as your’re wondering what is going on the most heartfelt vocal comes out the speaker in a spoken tone – “is he yours? do you know him? he has a piece of paper says he knows you. And I say,rather like St.Thomas: no,I don’t know, I don’t know him,I don’t know him” Here was Coyne reflecting his work with mental health realising that someone was out there with his name trying to make contact but who never made it.
    Kevin Coyne had one of the greatest British Blues voices ever and should have been acknowledged as such. But his lyrical concerns – which he often allied with harsh difficult to listen to music – would mean many albums would leave you drained.
    Kevin was an artist who used his work to reflect his life and to help to try and understand the world.
    His music just doesn’t reflect the lows of life. His albums are littered with some of the lovliest love songs dedicated to the two ladies in his life – Leslie and Helmi.
    This year will see 2 tribute albums for Kevin. The first Whispers From The Offing will feature various Mekons, Alternative TV, Nikki Sudden, Jackie Leven, Kevin Hewick and other friends and will be released this month.The second released by his Widow Helmi on will feature many other artists who hold Kevin in the high esteem that is his due.

  • http://blogs.epicindia.com/leapinthedark Richard Marcus

    Tony

    thanks for those comments, much appreciated. I’ve also read that his wife is releaseing some unreleased material slowly but surely, I’m just not sure how that’s happening or through what label. The last three discs he made were via Ruf out of Germany.

    It’s interesting to hear that he’s always been this enigmatic – I like that. I just wish there more musicians with his courage and brilliance. Genius is never easy to listen to, but it has so much more to offer.

    cheers

    Richard Marcus

  • tony donaghey

    Helmi and Kevin set up Turpentine records in what was the last years of his life. Although needing oxygen to breathe Kevin still recorded up to the very end. The two postumous releases sofar are One Day In Chicago recorded with Jon Langford and Underground both of which are currently featured on my Kevin Coyne myspace page or just search Kevin Coyne as there are two sites set up by the Kevin Coyne Yahoo group. There are two live performances from Youtube also featured.

  • john mcfarlane

    commercial music it isnt the man had the courage to stick up for what he believed in and than sell his soul to the ‘music’ business.

  • john mcfarlane

    commercial music it isnt the man had the courage to stick up for what he believed in and than sell his soul to the ‘music’ business.

  • Matthew St John Higgins

    Only recently have I gotten into Kevin Coyne, although without realising it, I had a box set of the Dandelion years from the mid 70s. He is an amazing & poignant singer. Heartfelt & powerful lyrics do leave one drained, sometimes even startled & bewildered, But this makes the mans music even more unique. Iv just gotten a vinyl copy of Dynamite Daze, track 10, unbelievable. Its great to know that there is unreleased material waiting to come out. Matt