Of the four or five Kevin Coyne albums that fans routinely describe as his best ever, Marjory Razorblade is by far the best known in the wider world, a consequence not only of the enormous critical splash it made upon its original release in 1973, but also because of the ripples it continued sending out long after the fact. Four years later, Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten singled out the album's "Eastbourne Ladies" as one of his all-time favorite records, while the strumming, thrumming "Marlene" is one of those records whose failure to become a monster hit single continues to baffle and bewilder. (Even Virgin thought so, as they proved when they gave it a second chance in 1977.) Yet "Marlene" is just one highlight amid a storm-tossed sea of the things. A glimpse into Coyne's early influences is provided by a brace of Carter Family covers, a knockabout romp through "Lonesome Valley" and a nearly bluegrass-colored "Heaven in My View," while his eye for distinctly English working-class archetypes is unrelenting. Vacationing Anglos romp through "This Is Spain," a deliciously wry study of the suspicions that beset every Continental tourist during the first years of package holiday-making, while "Jackie and Edna" transplants much the same characters to a dour English beachfront, and turns their discomfort inwards.
The clashing of Coyne's characteristically sharp, tuneful poetry with deliberately warped imagery is breathtaking. The title track, a couple of minutes of a cappella poetry sliced out of the live favorite "Suite Marjory Razorblade," makes an excellent bed for "Marlene" to emerge from, and the remainder of side one (on the original vinyl) rattles along with express-train precision, bound for the furious blues boogie of the aforementioned "Eastbourne Ladies," a compulsive examination of the elderly inhabitants of that (and every other) English seaside town. But the ramshackle "Karate King," sounding like it's being sung through a telephone receiver, the scarcely in-tune and barely controlled "Dog Latin," offering an acerbic vision of the decline of Catholic worship, and "Good Boy," a headmasterly recitation of praise that twists almost imperceptibly into viciousness and scorn, jab your ears like thumbtacks embedded in the cushions of a comfortable chair, to ensure that, no matter how much you wind up loving Marjory Razorblade, you will never feel completely at ease with her. Yes, there are four or five Kevin Coyne albums that can be described as his best. But Marjory Razorblade remains the greatest of them all.