"I'm a twentieth century man, but I don't want to be here"
APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
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Apart from a tiny handful of big international hits like 'Lola', the Kinks spent the most part of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's in virtual oblivion. Once the Internet started transforming the progressive part of the planet into one global village, though, it suddenly turned out that practically every pop-music-related site of serious merit thinks it his duty to include a little personal shrine to these guys. The Kinks are not esoteric knowledge - that honour should probably go to someone like the Frogs or the United States of America (the band, I mean, not the country) - but theirs is a weird phenomenon nevertheless, as most people fall into one of the two categories: (a) those who have never even heard the name and (b) those who consider the band to be among the top ten all-time musical greats of the XXth century, if not the greatest band to ever exist. There's precious little in between, and I'm not sitting on the fence either, firmly joining group (b).
Yes, the Kinks were phenomenal; they just had a nasty history of doing the right things at the wrong time, and just as often doing the wrong things at the right time. In terms of invention and experimentation their most creative period happened to fall upon the early years of 1964-66, yet whenever they tried something new, somebody "better equipped" would always run in front of them and do it (or pretend that he did it) better, be it The Beatles or the Who. And when the Kinks finally settled into a groove that was practically impossible for anybody to recreate on the same level - that is, created an absolutely unique musical style of Brit-pop which NOBODY could pull off with the same effectiveness - they did it in defiance of the musical fashion of the times, which led to their being basically written off as dull British pop freaks. C'est la vie - if you choose to ignore the trends, it's fruitless to expect immediate rewards. It would be somewhat far-fetched to praise the Kinks for "stark realism" when opposed to their colleagues; I'd personally say that it wasn't until at least the late Seventies that band leader Ray Davies turned into a true stark realist, substituting liberal art for liberal propaganda, and that, not coincidentally, was when the band's music began to truly stagnate. "Real life" with all of its ugliness shocked and alienated Ray just as much as it did the rest of his colleagues. But instead of joining the crowds and seeking spiritual escape in the Summer of Love, hippie ideology, mysticism, marijuana and Woodstock, Ray Davies sought for salvation in more humble, grounded subjects, such as afternoon tea, village green, old people taking pictures of each other, and Waterloo sunsets - in other words, traditional Victorian values. A little idealized, of course, as he himself understood fairly well (and whoever doesn't see the deep irony in songs like 'Victoria' is definitely unfit to listen to the Kinks at all), but not any more idealized than, for instance, the doctrines of Eastern philosophy were for the hippie crowds. In return, their records simply didn't sell, and much of the press branded them as retrograde conservatives (even if in reality, it's hard to find a more liberal rock musician than Ray Davies, that is, if your understanding of liberalism goes beyond formalized cliches). To this one should add an unfortunate ban on live performing in the US, caused by some stupid skirmish on a particularly bad day and active for much of the Sixties, which, of course, didn't exactly do wonders for their States popularity. But luckily, time heals all wounds - and as it turned out, the Kinks' musical legacy has lived up to time. Besides (and because of) having influenced probably hundreds, if not thousands, of pop bands, Ray and his brother Dave Davies have, all of a sudden, been discovered to have written a fairly good amount of truly timeless tunes. Just one good look was all it took. Now, stepping away from any socio-political implications, what truly distinguishes the Kinks' music from the other typical stuff produced by the British Invasion is certainly the very special way in which Ray Davies writes his compositions. And no matter what genre he prefers - be it early rock'n'roll rip-offs, sweety ballads, clever introspective Brit music, rock opera or heavy metal - he always has his own insignia printed on every song. What you might call it is beyond me. I call it 'childishness'. His elementary chord sequences, sweet soothing voice and funny, but (let's face it) naive lyrics convey this atmosphere of childish delight. That's what helped such a terrible lot of people consider Kinks' music crappy simplistic bullshit; but it also helps their music still stand out proud and loud, as fresh and sincere as it ever was. Today, most people are afraid to follow the same pattern - afraid of being ridiculed for not being smart, sarcastic, and ambiguous. Not that they don't have good reason: it's a real tough job to sound "childish" and not come out as "ridiculous", a job that, in my humble opinion, could only be successfully performed at the right time (the Sixties) and through the right people - with Ray Davies as the rightest of all the right people, of course. Two more things are mentionable here, both concerning Ray's skills as a lyricist. First of all, he may be the only serious 'no-nonsense' songwriter in rock music. Like I said, his songs are always straightforward, sometimes to the point of seeming too simplistic; that was just the schtick, though - to show that true art could be different from both the psycho wordgames of Dylan-like songwriters and the majestically pompous, but meaningless phrase combinations of the likes of Pete Sinfield. In later years, this could lead to terrible onslaughts of banality and self-repetition; but during the good days, Ray's ability to put it simple short and short while avoiding all the pitfalls was second to none. Second, beginning from Arthur, Ray has devoted his entire self to one subject: the problem of interaction between the individual and society. Individualism is the main theme that runs through a good two-thirds of the entire Kinks' catalogue, whether it be in a serious, contemplative form (Arthur), dressed in black humour (Muswell Hillbillies), or somewhat naive (Ray's mid-Seventies' rock operas). Again, one might find it uninspiring to see the same subject being milked for an endless amount of times (geez, bureaucracy must have really gotten on Ray's nerves), but, on the other hand, this contributes to Ray's image as the greatest humanist in rock'n'roll. True humanism is extremely rare in rock: being humanistic is usually considered either too banal or too unhip. And this also explains why lots of Kinks records didn't sell at all: setting aside the public's interests, Ray just presented his own 'little man's' panorama of ordinary life. Primitive? Banal? Grotesque? Derivative? In a certain sense - yes, although none of these epithets should be taken in a derogatory sense here. But in any case - oh so unique... Unfortunately, the fact that Ray and Dave stayed together through the 70's and 80's, dragging the band's name through a set of very, very mediocre, very, very monotonous, and very, very predictable albums, helped somewhat wash up their reputation. But even in that murky epoch they could sometimes come up with a goofy sort of success - like with 1979's Low Budget, for example. This sorry stagnation, along with several other factors (such as the lack of a "purely perfect" album), prevents me from revering the Kinks on quite the same level as the Big Four That Get Five, but they're almost up there, and while I'm usually being moderate about exploiting the "genius" tag, Ray Davies is one of those few artists who'd get this tag from me without a second question. If you're not overfamiliar with the Kinks, lemme just tell you they burst out on the scene in 1964 - which is a lil' bit later than the Stones but a lil' bit earlier than the 'Oo - with the following line-up: Ray Davies - rhythm guitar, lead vocals, lead songwriter, too; Dave Davies (younger brother) - lead guitar, sometimes lead vocals (thank God, not too often), sometimes songwriting; Pete Quaife - bass guitar; Mick Avory - drums. Of the latter two, Pete quit the first (by 1970 he was already replaced by John Dalton, who in turn was later replaced by Andy Pyle, who in turn... Jesus Christ, well, you know what I mean). Avory stuck around throughout the 70's, but somewhere around 1984 he called it a day and was replaced by Bob Henrit. Occasional keyboard players also joined the band, like John Gosling in the 70's and Ian Gibbons in the first half of the 80's. But overall it's Ray and Dave that do most of the work and are the biggest Kinks around.
Listenability: 5/5. Ray Davies hasn't been called one of the greatest songwriters of all time for nothing.
Resonance: 4/5. A total 5/5 for the early days, but brought down by too much straightforward and blatantly corny material afterwards.
Originality: 4/5. At times, Ray and company could be almost defiantly derivative, but still, wasn't it the band that pioneered both hard rock and Britpop almost at one time?
Adequacy: 4/5. Again, much of the Seventies' stuff is so unabashedly pretentious that I just have to cut 'em down a bit...
Diversity: 5/5. Together with the "great triad" of the B and the RS and the W, make out one of Britain's most original bands.
Overall: 4.4 = B on the rating scale. A very strong four, almost a five. Maybe a real five. Don't take it to heart.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8
Your average garage-band album - which is the synonym for 'random crap'.
Best song: YOU REALLY GOT ME, of course - nothing else even comes close.
Track listing: 1) Beautiful Delilah; 2) So Mystifying; 3) Just Can't Go To Sleep; 4) Long Tall Shorty; 5) I Took My Baby Home; 6) I'm A Lover Not A Fighter; 7) You Really Got Me; 8) Cadillac; 9) Bald Headed Woman; 10) Revenge; 11) Too Much Monkey Business; 12) I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain; 13) Stop Your Sobbing; 14) Got Love If You Want It; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) Long Tall Sally; 16) You Still Want Me; 17) You Do Something To Me; 18) It's Alright; 19) All Day And All Of The Night; 20) I Gotta Move; 21) Louie Louie; 22) I Gotta Go Now; 23) Things Are Getting Better; 24) I've Got That Feeling; 25) Too Much Monkey Business; 26) I Don't Need You Any More.
'Rock bands will come, rock bands will go. But rock'n'roll will go on forever.' This statement certainly applies to the Kinks' debut album - sure enough, there's a lot of rock'n'roll here, but where's the rock band? The songwriting is next to none, and when it's there, it's mostly primitive. The playing is nowhere above average, and when it is, it's Jimmy Page who's playing guitar. The production is murky, too, courtesy of the legendary Shel Talmy, unquestionably one of the two most hated thugs in rock business (together with Allen Klein). In all, a fascinating listen.
