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.
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.