I must admit I was intrigued by this record well before listening to it. The combination of Robert Coyne (son of the late Kevin) and the legendary Jaki Liebezeit (pioneering drummer with Can) was promising enough but weirdly I was drawn to the illustration on the back of the cover. It’s a painting by Wendy Coyne called “Dogs of Bookmongers” and attempting to delve into it made me really long for this album to have been on vinyl simply for the reason the picture would have been bigger.
As it happens the painting has no bearing on the music contained on the album, it just simply improves the package. Fortunately the music itself is well worth delving into if one can delve into an album of simple lyrics, almost Zen like in their sparseness, backed by wonderful but spare instrumentation. The robotic (yet warm) percussion of Liebezeit and Coyne’s acoustic guitar underpin the songs although there are occasional keyboards from Coyne and cello (from Aglaja Camphausen), the latter adding a nice woody vibe. The minimalist approach reminded me several times of Young Marble Giants with Alison Statton’s cool vocals replaced by Coyne’s gentle voice.
Despite the bare boned instrumentation Coyne and Liebezeit manage to weave layers within the songs, the guitar mesmerising at times as on In The Rehearsal Room where Coyne’s nimble picking throws flurries of notes in the listener’s direction. There’s a bucolic feel to much of the album especially when cello is featured while harmonies on two of the songs (by Camphausen and Wendy Coyne) flesh out the sound. Lyrically the songs are opaque, often very brief (I Still Have This Dream has two lines, “I Still Have This Dream/That you’ll know what I mean”) although Another layer Of Mud does stretch to five verses. Coyne, who wrote all the songs, says of them, “it’s just me talking to myself”. So there’s a song about a Cockney Mystic who may be delusional, a frustrated dreamer, a disillusioned pub rocker along with odd snippets such as on Soothing Sounds, a rippling summery song which advises a listener to lie down, relax and listen only for their bags to be rifled and robbed.
All in all the album is a fine late night listen, the spare rhythms something of a balm. The one exception is the 11-minute Thank You (I’ve Got The Idea) where Coyne adds bass guitar and keyboards to Leibezeit’s insistent beat summoning up a less frantic vision of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn coloured with English pastoral prog rock. Coyne’s deadpan vocals deliver a sly joke here as he sings, “Thank you I’ve got the idea…Please don’t take it from the top, Thank you, I’m pleading with you to stop” as Liebezeit motors on.
Regarding the painting mentioned above it was commissioned by a bookshop in London and there’s a video of its making which allows you to see it in all its intricacies.