Don't be too quick in reaching for the stones. The problem was a rather standard one: the band was just starting, the producer was cramming them with horrible second-rate material, and, first of all, Ray wasn't yet confident about himself. There is one absolute gem here - the rave rocker 'You Really Got Me', often hailed as the first hard rock (read: heavy metal) song. Actually, it was the long-expected hit single that made the Kinks famous overnight - it shot to #1 as an arrow, and the band were rushed into the studio to cash in on its success, just like the Animals were rushed in on the wave of 'House Of The Rising Sun'. Problem is, the Kinks just didn't have the Animals' chops or the Animals' self-assuredness or even anything vaguely approaching the Animals' stunning image: the Kinks were just one of the hundreds of average British rock bands that accidentally happened to fall upon a new, rich, innovative sound. Accidentally, as legend has it that Dave Davies actually hit upon that guitar tone while absentmindedly poking his amplifiers with a needle... needle? heh heh heh. Anyway, 'You Really Got Me' is a hell of a great song. It has a nice, even though primitive, five-note riff - the first heavy riff in history, it builds up well and includes a mad one-string solo by Dave who complemented the grumbling riff by a deserving, chaotic instrumental passage. Oh, where would we be without that needle today? But don't just think of the song as a rough beginning, only important from a historical point of view: even today, the riff sounds completely fresh and invigorating, and the song strikes me as far more 'heavy' than ninety percent of these goofy hair metal bands or these equally goofy "post-grunge" outfits who want so much to sound 'heavy' but sound nothing but miserable. In a certain way, together with 'House Of The Rising Sun', 'You Really Got Me' was the most important number one single of 1964, and the one that really set the things happening... but not on this album, unfortunately. At least we should praise Ray Davies for including a whopping six original compositions (one in collaboration with Jimmy Page) on the album - at an epoch when even the Stones only dared to include one. Unfortunately, the poor young boy overestimated his forces. The instrumental composition 'Revenge' is ridiculously atrocious; chaotic harmonica lines and boring simplistic riffage don't make a good tune (besides, isn't it merely based on fidgeting with the melody of 'Cadillac'?). 'So Mystifying' is never even mentioned by reviewers, and for darn good reasons: it took me some time, but I finally got it - the song's a total rip-off of Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Now', a song which Ray certainly heard in the Stones' version and immediately cloned, changing the vocal melody in the chorus a bit (instead of 'it's all over now', they chant 'girl you're so mystifying') and adding far clumsier lyrics. 'Just Can't Go To Sleep' is oversweetened and unbelievably clumsy - goddang that Ray who can't even fit his lyrics into the rhythm and has to sing 'every night I just can't goat sleep'. The harmonica-driven 'I Took My Baby Home' is slightly better; actually, if we prefer to disregard the song's obvious debt to 'Fortune Teller', it comes across as a tolerable ditty, with vocal harmonies akin to those of The Animals (I'm referring to the 'whoa-whoa-whoa' refrain, you understand). It still reeks of Herman's Hermits, tho', so the only serious original composition, besides the obvious 'You Really Got Me', is Ray's stuttering ballad 'Stop Your Sobbing' - a true Kinks classic (well, "semi-classic") and one of the band's best attempts at imitating the Beatles' sound. Even so, the riff of that one is stolen from Phil Spector (who based about half of his songs on it, to be fair). And the covers? Well, the biggest problem with the covers is that Dave Davies takes lead on too many of them. Now I must say that, while Ray has got one of the most expressive voices in rock music, it took him some time to realize its full potential, and none of these songs are able to woo you with the sheer power of his tone, as would be possible with songs like 'Sunny Afternoon' or 'Autumn Almanac'. Much too often, he sounds bleak and dull. But no matter how bad he sounds on this debut album, the voice of his younger brother makes him comparable to Pavarotti, Shalyapin and Maria Callas all at once. I apologize beforehand, but Dave simply sounds like a rabid alcoholic in between two fits of vomiting. Add to this that the covers of 'Beautiful Delilah', the blues ode 'Long Tall Shorty' and the stupid R'n'B rave-up 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter' feature some pretty average musicianship, and you'll end up really thinking twice about ever putting this record on. It's all the more amazing how in just a few years Dave would finally master his voice and turn in a few decent performances ('Death Of A Clown', 'Rats', etc.); judging by these tunes, he's totally hopeless. The cover tunes on which Ray takes lead vocals aren't much better, either. Chuck Berry's 'Too Much Monkey Business' and Slim Harpo's 'Got Love If You Want It' (oops, sorry, that one's sung by Dave, too, only he's not so obnoxious) are okay. Not brilliant by any means - you'd be much better off with the originals, as the Kinks cannot hope to make these songs their own. They are no Stones and they are no Animals. They can't. Please forgive them. They hadn't yet figured out what to do. They were young, exuberant and reckless. They were even given two songs by producer Shel Talmy, one of which sports the title 'Bald Headed Woman', the other of which sports the title 'I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain' and both of which suck ass (sorry; I'm not the one to use rude words all the time, but there are cases where it's impossible to restrain oneself). They made a thoroughly embarrassing record and didn't give a damn. And please don't worry if you don't see it in a record store. The early Kinks market - the real early Kinks market - is in singles. Recently, I finally managed to get hold of the recent Rhino re-release - an essential purchase nowadays, as it complements the original album with twelve bonus tracks, almost a mini-LP of its own worth. Unfortunately, first time around these tracks date from some really early sessions and can't serve as a reliable counterpoint for the weak original LP as, say, the essential bonus tracks for Kinda Kinks, so I don't feel it is really necessary to pump up the rating because of them. The two absolutely necessary tracks here are 'It's All Right', the flip side to 'You Really Got Me', and 'All Day And All Of The Night', the successful follow-up single. 'It's All Right' is a groovy, kinda grim rocker with a solid upbeat rhythm, impressive harmonica fills and a cool nasal vocal delivery from Ray, plus there's a trademark chaotic section in the solo and unexpected changes in tempo, making this a somewhat complex composition for this period. And 'All Day And All Of The Night' is basically just an absolute re-write of 'You Really Got Me', clearly oriented on further cashing in on its success: the riff has been increased to nine notes instead of the former four, but all the other things stay in place, including the verse structure (quiet line - loud line with backing vocals - rip-roaring chorus), the obligatory one-string chaotic solo and the abrupt ending. Nevertheless, if you love 'You Really Got Me' (like me) and can't get enough of it, the track is a must. I also somewhat favour the fast rocker 'I Gotta Move', because I've always loved a simple, memorable, solid acoustic riff propelling a song. And the previously unreleased alternate take on 'Too Much Monkey Business' kicks the original right in the guts - it's at least twice as fast and exciting! Why they didn't put this fast version instead of the slow one totally baffles me, seeing as they don't do that many playing mistakes on the fast take. And, just for fun, the previously unreleased 'I Don't Need You Any More' sounds exactly like the Dave Clark Five - probably the band's one and only attempt to cop the unabashed "happiness" of the "Tottenham sound", with its upbeat guitars and joyful, ecstatic, interweaving vocal harmonies. Not half bad, but it was probably a good thing they never tried something like it ever again. Let the DC5 cop the Kinks, but don't let it happen vice versa. The rest is dismissable. There's their first single, a feeble version of 'Long Tall Sally', for some strange reason set to the melody of 'Lucille' - was this a hidden attack on Little Richard indicating that all of his songs are the same? Anyway, they recorded that one in haste after they'd learned of the enormous success the song has gained when popularized by Paul McCartney, but Ray is no Paul when hurling out the vocals, and the single predictably and understandably flopped. Then there are some more early, primitive Beatlesque singles like 'You Still Want Me' and 'You Do Something To Me', plus a late 1964 EP in its entirety. It also sucks in its entirety: the cover of 'Louie Louie' (a song that was next only to 'Too Much Monkey Business' in its British coverage; but why is Davies marked as author in the liner notes?) drags without any energy at all, and tracks like 'I Gotta Go Now', with the title representing the only lyrics throughout, as far as I can remember, or the ridiculous 'Things Are Getting Better', don't do much honour to the Kinks. So sorry. Anyway, pretty few people will argue that twenty-six tracks on an album is worse than fourteen: so if you really really dig early Britpop in its entirety, with its flaws and excesses, feel free to raise the rating of this album as much as you would like to. On YOUR site, that is!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
Kinda Katchy. Kinda Kool. Kinda Self-Komplacent. Still Kinda Kulpable.
Best song: TIRED OF WAITING FOR YOU; or SEE MY FRIENDS, if bonus tracks are included.
Track listing: 1) Look For Me Baby; 2) Got My Feet On The Ground; 3) Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me Worryin' About That Girl; 4) Naggin' Woman; 5) Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight; 6) Tired Of Waiting For You; 7) Dancing In The Street; 8) Don't Ever Change; 9) Come On Now; 10) So Long; 11) You Shouldn't Be Sad; 12) Something Better Beginning; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Everybody's Gonna Be Happy; 14) Who'll Be The Next In Line; 15) Set Me Free; 16) I Need You; 17) See My Friends; 18) Never Met A Girl Like You Before; 19) Wait Till The Summer Comes Along; 20) Such A Shame; 21) A Well Respected Man; 22) Don't You Fret; 23) I Go To Sleep.
Not a great deal better in the absolute way of things, but a breakthrough all the same. Major point in question: an absolute majority of the songs on this album are originals, something that wasn't yet quite the norm at the beginning of 1965. Not that Ray's attitude towards songwriting has changed all that much: he still views "pop songs" as two and a half minutes of simplistic teenage love sentiment, a long way to go to reach his "socially conscious" heights of the mid-Sixties. Same goes for Dave, except he's not much of a sentimentalist (you try to be a sentimentalist with that kind of voice now!) and sort of compensates for Ray's occasionally superfluous sap with occasionally superfluous raunchiness. His presence on the album is still rather inadequate, and Ray hasn't yet projected his superior dominion over the rest of the band; but he's slowly getting there.
One of the overall nice things to say is that, since by now they didn't have Jimmy Page kicking around anymore, they had little choice but to try and improve in the playing department. In general, the guitars sound a heck of a lot more interesting and entertaining; there's more diversity, as they successfully add acoustic-based tracks to the mix as well as combine different kinds of sound (like the brilliant mix of hard 'You Really Got Me'-type power chords with gentle Byrds-like jangle on 'Tired Of Waiting For You'). And the other thing is that the melodies are getting more interesting as well, not to mention more original: no more stealing and disguising, independence and creativity are on their way. Much of this stuff is still rough and crude, but it's safe to say that on each and every one of his compositions, Ray is at the very least trying to put his own distinct mark. 'You Really Got Me' might have been great in terms of sound and raw energy, but it's more or less universally understood that Ray's melodic skills always shone the brightest on the ballads; in accordance with that, the most striking songs on the original Kinda Kinks album are unquestionably 'Tired Of Waiting For You' (their third hit single) and 'Something Better Beginning'. Still a bit underarranged and underproduced (although the former is questionable for those who like it sparse and minimalistic), they're simply gorgeous. Easily the most gorgeous thing about them is Ray's singing. Obviously untrained, obviously unprofessional, obviously a little shaky and uncertain, obviously so much in violation of the general unwritten rules for pop singing - where did that come from? No way they'd let a singer like this ever break through the MTV walls of our time. Yet it is this exact kind of vocal delivery that goes best alongside these semi-developed melodies. I've already mentioned the trick combination on 'Tired...'; as for 'Something Better Beginning', after the intriguing "guitar-as-wedding-bell" intro, it dupes you into thinking it's simply gonna be one of those generic sugary Tin Pan Alley send-ups, all sweety romantic guitar chirruping and unmemorable atmospheric vocal cooing, and then it sends things right into the next dimension with the '...is this the start of another heartbreaker - or something better beginning?' chorus. And you're like, 'Wow! This guy's got class! I now give a solemn oath that I won't stop buying all of this band's albums right up to Phobia!' And you're gone forever. What else is new on the waterfront, Mr Postman? Well, Mr Postman also brings you a great Beatlesque rocker called 'Come On Now', the one where Dave Davies finally squeezes some convincing excitement out of his raspy set of voices, with extra assistance by means of weird female backing voices... female? Hmm. (I get a funny feeling the main riff is borrowed off 'I Feel Fine', although I hardly could prove that in court; I guess judges only rely on funny feelings when it comes to outlawing things like homosexual marriages). Dave also perfects his vocal cords on the hilarious boogie 'Got My Feet On The Ground' which is enjoyable for its highly... err... politicized lyrics. In other words, it's a brawny braggartish ditty which pictures Dave as a self-assured young Mod, quite unlike the future personal songs by brother Ray who would never picture himself as a strong or self-assured person. And yes, Dave somehow manages to pull it off decently - unlike the horrendous cover of 'Naggin' Woman' where he once again plays the part of a dying junkie; due to his powerful vocal cords, the song ranks among the worst offenders in the entire Kinks' catalog. The rest of the album doesn't look all that wonderful, but still most of the songs are an improvement over Kinks. Even if quite a few of these ballads are rather feeble, and Ray's overreliance on Beatlesque moods and tricks doesn't speak in his favour, they're still cozy. 'Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl' has a title that's about six or seven words too long, but it's interesting to see this purely acoustic, moderately dark solo turn from Ray, lending a whiff of introspectivity to the entire record. 'Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight' (the one clear rip-off on the album, borrowing its piano stomp from Marvin Gaye's 'Can I Get A Witness', like so many other songs of its generation) and 'You Shouldn't Be Sad' are routine pop filler which can nevertheless become endearing after a few listens. Ah well, too bad the band's only hope for quality control came disguised as Shel Talmy. Let us, however, not forget that in early '65, the LP was still little more than a musical dustbin for leftovers and filler for most pop bands; which makes it all the more important to get this album in its present form - the Rhino CD re-issue with almost as many bonus tracks as there are on the album itself. These tracks, most of them former single A- and B-sides or only found on obscure EPs, could so far only be located on compilations like Kinkdom or Kinksize or whatever they used to issue back when being a true Kinks completist was a job reserved for oil magnates and media bosses. Today, they're all happily gathered in one place, and their conglomeration actually trumps the album itself. I need only mention 'See My Friends', for instance, which is so far the first example of an Indian-influenced drone I've managed to uncover in rock history. So it doesn't have an actual sitar, but the guitars sure sound a heck of a lot like one, and it was indeed the outcome of Ray's visit to India, so there's no coincidence. The relaxed, static, lazy character of the song might also own a wee bit to the Byrds and their brand of "unhurrying" folk-pop, but the Byrds were one hundred percent "western" in mid-'65. The Kinks, as it turns out, were not. And again, Ray's highly personal, oh-so-friendly vocals fit the atmosphere to a tee, making this one of the most outstanding compositions of the year. But there's more to it. One of the band's most energetic rave-ups ever in 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy'. One of pop music's greatest pleads for "release" - 'Set Me Free', more exercising in the 'You Really Got Me' guitar sound but this time set to serve the needs of a gruesomely broken heart; that riff, coupled with Ray's complete desperation, practically invents the "power ballad" concept long before Jimi Hendrix put it to modern use with 'Little Wing', and way longer before the genre became so miserable through the evil deeds of arena rock/hair metal bands of the Seventies and Eighties. (You can find a real arena-rock version of the song on the live album To The Bone, where Dave 'embellishes' it with a few metallic guitar solos, and find out with surprise that the song loses none of its charm through that. It's all in the writing, man, all in the writing). There's the irrepressible catchiness of the repetitive, but never annoying 'Such A Shame'. There's Ray's initiation into the world of the Average British Commoner: 'A Well Respected Man' is the well respected bearded grandfather of all things social-Brit-pop related. Written nowhere near as breathtakingly as Ray's later successes (it would be much improved a little later when re-written as 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'), it's still interesting if only for historic reasons. I'm not going to name everything, or we might never get around to 1966, so I'll just finish by saying the only bonus track that doesn't really appeal to me at all is 'I Need You', simply because it's the third direct re-write of 'You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night', and the least exciting of the three, because it somehow managed to lose the cocky aggression of the lucky pair while at the same time retaining their primitiveness, and primitiveness without aggression is like sophistication without Rick Wakeman. It's a good thing they stopped after the third one; a less talented band in their place might have spent the rest of its life churning one remake of 'You Really Got Me' after the other, as long as there still were unused three-note sequences in the world. On the positive side, the album gets a wonderful, moody conclusion with 'I Go To Sleep' - a previously unreleased demo recording of just Ray sitting with two fingers on the piano, weaving a simple, mournful melody that never materialized into anything "bigger". For the better, perhaps.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
THE KINK KONTROVERSY
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
Edgy. Proving that little green amps ain't the only thing these guys like to stick needles in.
