Review by Shannon Shumaker
Kevin Devine doesn’t hold back on Instigator. The master storyteller brings everything to the table on this release, and no subject is off limits, no matter how personal, emotional or controversial. Although the album opens up with the fuzzy power-pop track, “No Why,” in no time at all, Devine is diving deep in the introspective, “Instigator” and the nine songs that follow.
Right off the bat, Devine will wow you with his stellar vocal work and lyrical prowess. In “No Why,” his vocals are warm and inviting, and on “Instigator,” the imagery and simplistic yet personal lyricism is a driving force when the guitar work isn’t totally blowing you away.
Things quickly go from lighthearted and upbeat on “Magic Magnet” to a much more serious and somber tone on “Freddie Gray Blues.” Not only does Devine do an incredible job at providing a transparent and respectable tribute to Freddie Gray, who died at the hands of Baltimore police officers in 2015, but he also finds a way to address his own privileges in the same breath. While addressing that he comes from a family of police officers, Devine also notes that, “I know not every cop is a racist murdering cop, but this is bigger than the people I love” - something that seems rather easy to understand when he puts it in such a simplistic manner.
After “Freddie Gray Blues,” the mood of Instigator shifts. Although the poppiness of the first few songs is still definitely present, the seriousness of the album and the power of Devine’s storytelling is at the forefront of every single song. “No History” is a cautionary tale based around September 11th 2001, a warning that one moment in time can affect your - and many other people’s - lives. History tends to repeat itself, and that is painfully true in this track.
Even in the midst of self-reflection and rather serious subjects, Kevin Devine is also quick to remind us that life isn’t without good moments, too. “Daydrunk” is a lighthearted middle track, chronicling his younger years - “I was twenty-five/I was terrified” - while still remaining incredibly poetic. The following “Both Ways” is fast-paced and fleeting, but Devine says quite a lot in only two minutes and thirty seconds as he insists, “Can’t preach all lives as equal/Unless they’re immigrant, women or black.” “Both Ways” calls out the contradictory actions of many while still understanding that he’s guilty of wanting things “both ways,” too.
“No One Says You Have To” is where Instigator starts to come to a close with simple acoustic guitar, beautiful vocal work and introspective lyrics like, “It gets so lonely inside my mind/But I’m surrounded in love all the time,” that tackle depression and anxiety. The final closing track, “I Was Alive Back Then” is really where Devine’s lyrics shine, bringing things to an incredibly strong close. Even though it doesn’t hit as hard as the poppier songs on the album, “I Was Alive Back Then” really embodies the entirety of Instigator, and by the time it comes to an end, you’ll feel closer to Kevin Devine than ever.
Listen to "Freddie Gray Blues," "No History" or "No One Says You Have To"
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