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Music Review: Kevin Coyne Carnival

It's always a risky thing when you come across a musician or author who you've not been familiar with before. I don't know about anybody else but I have a tendency to overindulge on their output if I like the first piece I hear. Sometimes this will lead to the inevitable; familiarity breeds contempt, or at the least tedium.

But in the case of exceptional performers and writers, those whose output can legitimately be called art, each piece is unique onto itself. Everything read or listened to is a new experience to be savoured for it's own merits and whatever feelings it stirs within you.

In the past week I've offered two reviews of Kevin Coyne's work, Sugar Candy Taxi and Room Full Of Fools, and have noted the amazing range that he demonstrated over the course of those two albums. I sat down and listened to the third of the albums he released through Ruf Records,( I believe it was the last album he went into the studio to record), Carnival and was once again drawn into the world of Kevin Coyne.

If you wanted you could say that Carnival has a theme to it, and you wouldn't be far off because all of the songs relate to love in some way or another. Love with a capital L for the love of the life love; the love we try and maintain with friends; and the insecurity that love and need for love brings out in all of us.
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The whole mixed bag is here in fifteen songs that range musically from hard rock blues of "Stop Picking On Me", to the almost dance beats of "Party, party, party" and almost every other form of Blues, pop, and rock you can think of in between. As in his other discs the music is the vehicle he uses to drive the emotions of the songs.

Discordant blasts of harmonica over squawky guitars and broiling keyboards can do more to create an unsettled atmosphere than two lines of lyrics. His lyrics on the surface aren't apparently emotional; how emotional can it be repeating a simple phrase like "was it you?" five times over again without much change of inflection?

But those simple words, and the very fact that they are repeated with barely any change, in the context of the song gives them more emotional weight then the posturing of any of the supposedly sensitive pop stars of the day. There is something lurking just below the surface of Kevin's voice that can't be easily articulated. But this something creates a dynamic, coupled with whatever music is accompanying the lyric, either in contrast or harmony generates a tension that commands the listener's attention.

Part of it is the feeling that whatever Kevin is singing about he has lived through. In the song "All My Friends" you know that at some point in his life he was alone. Friends ask why don't you write, but the implication is that they don't write him unless he precipitates the conversation. He doesn't exist for them without constant reminders, so he might as well not have any friends.

There are certain people whose voices can't help but to express the lives they've lived through up to that point in their lives. Kevin was on such a person, and whether he knew it or not the sounds of his survival echoed like a ghost refrain behind his lyrics.

But of course he still has fun with at the same time or proves that he's not immune to sentimentality completely. "The Wobble" is just a funny little song where he tells a girlfriend who's shy about dancing that she just get up an wobble. She likes it so much that she wobbles everywhere she goes from then on and then the whole world wobbles because of her.

On "Sweet Melinda" he sings the praises of a girlfriend from when he was a teenager and love was so much less complicated. It's not so much Melinda he is yearning for, in spite of her picture in his wallet, it's what she represents. Innocence and fun are a far headier brew to drink a cup of then most nostalgia and are definitely far less sweet to the taste. No artificial substitutes sugar coat life in Kevin's songs but that doesn't make them all bitter to the taste either.

After listening to the disc Carnival and the previous two over the last few days it's hard not to admire the creative and imaginative mind that generated these pieces of art. The playful and slightly twisted cartoon figures that adorn the covers of these discs are Kevin's work as well. He also had three published books to his name before he died aside from the numerous discs that he and his bands over the years had produced.

If you have never listened to any of Kevin Coyne's music you owe it to yourself to do so without fail. But be warned, if you go into his world once, you may find yourself drawn back in again and again and opening up emotionally to the world around you just a little more then prior.

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