Best song: WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TIMES GONE
Track listing: 1) Milk Cow Blues; 2) Ring The Bells; 3) Gotta Get The First Plane Home; 4) When I See That Girl Of Mine; 5) I Am Free; 6) Till The End Of The Day; 7) The World Keeps Going Round; 8) I'm On An Island; 9) Where Have All The Good Times Gone; 10) It's Too Late; 11) What's In Store For Me; 12) You Can't Win; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion; 14) Sittin' On My Sofa; 15) When I See That Girl Of Mine (demo); 16) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion (alternate take).
This album has always held a little mystery for me. You know why? Because of the opening chords. Most people would probably call the Kinks' take on Sleepy John Estes' 'Milk Cow Blues' generic, passable, and forgettable, but that ain't what you call perspective. Adding perspective would mean that it's the only song on the album that sounds "that-a way", and maybe the only song in the band's entire repertoire, too. Maybe it was like a conscious attempt to outstone the Stones - you know, full force concentration on one goal. They still get something different as a result, but that's the best of it. In any case, no Kinks album ever had that kind of bizarre start to it.
'Milk Cow Blues' is crisp, dry, and as threatening and insinuating - for its time - as any garage classic from Nuggets. Even Dave's singing, normally one of the harder spots in your everyday life, fits it to a tee, and then there's the guitar assault which shows that the younger brother had been adding quite a bit of practice to the already overlapping spirit. For me, this is unquestionably the Kinks' highest point as competent R'n'B-rockers. From the subtle opening chuck-chuck-chuck guitar/bass interplay to the chaotic climaxes, it's all there. By the end of 1965, the Kinks were all set to outmatch the Pretty Things as Mother England's bloody wildest band. But then you hit upon the next eleven tracks and nothing of the sort happens. It's as if they finished recording the song, played the last chord, and then Ray said, 'okay, that's it. Now we're through with being rock stars and we're gonna concentrate on recording my misanthropic introspective ditties". 'Milk Cow Blues' did remain in their live set for quite some time, perfect hellraiser as it is, but very little on the album sounds anything like it. It's all pop - half of it still hearkening back to the past, the other half boldly looking forward to the future. "Kontroversy" indeed. (And while we're at it, might I be right in suggesting that the album's title is a veiled hint at the first delicate rifts in Ray's and Dave's overall strategies?). I think the signs of "rock star stress" are already beginning to show in the album's big hit single. John Lennon always used to say that about 'Help!' (the song) - how, on the surface, the song's desperation might seem just a standard pop simulation of the "she loves me, she loves me not" type, but how it was actually quite a real thing, masked with a poppy sheen. Something similar could be said about 'Till The End Of The Day'. Here the lyrics are... well, it's probably best said in Michael Aldred's original liner notes: 'Ray's lyrics are very simple, to the point of being basic. They mask the complex characters that evolve them.' Empty promotional phrases, to be sure, but also - quite coincidentally - quite true. The basic contrast is between the minimalistic, superficially-happy words - 'baby I feel good, from the moment I rise, feel good from morning till the end of the day' - and the voice that sings them. And the music that guides 'em. Like, it's a song that more or less continues the distorted onslaught of 'You Really Got Me', but it's no longer a re-write. It's much more melodic and it's got subtle mood changes and Dave's solo is no longer a spontaneous barrage of one-string garage notes but cleverly constructed and soaring to high-pitched ecstasy levels. And Ray does not seem to be feeling so good at all - on the contrary, he sounds like someone standing with his back to the wall, no place to hide. That's the song's main attraction. Maybe "you and me we're free, we do as we please", but I, for one, get visions of armies of people in grey enclosing "you and me" in a tight ring, equipped with a pair of straightjackets. Why else would Ray be sounding so miserable? If anybody's still in doubt about the double entendre of the big hit, there will probably be no misunderstanding when it comes to the single's B-side. 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone' is Ray's first, and easily one of the best (at least, freshest) attempts at a direct social statement. It's clear that the man has done some extensive Dylan listening, like all good English lads in 1965, and that listening gone and done him real good. The melody is simple, folksy, unassuming, and catchy, just like Bob would like it, and the vocal delivery is snappy, poisonous, and uncompromising. 'Daddy didn't have no toys/Mommy didn't need no boys' - goddammit, Raymond Douglas of X-Ray fame, why the hell aren't you writing lyrics like that any more? The scepticism gets carried over to the lazy, apathetic 'The World Keeps Going Round'; musically, it's still in the old ballpark (sloppy, slow garage-rock), but lyrically a direct precursor to everything from 'Sunny Afternoon' to 'Sittin' By The Riverside'. A nice trick is included when they quiet the song down to almost complete inaudibility and then end it with an unexpected bang - not really necessary from a, um, philosophic point of view, but nevertheless indicating that they're still interested in technical experimentation as well. And although 'I'm On An Island' formally is about lost love, there's no fooling the audience: by now we certainly know the real reason you're planting yourself on an island, Mr Davies. Not to mention that the song's pseudo-innocence, naivete, and playfulness invite plenty of associations with 'Apeman', which wouldn't come out until four years later and would be about anything but lost love. In contrast, it's pretty funny to see Dave try his hand at introspective songwriting. At this point, the best he can squeeze out of himself is 'I Am Free', a derivative, musically primitive "anthem" whose oh so exaggerated cockiness stands so much at odds with the deeper, subtler vision of older brother. Maybe he was just envious of the Stones who'd already proclaimed their freedom in a song called 'I'm Free' at the time. Or envious of elder brother who was suddenly discovered to be writing songs that weren't about girls. Whatever be the circumstances, Dave sure had a long long way to go - not that 'I Am Free' is particularly offensive or anything, but it does look hopelessly amateurish to me. That said, what with all the progress, the Kinks were still standing with one foot firmly jammed in the past, and the better they get at their new style, the blander they look when doing the "old" stuff. Who the heck needs so-so rockers like 'Gotta Get The First Plane Home'? It was marginally better when it used to be called 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy', but why leave us with an inferior version? The 'makes me wanna si-hi-a-hi-high' harmonies on 'When I See That Girl Of Mine' are cute, but they're so nineteen sixty-three, if you know what I mean. And while 'It's Too Late' is catchy and you can tap your foot and everything, something inside me tells the real reason they recorded it was to satisfy producer Shel Talmy's wish to play some guitar on a Kinks album and make history. They do land one achingly pretty acoustic ballad - 'Ring The Bells' - but it's anti-climactic position right after the smoking 'Milk Cow Blues' has always prevented me from enjoying it fully. The bonus tracks on the new Rhino edition don't really alleviate the situation. Of course, 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' is a timeless classic, a marking time single - proudly announcing that Ray has started his full-time job as the chief herald of socially-oriented Brit-pop - but two other tracks are just alternate mixes and one other, 'Sittin' On My Sofa', looks like a pointless blues jam trying to mask as an actual song. (I'd bet you anything that's Nicky Hopkins on piano out there, though, still very much in his 'Ox' mood, fresh from playing with the Who on their debut record). Maybe they should have spared a couple of the better bonus tracks from Kinda Kinks. Looks like a pretty discriminative situation to me. Still, when all is said and done, Kontroversy doesn't have any really really bad songs on it, and that's a plus - it's one thing to have forgettable, but agreeable filler, and another thing to subject the listener to cruel unstandard torture ('Naggin' Woman'? Anyone up for another take on 'Naggin' Woman'?). The Kinks have completed their arrival, and they have just finished unpacking their skills. With the next record, the real game would be about to begin.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
FACE TO FACE
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13
The first truly timeless Kinks' album, and their first venture into the world of Great Britain.
Best song: SUNNY AFTERNOON
Track listing: 1) Party Line; 2) Rosie Won't You Please Come Home; 3) Dandy; 4) Too Much On My Mind; 5) Session Man; 6) Rainy Day In June; 7) A House In The Country; 8) Holiday In Waikiki; 9) Most Exclusive Residence For Sale; 10) Fancy; 11) Little Miss Queen Of Darkness; 12) You're Lookin' Fine; 13) Sunny Afternoon; 14) I'll Remember; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) I'm Not Like Everybody Else; 16) Dead End Street; 17) Big Black Smoke; 18) Mr Pleasant; 19) This Is Where I Belong; 20) Mr Reporter; 21) Little Woman.
Heigh-ho! This is where The Kinks finally found a niche in which they were going to stay for at least ten years, and speaking frankly, they never ever got out of it totally - even after trading rock operas for heavy metal. The niche was that of a herald of the British empire, and Ray Davies, seeing as there'd been a vacancy or something like that, stepped up to the spot and led his band to explore the territory which had been previously explored by Charles Dickens and Jerome K. Jerome, but hardly by any rock musician. Unfortunately, the period of their huge musical growth also coincided with a steady decline in sales, and there can be no doubt considering the fact that Ray's musical decisions were often influenced by this commercial anti-success. Indeed. from then on The Kinks should probably hold the record for 'the most unsuccessful of all successful rock bands in the world'. Face To Face did chart, as far as I remember; but their obvious 'no' to psychedelia, acid and the groovy vibe in general proved to be fatal by 1967.
Aw, what the fuzz? To hell with it. Fact is, there's fourteen songs on this album, and if they were all great, I'd give this album a 10. Unfortunately, about a fourth part of them suck. The slow ballads 'Fancy' and 'Too Much On My Mind' (the former with its lack of memorable moments and the latter with its swooping and necessarily head-splitting bass line), for one, have never really captured my humble attention, as well as the closing 'I'll Remember'. The few rockers that are inherited directly from the garage period (by 1967 they'd correct this 'stupid mistake') are nice, but not spectacular: 'Party Line' boogies on modestly (the song's most notorious moment comes in the intro which features a ringing telephone for the first time), and 'Holiday In Waikiki' is an obvious rip-off of Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell', even though nobody but me seems to notice. As well as nobody ever notices that the bass riff of 'You're Lookin' Fine' is remarkably similar to the one on 'Hey Bulldog'. Could John have ripped it off? I mean, c'mon - subconsciously? Just like he subconsciously ripped off The Who on 'Dear Prudence'? Eh? Never mind. Actually, I'm not at all displeased by the Chuck Berry rip-offs and so-so rockers, as they do a nice job of keeping the energy level at a relative high, a thing so badly lacked on their following record. Even so, it's not the rockers, which are already on the way out, but rather the little pictures of ordinary British life that really make this album: the mother lamenting for her long-lost daughter ('Rosie Won't You Please Come Home', one of the most wonderful numbers with Ray singing against a menacing bass line in the refrain), the dandy looking for girls ('Dandy'), the rich ('A House In The Country', 'Most Exclusive Residence For Sale'), the poor ('Sunny Afternoon'), the obscure and mystical ('Little Miss Queen Of Darkness'), and, of course, the weather ('Rainy Day In June'). Out of these, besides 'Rosie', I'd highly recommend 'Rainy Day In June', a slow, moody, threatening epic clearly influenced by Lennon's 'Rain', if only for that lazy, relaxed and simultaneously dark and ominous atmosphere, and nobody should bypass the great sing-along number that is 'Sunny Afternoon', with Ray adopting a sweet, lazy, idle tune which suits the lyrics one hundred percent and certainly transforms the songs into a great anthem of British life. There's also a serious advance in production values on this record. While the band was still working with Talmy, it's obvious that they were exploring the studio potential with far more zest than ever before: none of the songs sound like they were recorded in a leaking garage, and that's important: for such a 'serious' record the regular sloppy garage-band treatment would simply be a blasphemy. Numerous sound effects, like ringing phones, strikes of lightning, and swimming pool noises make their way on here, and all the instruments sound quite clear and sharp and tasty. Not to mention that the band has booked Nicky Hopkins into the studio, and he adorns many of the numbers with intricate piano and harpsichord parts; his help is so grandiose that Ray even dedicates an entire song to him, the sensitive, socially biting 'A Session Man'. A very convincing effort, indeed, and one of the most groundbreaking, blatantly 'artistic' rock records of 1966. Note that the album was supposed to be a concept one, with dialogue intermissions and far more sound effects than the actual number; however, the idiotic record company (or was it Mr Shel Talmy?) was against it, so all they have left are the telephone at the beginning of 'Party Line', the rain and thunder on 'Rainy Day In June' and a couple of other things. The bastards! They have deprived the Kinks of their Sgt Pepper! Who knows how rock music could have fared if... ah, forget it. Nobody would buy no stupid 'kinks' anyway. And anyway, this is still a concept album - it has a lot more concept than Sgt Pepper, for that matter. All the more amazing, as the great leap from Kontroversy still remains a mystery to be solved: the Beatles never advanced that fast. The new Rhino re-release is flabbergastingly great: besides a couple of fillers, it includes such great numbers of the time like the notorious singles 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and 'Dead End Street' (the former is the first appearance of self-exaltation on a rock record, the latter sounds like it could have been sung by Mr Alfred Jingle in prison), as well as one of my favourite Kinks songs of all time, 'Mr Pleasant' which is about a dude called Mr Pleasant whose wife goes out with another dude and 'things aren't so pleasant after all'. It has the most jabberwockingly great music hall melody of all time - full of subtle changes of key and charming harmonies, funny and sad at the same time. Rumour hath it that it was a single and it badly flopped. Well, what can I say? People are arguably idiots. ALL people. At least, ALL people who didn't buy that single in 1967. And hey, have you noticed how much Dave Davies' vocals have improved since the early days? When I listen to 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else', I actually like the way he sings: passionately, convincingly, and cleverly concealing the weaknesses of his vocal cords instead of exposing them. Oh, he also takes lead vocals on 'Party Line', and they're tolerable, too. His best hour was yet to come, of course, on the next record. Note, please, that my rating of 9 relates to the Rhino release. Without the bonus tracks it would only amount to 8 or maybe even 7 - unfortunately, the percent of filler on the original album is that great.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
A bit of a smudgy effort, but overall a fine successor to Face To Face. You gotta dig that style!
Best song: WATERLOO SUNSET
Track listing: 1) David Watts; 2) Death Of A Clown; 3) Two Sisters; 4) No Return; 5) Harry Rag; 6) Tin Soldier Man; 7) Situation Vacant; 8) Love Me Till The Sun Shines; 9) Lazy Old Sun; 10) Afternoon Tea; 11) Funny Face; 12) End Of The Season; 13) Waterloo Sunset; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Act Nice And Gentle; 15) Autumn Almanac; 16) Susannah's Still Alive; 17) Wonderboy; 18) Polly; 19) Lincoln County; 20) There's No Life Without Love; 21) Lazy Old Sun (alternate stereo take).
People often consider this as the Kinks' finest hour, but me, I must vehemently disagree. This is not the Kinks' finest hour. It's a good album, an essential album, it's an album that presents the Kinks in all their dreamy British glory; and yet, it's worse than Face To Face, in fact. And why? Well - because it sounds boring! Of course, I can't say that about all the songs, but the general atmosphere of the album is so lazy I usually have trouble trying to listen to it to the very end. See, by this point in their career they've abandoned all their pretensions to be a hard-rockin' band, leaving all that stuff to bands like the Stones and the Who, and concentrated entirely on the music-hall Victorian British music. The good side of this is that they're so highly professional and successful in this genre nobody can even come close: the bad side is that they're also starting to lose parts of their originality, repeating the same themes and chords over and over again.
Just see for yourself: for every really good tune on the album you get a duffer or at least what I'd call a duffer. 'David Watts' opens the album on a highly optimistical note, moreover, it is the only real fast song on here (but do not fool yourself: this is NOT rock'n'roll, it's just fast retro piano pop), and you can't help singing along to all those silly 'fa-fa-fa-fa''s. Dave's 'Death Of A Clown' is, I confess, one of his best contributions to the entire catalogue, and he even manages to disguise the poorness of his vocals. But then we go off onto yet another set of Brit characters, just like on Face To Face; this time, however, the accent is mainly made on lyrics and 'concept'. What happened to the memorable melodies? 'No Return', 'Situation Vacant', and 'Funny Face' are all prime filler - neither do they have any memorable hooks nor well-structured and attractive melodies. Okay, after a lot of listens I take it back about 'Situation Vacant' - I at least love these little organ fills functioning as counterpoints to Ray's piercing vocals. But I stand by the statement that 'No Return' is just a sludgey sentimental ballad that hides the total lack of melody behind Ray's vocal charms, while 'Funny Face' may be a complex Dave tune, but it's also an insipid, bland Dave Davies tune. Slightly better are Ray's tale of two confronting sisters and his addiction to five o'clock tea (both 'Two Sisters' and 'Afternoon Tea' at least have a memorable and charming refrain). Dave contributes another weak ballad ('Love Me Till The Sun Shines'), and try as I might, I just can't understand why some critics who diss early Kinks' ballads love this one. Cuz it sounds just like the ones on the first album. In other words, it sucks. Hey, but calm down! Not all is lost! Ray's totally Anglicized ditties 'Tin Soldier Man' and especially 'Harry Rag' sound great, probably because they are the closest to British folk music on here, and God knows I love good British folk music. The strange martial rhythms on both of these songs, when combined with Ray's biting lyrics ('Harry Rag' seems to be about pot, for instance), produce a really strange, enthralling effect. 'Lazy Old Sun' is a significant half-Brit, half-psychedelic anthem which I just have trouble to listen to because it's so damn slooow and mooooody and booooring (I'd bet you anything this is a good song to listen to when you're stoned). And the final two tracks - the nostalgic, melancholic 'End Of The Season' with French pop influences and the magnificent ballad 'Waterloo Sunset' which pretty much defines the word 'beautiful' (in a way that you can say: 'What is beautiful? Ever heard 'Waterloo Sunset?' That's beautiful for you!') - are a great way to close the album. 'Waterloo Sunset', in fact, has really become an indisputable gauge of gorgeousness for almost anybody who's had the luck to hear it - ???? Wow! Opening and finishing the record on a high note and putting all the filler in between! Now that's the way to make an album!.. Of course, the album is almost unmatched if it's the lyrics, not the actual chords, that you're looking for. Ray's lyrical abilities have fully matured, and, while he'd go on to stun us with his word imagery for at least four or five more years and produce quite a fair share of equally impressive lyrics, he'd never top the great 'portrait gallery' that's hung out within the limits of this record. Teenage ambitions, sufferings of the low-classed, romantic feelings of the simple ordinary people, traditional British values, stereotypic British characters... the lyrics sheet can be a real revelation. Plus, the Rhino re-release has some cool bonus tracks, most notably the terrific single 'Autumn Almanac' which surprises me as being one of the first multipart compositions (kinda like an abbreviated version of Thick As A Brick or anything like that) where all the parts are great - tight, compact, charming and memorable. Nostalgic, too. British, too. One of their best Brit anthems, no doubt. The other tracks don't rise to that standard, though: there are some mediocre Dave songs like 'Susannah's Still Alive' (they flopped, so he decided not to have a solo career after all, even if he did have such plans at first). 'Act Nice And Gentle' sounds like an outtake from Face To Face, so it's fun, and both 'Wonderboy' and 'Polly' have their moments, but overall the bonuses aren't as strong as the ones on Face To Face or Kinda Kinks. Except for 'Autumn Almanac', of course.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
LIVE AT KELVIN HALL
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
Could have been quite entertaining - but what could a live album from the mid-Sixties sound like?
Best song: SUNNY AFTERNOON
Track listing: 1) Till The End Of The Day; 2) A Well Respected Man; 3) You're Lookin' Fine; 4) Sunny Afternoon; 5) Dandy; 6) I'm On An Island; 7) Come On Now; 8) You Really Got Me; 9) Milk Cow Blues/Batman Theme/Tired Of Waiting For You/Milk Cow Blues; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Till The End Of The Day (stereo); 11) A Well Respected Man (stereo); 12) You're Lookin' Fine (stereo); 13) Sunny Afternoon (stereo); 14) Dandy (stereo); 15) I'm On An Island (stereo); 16) Come On Now (stereo); 17) You Really Got Me (stereo); 18) Milk Cow Blues/Batman Theme/Tired Of Waiting For You/Milk Cow Blues (stereo).
The title should suggest that this is a live album - even to the most mentally deficient reader, that is. However, even the most mentally deficient reader could also predict what kind of live album that is, especially if he's heard contemporary efforts like the Stones' Got Live or the Beatles' Hollywood Bowl. The screaming girls constitute the main attraction, and even if they can sometimes transform their chaotic whining into a great sing-along to 'Sunny Afternoon' or a strange 'Happy Birthday To You' (Ray's birthday? Congratulations, Mr Davies!), most of the time they prefer to stick to general hysteria. The actual performance, if listened to with enough care, turns out to be great. Just as Live At Leeds was a hard-rock antidote for the artistic Tommy, this one's a garage-rock antidote for the Dickens-flavoured Face To Face (the performance was recorded well before the release of Something Else). Sure, it does contain 'Sunny Afternoon' and two Brit character descriptions (a good version of 'A Well Respected Man' and an almost unheard 'Dandy'), as well as the lightweight 'I'm On An Island' from Kontroversy. And it's somewhat strange to hear these quiet, psychological tunes, delivered in more or less the same arrangements as the studio originals, performed live amidst a sea of screaming girls. The very idea of the audience going wild and completely off its head to lyrics like 'He's a well respected man about town/Doing the best things so conservatively' seems kinda ridiculous to me, but what the hell, they could have sung 'It Was A Very Good Year' and received the same kind of reaction. And I'm positively torn over 'Sunny Afternoon', because the performance, immaculate and captivating as it is, stands so much at odds with the teenage frenzy that it almost spoils all the fun. It's a wonder, though, that as if by magic, at Ray's command the audience stops the screaming as one and launches into the anthemic refrain - something the Beatles could probably never have managed.
Then again, the rest is gruff, in-yer-face rock-n-roll, bashed out with a considerable amount of force and self-assurance (at least, by that time they really managed to play their instruments on stage). Even if you cannot hear a single note, you're sure to be caught in the general frenzy, fury and fun from the very first chords of 'Till The End Of The Day', a fantastic show opener. 'You Really Got Me' hits almost harder than the original, and this is where the screaming comes in handy, the only thing spoiling the picture being the strange 'blooping' noises emitted by the bass. It's also great to hear a female backing vocals-free version of 'Come On Now' with Ray and Dave trading verses and singing backup to each other. And the final medley of a successful blues cover ('Milk Cow Blues'), the inevitable 'Batman' theme (just imagine that the Who did it too! What was that - a general obsession?), and 'Tired Of Waiting For You' even suggests me the horrendous idea that the band was sometimes going for a 'jammy' sound of the likes of Cream and the Who - after all, it's more than eight minutes long! They are no jammers, though, so the effort could be totally dispensable if not for the fact that the instrumental passages are not very long and the 'secondary' themes woven in very carefully. Of course, by the time the record appeared on the market, it was somewhat late - the show was recorded on April 1, 1967, and by 1968 neither the Kinks really sounded like that on stage nor the audiences were so wild. Blame the stupid Pye record company that not only delayed the release, but also mistook 'Till The End Of The Day' for 'All Day And All Of The Night', heh heh. You gotta keep that in mind; the record's sound quality should be compared to the 'first generation' of rock live albums, not to Leeds or Ya-Ya's. As usual, fate was kinda unjust to the poor band. The Rhino re-release has both the mono and stereo versions of the album, even though I don't consider this a very good idea. Essentially, this is just a poorly recorded album with loads of noise; without headphones, both versions sound about the same, and listening to it in headphones is simply not a very good idea cuz it just might cause permanent ear damage. Why couldn't they disinter some more good ol' tapes instead? The Who have done it for Leeds - what's the matter with this one? Do they really expect us to listen to the same album twice without pauses? OK, so some people might prefer the newly issued mono version; me, I don't give a damn - the girls' screams overshadow both of them. Which actually reminds me that the Stones' Got Live sounds a lot better (and I don't mean the two studio songs disguised as live cuts). Yeah, I know technology sucked back then, but still - this could have been a better job. Get it, still. And if you see an album entitled The Live Kinks - grab it as well, 'cause it's the name of the original American release. Apparently the American public wasn't supposed to enjoy the term 'Kelvin Hall'. Hmm. Were the American record people trying to hide the Kinks' Britishness from American audiences? Another point in pointing out that record people are a bunch of tasteless idiots...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14
Culmination of all the Britfest. Fantastic melodies, too.
Best song: VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY
Track listing: 1) The Village Green Preservation Society; 2) Do You Remember Walter; 3) Picture Book; 4) Johnny Thunder; 5) The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains; 6) Big Sky; 7) Sitting By The Riverside; 8) Animal Farm; 9) Village Green; 10) Starstruck; 11) Phenomenal Cat; 12) All My Friends Were There; 13) Wicked Annabella; 14) Monica; 15) People Take Pictures Of Each Other.
A series of overimportant firsts for the lads here: the first album without Shel Talmy (at last!), the first album to ensure Ray's absolute leadership in the band (no Dave vocals nor songs), the first totally transparent concept album (almost a mini-'rock opera'), the first album with almost no serious stinkers (not a single truly boring song on here). Ain't that enough to get a 10?
Now, seriously speaking, I don't find this album as good as lots of people say it is. I still give it a 10 because I feel this is extremely close to the best the Kinks could ever have the possibility to come up with, but there are a couple of defects - lemme just mention them before I start praising every single note. The general drawback is that the album displays a rather limited choice of styles - in fact, it's even more limited than on Something Else. All of these tracks come from the British music hall (with the possible exception of the slightly more rockin' 'Last Of The Steam Powered Trains' and 'Wicked Annabella'), and the sound is somewhat monotonous - frankly speaking, I get a teeny-weeny bit bored toward the end. Even after a lot of listens, there's just something lacking about this record that often makes me reconsider the score. The monotonousness of the songs (hell, it's even reflected in song titles - we have 'Picture Book' vs. 'People Take Pictures Of Each Other' or 'The Village Green Preservation Society' vs. 'Village Green') sometimes gets me down. I do admit that monotonousness isn't always a serious defect - just look at George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, for instance - but when you deal with a sound as laid back, lazy, relaxed and un-rousing as the trademark Ray Davies style, it's very easy to get bored over forty minutes of this stuff. Very easy. So be warned - this stuff will seem great to you, but only if you have a penchant for the quiet country life. I still leave the ten, after months and months of reflexion, but it's definitely a weak ten as compared to the undoubtable, solid ten of Arthur. Oh, and there's a particular defect here, too: 'Big Sky' totally sucks because Ray recites his lyrics without singing them, and this immediately reminds me of Eric Burdon's style on Winds Of Change (yeah, follow that link and check out the rating). I mean, the melody of the song is all right, with a sharp, attractive acoustic track, but I'd really prefer Ray singing than reciting; leave that stuff for Preservation, please. But hey now, that's only one song out of fifteen, and that's OK. And, while the songs are lazy, this laziness hardly ever metamorphoses into complete lethargy or lack of memorable melody, like it often does on Something Else. All of the other tracks have at least a single hook, and most of them more than one. Like I said, the album is a concept one - the band is acting as a bunch of traditionalists protesting against the crumbling of traditional British (and, in a broader sense - all-human) customs and lifestyles; in fact, the true name of the album is The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society - so that nobody would doubt Ray Davies' sincere artistic impulses. It's no wonder, then, that the style is so peaceful and quiet, with 'idle' guitars and lax pianos swooping all around. If Face To Face was just selected pictures of English life and Something Else penetrated all kinds of social types, then Village Green is a more restricted effort: instead of diffusing himself all over the state, Ray chooses the quiet country life as his ideal, and most of the songs are devoted to this quiet and peaceful theme. The title track, a charming and very thought-provoking ode to British conservatism, is still my favourite on the record - and not only because of the wonderful allegories Ray is using to describe his 'tradition-saving program' ('We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity/God save little shops, china cups and virginity'), but also because of the melody and the wonderful aethereal vocal harmonies in the 'Waterloo Sunset' vibe. That doesn't mean that the others are throwaways - 'Do You Remember Walter' is nostalgia at its most romantic; 'Picture Book' is fun at its grooviest (don't you just love these imbecile 'NAAA-nah-nah-nah-nah'?); 'Johnny Thunder' is an entertaining boring song (truly, it has a refrain that sounds like a lot of bored people singing together, and it is entertaining); and 'Starstruck' is just a great song to dance to. I'll close my eyes on minor self-rip-offs - for instance, 'Village Green' borrows its melody from 'Harry Rag', though nobody seems to notice that, but that's a clever and unobtrusive rip-off in any case; and it's fully compensated by the wonderful ragtime rhythms of 'Sitting By The Riverside' or the totally unexpected elements of Latin music on 'Monica' (which you could possibly know as 'ai-ai shall die ai-ai shall die if I should lose Monica-a'...) Of course, those who like their Kinks loud and brash (that is, have lost the thread somewhere around 1966), will be seriously disappointed. The only track that comes close to 'menacing' is the parody number 'Wicked Anabella' which borrows so much from the Who's 'Boris The Spider' that it's practically impossible to view it as an independent serious effort (it's cute, though). The songs are predominantly acoustic - even when they do use electric guitars, they make them smooth and soft, and occasional bursts of stingin' electricity like the one in the already mentioned 'Last Of The Steam Powered Trains' really do not count. But the atmosphere that Ray tries to re-create here is really something unique in rock music: the Conservative Party must have been proud. The album sold miserably in the States, and that's perfectly understandable: it was totally, absolutely and undeniably unsuited to neither the American rock scene at the time nor the American lifestyle in general. Steam powered trains, strawberry jam and village green were not on everybody's number one list in 1968, and lines like 'picture yourself when you're getting old' were obviously aimed at anybody but the hip audiences of rock bands at the time. Fortunately, time heals all wounds, and it's good to see the album finally step into its rights and get due acknowledgement as of lately - thirty years after its release which is really a long time by the measures of modern history. One more proof to the fact that one has to work out of love for art - not of love for commercial success. And in that respect, the Kinks just couldn't fail. Sometimes I even wonder - you know, if Ray wasn't really making all this stuff with a hindsight - aiming at achieving success in retrospect, making something for his generation to enjoy not at the time, but several decades later. Probably not, but it still came out exactly that way. Funny, isn't it? P.S. I don't have the Rhino re-issue of the album, but I know that it includes both the mono and stereo versions of the album (doesn't sound like a great idea to me - I wish they'd dug out some more unreleased outtakes for it), plus the single 'Days' which is indeed a terrific song, one of Ray's most charming romantic ballads ever. The reissue is probably worth picking up for 'Days' alone, although any serious Kinks compilation should probably include the number as well.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
ARTHUR (OR THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE)
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14
Victorian Punk. Ever wondered what such a thing could be? Well, here you are!
Best song: SHANGRI-LA
Track listing: 1) Victoria; 2) Yes Sir No Sir; 3) Some Mother's Son; 4) Drivin'; 5) Brainwashed; 6) Australia; 7) Shangri La; 8) Mr Churchill Says; 9) She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina; 10) Young And Innocent Days; 11) Nothing To Say; 12) Arthur; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Plastic Man; 14) King Kong; 15) Drivin' (mono); 16) Mindless Child Of Motherhood; 17) This Man He Weeps Tonight; 18) Plastic Man (stereo); 19) Mindless Child Of Motherhood (stereo); 20) This Man He Weeps Tonight (stereo); 21) She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina (mono); 22) Mr Shoemakers Daughter.
If only I'd gotten this album before Village Green, there would be no doubt the latter would have been deprived of the 10 mark. As it is, I generously let both of them share the spot, but... Arthur is definitely better. Yet another in an endless string of concept albums, this one was originally envisioned by Ray as a soundtrack to some weird TV movie, but the project was scrapped at the last moment, so he was left with just the music. The subject is rather complicated, but you can read all about it in the liner notes. Suffice it to say that the lyrics on the album are among Ray's best ever poetical efforts: while lacking any signs of delicate intricacy (which is not that unusual for Mr Davies who usually avoids ambivalent expressions), it also offers a lot of thinking process to the listener - quite unlike the straightforward and rather banal lyrics of, say, Low Budget. It's about small people and their fates in general. Old people, too. Arthur must have been at least in his seventies. Do you understand now why nobody bought this record in 1969, with the title track going like 'Arthur we love you, want to help you'?
But enough of the lyrics. It's the melodies that are really captivating. Simple to the extreme, as usual, but unbelievingly catchy, funny and sincere, angry and raving at times, emotional and mystic at other times. Hell, since this is so great an effort, why not go over it track by track? The opening track, 'Victoria', is a punk's paradise: banal three-chord sequences, fast, pulsating rhythm, and shredded, muddy and exciting vocals. But the lyrics? 'Long ago, grass was green, sex was bad and obscene'. It's a dang classic! I love it! Then we go into the first of the anti-war hymns: the dreary 'Yes Sir No Sir' which manages to convey the army atmosphere of obeisance and horrible braindead discipline just fine. And 'Some Mother's Son' is a beautiful anti-war ballad whose psychologic depictions of 'two soldiers fighting in a trench' end up in a fantastic series of climaxes throughout the record. Then comes 'Drivin'' with its throbbing bass lines, beautiful vocal harmonies and words praising the beauty of picnicking on the grass - that's probably the only song that could have easily made it onto Village Green. The hidden gem on Side A, to my opinion, is 'Brainwashed' - a song which totally, uncompromisingly and absolutely eliminates the need for the existence of punk rock. 'Cause during its two minutes and three seconds it manages to encompass everything that's so important about punk (speed, simple guitar riff, angry vocals, hard-edged sound and anti-establishment lyrics) and much more (great embellishments provided by the horn section, memorability and originality). And, finally, the first side closes with the controversial 'Australia' which starts as an entertaining parody on TV commercials ('Australia, no class distinction, Australia, no drug addiction') and ends in a four-minute jam carried on by Dave Davies' interminable soloing. Most people hate it (in fact, all the reviews of the record that I've read punctuate this as the main defect), but I really can't get the point. It's not nasty or anything - it's just a bit too long. On the plus side, it's very moody and maybe if we knew what part of the movie it was bound to accompany we'd treat it better. I don't mind, really. Now the second side is just a teeny-weeny bit weaker than the first one, but you wouldn't know it from the opener. Because 'Shangri-La' gotta rank as one of the top three or four Kinks' songs ever. The way that Ray sings the opening verses, accompanied by just an acoustic and some horns in the background, is positively frightening and mystifying all at once. It invites a certain Gothic atmosphere which really isn't supposed to be there, but there it is: this old man, sitting in an armchair in his silent and gloomy 'Shangri-La' (which is actually the name of Arthur's mansion), pondering upon old times and looking back at his past life. Something's happening, really. Then this harpsichord enters the scene, and the spooky atmosphere is gone to give way to some mighty huge anthemic singing, then it goes off into a fast energetic part before reverting back to the harpsichord and one more refrain. In fact, the song might be the best ever hybrid of ballad and anthem I've ever heard: even the Who failed with such kind of things (see my review of Who's Next). Next comes 'Mr Churchill Says' with some more great melody-making: as is usual for this record, it is divided into a slow and a fast part, with the slow part being similar to 'Yes Sir No Sir' and the fast part being similar to 'Brainwashed'. Similar, but not identic. And this also means that you can either reflect on the song or just dance to it - or both, for that matter. 'She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina' is a charming piece of ragtime set to the most amusing social commentary on record. 'Young And Innocent Days' is the only really weak spot on the album: a quiet, acoustic ballad which doesn't have any real energy or force (rather like the kind of sloppy ballads Ray used to write years ago, like 'Ring The Bells' and stuff). It only has three short verses but manages to drag on for almost three minutes. Still, at least three minutes is not five or ten. Then one more average pop number - 'Nothing To Say' (with a catchy, but somewhat stupid melody, it was obviously written in order to fill in the concept), and the closing title track presents us with yet another great riff, some charming singing and these mighty lines: 'Arthur we love you, want to help you, somebody loves you, don't ya know it?' It leaves a real sense of accomplishment and even satisfaction. All's well that ends well. And have I told you how much I enjoy the arrangements and the playing? Because by that point the Kinks really knew how to use their instruments, and it shows, whether on Dave's competent and utterly enjoyable leads, or on Mick Avory's ferocious battle-style drumming - who'd ever believe this is the guy that kept being ushered out by session drummers in 1964! Just listen to his sticks on 'Shangri-La' or 'Princess Marina' and you'll understand that he's really responsible for a large part of the album's sound. So? Was this the best concept album of 1969? People usually compare it with Tommy, just because they came out at approximately the same time and were both 'rock operas'. If I followed suite, I'd have to admit that Arthur's concept is definitely higher. Not that I'm a great fan of Ray Davies' conceptualism: quite often it looks completely artificial, banal and even stupid. But this time, he'd got it right. He hit the bullseye. And he also strenghtened the concept with some incredible songs. Unfortunately, this would be the last album where music took on a higher priority than concept: starting with Lola, Ray would slowly abandon melody-making in favour of story writing. But right now and right here the balance is simply perfect. Also, this is definitely a rock album, unlike the quiet Village Green: the guitars roar, there's plenty o' solos and watch out for that speed! It never gets boring for me. Buy it now! Forgetting about the fact that nobody bought it back then, of course.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND, PART 1
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
Some pseudo-melodic fully-conceptual filler and some ultra-fantastic semi-conceptual songs.
Best song: LOLA, but APEMAN comes close
Track listing: 1) The Contenders; 2) Strangers; 3) Denmark Street; 4) Get Back In The Line; 5) Lola; 6) Top Of The Pops; 7) The Moneygoround; 8) This Time Tomorrow; 9) A Long Way From Home; 10) Rats; 11) Apeman; 12) Powerman; 13) Got To Be Free; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Lola (single version); 15) Apeman (demo); 16) Powerman (demo).
Ooh, how I hate these horrible album titles that tend to take up more space than the review itself...
Okay, so the story goes that somewhere around the spring of 1970 Ray churned out the most popular and commercially successful song of all his career which I wouldn't even want to comment upon because everybody knows it. The song was 'Lola', the subject matter was the protagonist's brief acquaintance and flirt with a travestite, the melody was incredibly involving and memorable, the bombastic chorus ('lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-Lola') became the Kinks' arena signature, and the single was one of their biggest international smashes, reinstating them as major artists in the USA as well. The problem was with putting it on an album. The song itself, as is obvious, mostly deals with transsexuality and nothing else; there's not too much social philosophy going on in there unless one presumes that the lines about a 'muddled up mixed up shook up world' actually mean more than is obvious at first glance. But the album on which it was finally included is almost entirely dedicated to the concept of the ups and downs (mostly downs) of record industry and hitmaking, and how these two subjects manage to fit in is an absolute mystery known only to Mr Ray Davies. Lola Versus Powerman? Transsexualism against corporate industry? You tell me... Then again, maybe the Kinks weren't the 'kinks' for nothing: there's no better way to flee the pressures of commercial success than in the embrace of a loving travestite. That's merely a hypothesis, mind you. :) Anyway, in the musical sense this album is really a huge disappointment after such a great record as Arthur. It still gets a relatively high rating just because it contains two genuine Kinks classics. 'Lola' is a great song, of course, and so is the pretty evolution/ecology anthem 'Apeman', which by the way doesn't fit in with the general subject just as well. I can't even understand which song I dig the most - it's 'Lola' on one day and 'Apeman' on another one. The latter song is especially soothing when you're pissed off at the world - well, everybody's supposed to have his or her moment of wanting to 'make like an Apeman'. But the rest of the tracks fall into three different categories, none of which are very much enlightening and some of which are rather ominous, predicting the general twist the Kinks' career would take further on, albeit in a less easily perceivable form this time. The first one of these is the actual 'moneygoround' concept where Ray was clearly far more worried about the lyrics than the actual musical background. 'Denmark Street'; 'Top Of The Pops'; 'Moneygoround'; 'Powerman' - all of them deal with the protagonist's commercial success and his lamentations on being totally dependent on the big bosses, and all of them rely on basic chord sequences, used at least a trillion times before. In fact, this is the place where Ray openly begins stealing melodies, quietly initiating the general routine of appropriating other people's inventions: the riff in the mid section of 'Top Of The Pops' is an unashamed rip-off of the golden oldie 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' (which I only heard played by Bill Haley, but it must have been a jazz classic). Which makes me wonder: how many more melodies whose ancestors I can't identify did Davies steal, and how much of the assumed Kinks' (and other bands as well) merits are really owed to people who lived and created long before them? That's a serious artistic paradox to you, folks. In any case, when you really try to compare the 'conceptual' tracks on here to the ones on Arthur, the regress is obvious: the songs are still rather complex, with multi-part arrangements, but with not even a third of the original musical ideas Ray displayed on Arthur. That said, none of the songs are unpleasant - 'Denmark Street' and 'Moneygoround' are even funny, being based on generic barroom piano shuffles and thus somehow predicting Ray's style on Muswell Hillbillies (typical Brit satire set to American lounge music). 'Top Of The Pops' rocks pretty hard, and 'Powerman' is the best of these numbers, with an interesting riff and a very catchy chorus, but it still doesn't rank as a great song - put next to the blazing power of 'Brainwashed' or the righteous fury of 'Mr Churchill Says', it's flat out dull and bland. The second category are sulky and clearly uninteresting ballads, none of which can rank beyond 'cute' - the obvious legacy of 'Young And Innocent Days', with Ray going more for a 'dreamy atmosphere' than an actual memorable melody. 'Get Back In The Line' is the only one of the three that might try to qualify, as it moves from the dirgey verses to the pseudo-bombastic chorus with a certain conviction, but there's nothing about 'This Time Tomorrow' apart from the half-pleasant banjo and Ray's melancholic intonations to distinguish it from your average uninspired pop ballad by any average band, and 'A Long Way From Home' is 'Young And Innocent Days Part II' - a primitive piano melody and a Traffic-style folkish chant that starts and ends nowhere. Not even a single trace of the wonderful Britpop style of yore: it's almost as if Ray was consciously moving beyond his cherished genre of 1966-68 and sticking to playing as generically as possible. And while I did get used to that idea (you should, too: otherwise you'd have to judge the Seventies' Kinks by their Sixties efforts, and that would be a catastrophe), it was a mighty terrible shock at first, as if the entire world collapsed and a new one, a bland and edgeless one at that, had completely replaced it. Finally, the third category is represented by Dave Davies returning to form, and his efforts could have been passable and maybe even admirable if not for the usual horrid vocals. Come to think of it, 'Strangers' could have been a hit - if not for the utterly idiotic, but pretentious, lyrics ('if I live too long I'm afraid I'll die') and the murky tone evocating Dave's worst moments on the early Kinks' records. But I gotta admit that melodically, 'Strangers' is the best ballad on the whole album - there are certain twists to the vocal melody that make it catchy and make you want to sing along. And the rockin' 'Rats' isn't that encouraging, either, but if the main idea was just to present an atmosphere of complete paranoia and utter mental self-destruction, it's completely adequate - the wild rhythm of the song, Dave's garage guitar chops and crazy screaming convey the feeling well. This is still the Kinks, of course - just not vintage Kinks - and it still gets my praises rather than complete condemnation. But what actually happened is that by this time Ray had clearly become more interested in presenting explicit narrative subjects than in writing clever lyrics and setting them to pretty melodies. It's the down side of all conceptual albums and rock operas, in fact: chasing after the plot, one forgets about the actual musical side of the project. Not that this particular concept is that entertaining, as well; Lola is the far precursor to Ray's childish operas of the mid-Seventies that managed to significantly profanate his reputation as that of one of the most intellectual songwriters of his generation. Moreover, Lola seems highly hypocritic: even if Ray was an expert in the matter, having gone through a lot of commercial trouble himself, by now the band were forming a part of the musical business themselves, so going out and bashing it on the record was a highly strange thing to do. They far overdid the same theme on Everybody's In Show-Biz, of course, but even here it sounds somewhat comic and insincere. And, of course, bringing in 'Lola' and making it part of the concept is such an obvious put-on that it really makes one question Ray's geniality... And hey! Why is this 'Part One', I wonder? Was Ray going to do a 'Part Two'? And if so, where is it? On the other hand, maybe it would be better not to ask... The recent Rhino re-release has some bonus tracks, but this time they're not thoroughly entertaining: an alternate version of 'Lola' with the original line 'it tastes like Coca-Cola' replaced by 'cherry cola' on the insistance of some BBC thugs, and an alternate version of 'Apeman' with Dave throwing in some electric lines to bad effect; thank God it was not used on the original version. The demo of 'Powerman' doesn't really sound much different from the original version, either.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
A weird movie soundtrack with the Kinks displaying some unusual musical... err... ideas.
Best song: MOMENTS
Track listing: 1) God's Children; 2) Lola (instrumental); 3) The Way Love Used To Be; 4) Completely; 5) Running Round Town; 6) Moments; 7) Animals In The Zoo; 8) Just Friends; 9) Whip Lady; 10) Dreams; 11) Helga; 12) Willesden Green; 13) God's Children - The End.
While this is definitely Ray's weakest moment in the entire "glory period" of 1966-72, I won't really be saying anything bad about this album: it's a soundtrack and it's supposed to be nothing else but a soundtrack, in the end. Of course, I haven't seen the movie and I wouldn't want to (it was about something like a penis transplant, as far as I've read and since the album cover suggests it, too). The music itself is quite good, in fact. About a half of it is instrumental, of course, but what can you expect from a soundtrack? Not to mention that it gives us a chance to witness Ray's inventiveness when it comes around to making real instrumental music, not just amusing drugged out jamming at the end of 'Australia' or something.
Sure enough, the instrumental bits are kinda weird - not particularly atmospheric or particularly well-played, but, well, just interesting in a special Kinky way. One of these instrumentals, by the way, is 'Lola', And it's played with gusto - with keyboards and guitars replacing Ray's voice to fair effect. The organ part sounds incredibly goofy to me, actually, but I suppose it's just an obligatory part of all the fun. The rest is a mind-boggling hodge-podge, with not a single number repeating the same style or ideas. Thus, 'Helga' has some good exercises in moody classical guitar; 'Completely' is a groovy blues number with a dark gritty edge, and 'Running Round Town' is a clear-cut rip-off of 'When The Saints Go Marching In' (at least, as far as that harmonica goes'. Not bad that, eh? Everything is fairly amateurish, but it sounds far more exciting than ninety-nine percent of "professional" soundtrack music that only bores you to death in all its moodiness and technical proficiency and slick production. In that way, even minor throwaway pieces like 'Whip Lady' are fun: just a very short one-minute instrumental that starts out with some tinkling pretty piano and then midway through is transformed into a rocker with special guitar effects and pounding drums. Forgettable, but kinda cute... As for the actual songs, they are OK, but it is obvious they were written specially for the film and Ray wasn't really very much interested in songwriting at the moment. This explains why, for example, the pretty but unoriginal 'Animals In The Zoo' is in fact 'Apeman No. 2', with both the melody and the lyrics following the same pattern; I don't say 'rip-off' or 'recycling' because that wouldn't be completely true, but the message and the atmosphere are basically the same, not to mention the similar 'bouncy' feel of the song. 'Willesden Green' is 'Village Green' (in case nobody has noticed): its country intonations, indeed, remind of that classic, but here it sounds more generic and conventional and consequently more dull. Also, the vocals are practically unrecognizable on this one. 'Dreams' and 'The Way Love Used To Be' are rather weak ballads (although, to be honest, I feel more true emotion and sincerity on the latter than on the pro forma ballads off Lola), and even the strongest tracks on here - the opening 'God's Children' and the trebly-vocalized 'Moments' really fall short of the standard once again. They essentially sound like outdated outtakes from the VGPS sessions with weaker lyrics and an unpleasant emphasis on preachiness: first signs of Ray's slow, but imminent degradation into simplistic banalities. I mean, couldn't 'God's Children' easily fit on Preservation? Even if in that case the song would still overshadow most of the material from that wretched 'opera'. That doesn't mean they're bad songs: Ray was still on a relatively high roll at the time, and no preachiness can overshadow the fact that the melodies of 'God's Children' and 'Moments' are oh so nice. I'm not entirely pleased with the overreliance on orchestration: understood, it's a soundtrack, but far too often Ray slips into corny Sinatrisms that are by no means acceptable from the Kinks. Oh well, so far there's really no need to worry. Remember, it's just a soundtrack. What do you expect? A miracle? Yes, this certainly is a recognizable Kinks album, but it's drenched in mediocrity, Hollywoodery, and melody-recycling; and it was probably released only to end their contract with Pye records - apparently, the record company didn't quite get the message of Lola and was milking the poor artists further, so they were only too glad to leave their long-time masters and begin their lengthy period of short-time associations with miriads of different labels. (Which for quite a long stretch of time was a tragedy for me - any of their 1971-75 RCA releases, including the last of their great classics, Muswell Hillbillies, are absolutely unavailable in Russia. So I had to wait until my trip to Italy (sic!) to lay my hands on the freshly released Velvel re-issues. And here they are!)
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13
Successfully marrying pictures of Brit life with American ragtime tunes? Whoa!
Best song: 20TH CENTURY MAN
Track listing: 1) 20th Century Man; 2) Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues; 3) Holiday; 4) Skin And Bone; 5) Alcohol; 6) Complicated Life; 7) Here Come The People In Grey; 8) Have A Cuppa Tea; 9) Holloway Jail; 10) Oklahoma USA; 11) Uncle Son; 12) Muswell Hillbilly; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Mountain Woman; 14) Kentucky Moon.
This is a hell of an important album, 'cause it heralds a series of firsts and lasts for the Kinks. First of all, it's the first album on their new record label, RCA, which had the grace to pick them up after they'd been thrown out of Pye. Unfortunately, the poor RCA guys didn't get what they wanted, which was a commercial hit single band. What they got was a total departure from everything the Kinks were known before. Indeed, at some point in his career Ray took on a specific Dylan-ish attitude towards the audiences, which is to say he didn't give a damn whether anybody liked his prolific musical output or not. This attitude lasted throughout all of his RCA period, so the 1971-1975 records are usually despised. With one exception. Muswell Hillbillies, the last universally acclaimed Kinks' classic album.
What makes Hillbillies such a fascinating listen now, more than twenty-five years since its release? It's a far cry from Arthur, both lyrically and musically: the seriousness and philosophy, the deeply-penetrating social critique seems to have evaporated in favour of lightweight satire and plain, old-fashioned humour, while the fascinating guitar melodies have given way to a strangely out-of-place jazz/ragtime sound, with lots of songs being just minor variations on the themes of pop songs from the Twenties or around that time. But somehow it all seems to work and never gets boring - a little mystery on account of Mr Ray Davies, the Muswell Hillbilly boy. Maybe the greatest feature of this record is that it manages to make a really unique combination. Instead of setting his Britfest lyrics to English music hall tunes (like on Something Else) or to drivin' rock'n'roll (Arthur), Ray has suddenly hired a decent jazz band (three guys who were to accompany the regular band for a long time from now on) and put his grim descriptions of English working class people in the frame of American jazz and ragtime. In fact, the very title of the album symbolizes this 'marriage': Muswell Hill was the district where Ray lived in his childhood, while the 'Hillbillies' come from the Beverley Hillbillies, of course. Really weird. To conclude this little "introduction", let me just say that the combination of generic American melodies, biting British satire, Ray's sharp brand of black humour, and his inimitable vocal stylizations, make this a true classic - one of the most perfectly balanced "lyrics-music-singing" trios I've ever heard. In other words - a record that has basically no distinguishable parallels in the world of rock music. None at all. Most of the songs could have been described as 'nothing special', but almost all of them have at least something to capture your attention and settle themselves cozily in your memory. Thus, 'Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues', with its screeching New Orleanian brass licks, produces a fascinating contrast between the jolly melody and truly paranoid lyrics; the bebop 'Skin And Bone' is just great to tap your foot to; 'Complicated Life' and 'Have A Cuppa Tea' are terrific singalongs, the former having the most amusing lyrics Ray ever produced up to date, the latter being about Ray's grandmother; 'Here Come The People In Grey' is a shiveringly sincere picture of total mental deficiency; and just listen to what Ray does to his voice on 'Holiday' to get that genuine Twenties' radio sound - and it works (actually, what he is really doing is singing with a cigar in his mouth: try it and you'll understand)! The real weird song on here is the famous 'Alcohol' which goes even beyond jazz limits: it has something of a gypsy sound to it, or at least a very deep-lying folk sound, and you won't find anything else in the Kinks' catalogue (in fact, in any rock band catalogue) that resembles this lament for a boozer. However, if there is a real classic on the album, it's really the album opener. '20th Century Man' sounds completely out of place on the record (musically, of course; lyrically it's just another piece of social, anti-modernistic critique with the great lines 'you keep all your smart modern writers/give me William Shakespeare/you keep all your smart modern painters/I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci and Gainsborough'), and if ever you heard it and liked it, don't rush out to buy the album. It's the only real piece of rock'n'roll on record, bouncing along at a fast tempo with vicious slide guitars, throbbing, almost genuinely paranoid drums and swirling Hammond organs. The real highlight, of course, is Ray's singing, going from a trembling, insecure, also paranoid tone and slowly mounting to a furious scream. The way the tension mounts on the song, from the opening acoustic strumming and up to the final instrumental thunderstorm, is simply unbelievable. Don't forget to check out a great live version on One For The Road. Oh, sure there's a little filler on record, somewhere near the end, I guess (I've never been a fan of 'Uncle Son', for one, and the title track is somewhat simplistic, even though catchy, intelligent and anthemic all at once), but it's passable and certainly inoffensive. And the gentle ballad 'Oklahoma U.S.A.' might seem sloppy, but in reality it's not: I've suddenly realized that this is as much of a highlight as all these other highlights, with its sad story of a girl's useless and psychic fantasies. The recent Velvel reissue which I had the luck to obtain has two bonus tracks, both unreleased outtakes, and it's easy to see why: even though the melodies on both of them seem quite fit for inclusion, the lyrics just don't fall into the scheme: 'Mountain Woman' lyrically is a sequel to 'Apeman' (even though the 'plot' is comparable to 'Here Come The People In Grey'), while 'Kentucky Moon' is sung from a purely 'American' point of view ('never been south of the Delaware'), so I guess Ray was just getting in the mood on these ones. Thanks to Velvel anyway for including them - they're certainly worth a listen. And may I mention here that these re-issues are terrific? They come with great packaging, extensive liner notes and clever bonus tracks. Is Velvel competing with Rhino, I wonder, for the title of 'best Kinks publisher', or is it just a friendly agreement?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
EVERYBODY'S IN SHOW-BIZ
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
More of the same, really, but you know sequels tend to get a little worse...
Best song: CELLULOID HEROES
Track listing: 1) Here Comes Yet Another Day; 2) Maximum Consumption; 3) Unreal Reality; 4) Hot Potatoes; 5) Sitting In My Hotel; 6) Motorway; 7) You Don't Know My Name; 8) Supersonic Rocket Ship; 9) Look A Little On The Sunnyside; 10) Celluloid Heroes; 11) Top Of The Pops; 12) Brainwashed; 13) Mr Wonderful; 14) Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues; 15) Holiday; 16) Muswell Hillbilly; 17) Alcohol; 18) Banana Boat Song; 19) Skin And Bone; 20) Baby Face; 21) Lola; [BONUS TRACKS;] 22) Till The End Of The Day; 23) She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina.
This is a double album, half-live, half-studio (oh boy, where are we? Is it Cream or what?) The studio part is yet another concept, as you might have guessed by simply glancing at the album cover and contemplating the title. It mostly features the same jazz/ragtime sound as Hillbillies, with an enormous brass section and not a teeny-weeny bit of rock'n'roll in sight, but the thematics is somewhat different. This time it's more introspective: instead of bashing the 'wonderful world of technology' and the ominous 'people in grey', Ray preferred to write about his life on the road and the personal problems he's got to cope with while living a life of stardom. The result is somewhat mixed, but overall I wouldn't say that the album is much worse than Hillbillies, as seems to be the general conception. It's just that it isn't too different, and second time around it's not that entertaining. The lyrics are nowhere near as biting and amusing, and when they are, there's still a nasty feeling of deja vu - for instance, why the hell do we need to listen to 'Maximum Consumption' after 'Skin & Bones'? And the melodies are a little bit less catchy and more complex, but that was the fun of Hillbillies - the melodies on that album needed to be as generic as possible in order to fit the concept. Trying to be truly creative within that genre, on the other hand, would be akin to a circus clown suddenly starting to behave like a clown in his intimate life.
Nevertheless, the album opener ('Here Comes Yet Another Day') is quite strong, with a terrific brass/guitar onslaught that's bound to get you going - it recreates the hurly-burly of a busy person's everyday life to a tee, and I love that reckless drive. And well, when you start examining the following songs one by one, out of touch with each other and particularly out of touch with the previous album, none of them suck. Funny thing is, there ain't a single bad melody on the entire album - sure enough, some are just ripped off, but they aren't bad, because Ray never ripped off bad melodies. It's just that without the sublime lyrical touch, these melodies don't often amount to much. 'Maximum Consumption' more or less follows the melody of 'Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues', with the same stomping, erratic New Orleans beat and brass pumping out of every hole, but is ultimately salvaged by Ray's hilarious vocal delivery. Likewise, 'Unreal Reality' is just a big jazzy hoot, particularly the opening and closing lines that sound like they'd been lifted directly off some pompous Broadway performance; it is strictly tongue in cheek, of course, but nowhere near as clever and sublime as... as you know what. And 'Look A Little On The Sunny Side' suffers from being far too generic, while its subject matter returns us to Ray's beloved thematics of 'poorboy artist never getting his due', this time with an optimistic slide, though, because whenever things go too rough and 'the cynics will all be out to get you', you're invited to do exactly what the title proclaims. Still, I find myself digging the tune - apparently, there's still some of the Kinks' old magic left. The countryesque side of the new-look Kinks, meanwhile, is represented by the album's catchiest number, the charming 'Hot Potatoes' with tasty slide guitar and groovy vocal harmonies, the fast, bouncy 'Motorway' ('motorway food is the worst in the world' - how deeply true), and Dave's 'You Don't Know My Name' (oh yes we do, Mr Davies - wasn't it you who used to belt out an offkey 'Beautiful Delilah' with an overgrown androgynous goat's voice? What a long strange trip it's been...). All the three qualify in a kinky sorta way, but only on repeated listenings and in case of ardent desire. Which leaves us with the three real masterpieces of the album, the ones that are the best, if not the only, argument for placing the record in the Kinks' 'golden dozen'. 'Sitting In My Hotel', dedicated to Ray's problems of being so lonely in his position of a superstar, is a lovely and majestic ballad with a well-constructed, elaborate climactic refrain that blows to hell all those feeble efforts at penning something "anthemic" on Lola; with this number, Ray seems to be nearing the level of perfection he'd achieved on Arthur - not a note out of place multiplied by a perfect arrangement of the "tension-mounting process". Then there's the utterly charming sing-along style ditty called 'Supersonic Rocket Ship' that's also an excellent representative of Ray's sancta simplicitas: I'd personally vote for adopting it as the international anthem of the upcoming intergalactic passenger services (non-discriminating ones, of course - that's what the song is really about). And, of course, there's the best known tune: Ray's six-and-a-half minutes long epic 'Celluloid Heroes', again, dealing with the problems of stardom and its consequences, this time revolving around those movie stars that earned themselves a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Sadly, it wasn't a hit due to lack of radio play, but it might as well have been one, with a wonderful, heartfelt melody and cute lyrics - I particularly love the one about 'avoid stepping on Bela Lugosi/'Cos he's liable to turn and bite'. Now the live album is real fun. While quite a few people dismiss it as a lot of drunken crap, I dig it all: it is fairly representative of the famous "juicy" atmosphere that ruled supreme on Kinks concerts at the time, and I bow low to Ray's inexhaustible inventiveness onstage. Unfortunately, it mostly relies on tunes from Hillbillies, because they probably had little else to record (as far as I know, Ray used to perform every new album almost in its entirety, throwing in a couple of shortened evergreens to please the fans, and then proceeded to dump it in the can immediately after the next one). But anyway, Hillbillies is a damn fine album, and it's good to hear these songs take on a stage life; especially 'Alcohol', for example, with Ray pulling off a first-rate scary delivery of the tune (not forgetting the subject was quite actual for the band at the time). But 'Holiday', 'Muswell Hillbilly', 'Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues' and 'Skin And Bone' are performed quite fine just as well, even if almost by-the-book. There's also a great 'oldie' ('Brainwashed') and a stupid tune from Lola ('Top Of The Pops'), but these form a minority. The weird thing about the album is the short snippets and snatches of cover material: a thirty-second jazz number ('Mr Wonderful'), an audience singalong ('Banana Boat Song'), and a hilarious version of 'Baby Face' with Ray imitating a black jazzman with all the strength he could gather. Unfortunately, what the live album lacks completely is a sense of cohesiveness: there are numerous fade-outs, the short bits seem to come from nowhere, and overall it seems more like disjointed bits of a puzzle than a complete performance. Which is also confirmed by the album closer: 'Lola' is not played in its entirety, but a short bit of it (namely, the final sequence of audience singalong) is for no obvious reason torn out of the song and placed on record. Maybe it was just Ray's 'fuck you' to fans. Who knows? Anyway, the Velvel reissue kindly adds yet two more live cuts, and it's really satisfying, because they are neither taken from Hillbillies nor from fifty years old jazz archives: 'Till The End Of The Day' is short, but good, and 'She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina' is fascinating. They are also among the most musically solid performances on the entire album, and so present a good addition to the intentional sloppiness of the rest of the concert. Oh, and along the way Ray always tries to entertain the audience - that is, provide the atmosphere of 'having a good time', a thing so desired by the Stones but rarely achieved... Some of his punchlines are quite cool ('Acute...' is being introduced as a 'real heavy song'; the introduction of the band finishes with 'and I guess you all know who I am. My name's Johnny Cash, nice to meet you'), and overall, this here live album isn't the worst thing in the world. Considering the fact that both records (plus the bonus tracks!) are placed on just one CD, this really makes a great buy. Do not hesitate if Mr Ray Davies is like a brother to you.
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PRESERVATION ACT I
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8
A toss-off introduction to an insipid rock opera, that's what that one is.
Best song: err... allow me to come up with it in a million years...
Track listing: 1) Preservation; 2) Morning Song; 3) Daylight; 4) Sweet Lady Genevieve; 5) There's A Change In The Weather; 6) Where Are They Now; 7) One Of The Survivors; 8) Cricket; 9) Money And Corruption/I Am Your Man; 10) Here Comes Flash; 11) Sitting In The Midday Sun; 12) Demolition; [BONUS TRACK:] 13) One Of The Survivors (single edit).
As if seven consecutive concept albums weren't enough, Ray decided to carry on with a full-blown rock opera/musical/stage show which he managed to spread on three LPs. Considering that Preservation was originally built around the Village Green album, and that the later Schoolboys In Disgrace is (conceptually, at least) a prequel to it, you might consider it a five-album musical project, something unheard of before or later. Unfortunately, while Village Green was a beautiful artistic creation, I can't say the same about Preservation. To my ears, it sounds like a completely goofy parody; even if the music itself isn't offensive, you just can't take it seriously.
The album was originally going to be a double set with no stupid 'acts' division, but Ray scrapped the project at the last moment in order to redo it completely, so RCA had to be appeased with this 'prologue'. It doesn't have much of a plot, therefore, unlike Act II, mainly serving to introduce the personages most of which (but not all) would later reappear in the second part. As far as one can guess, the plot is being based on the struggle between two individuals: the allegedly bad guy (Mr Flash) destroys the peaceful existence of the Village Green by corrupting it with his evil ways and financial machinations, while the supposedly good guy (Mr Black) promises to save the Village Green by purifying it and leading the people to a bright and brilliant future. However, nothing much ever happens in Act I; the main action happens later. Here, on the other hand, we are being introduced to different inhabitants of the Village Green: the Tramp, the Vicar, the reincarnated Johnny Thunder (from VGPS) and some secondary characters. Each one of these has one or more songs dedicated to him, all sung by Ray and played by the same puffed-up band that produced the last two albums. And what's in it for us? Nothing much, really. Most of the songs tend to step away from the jazz sound Ray and Co. have developed and perfected so well, in favour of even more lightweight operetta sound, at times diluted by feeble patches of primitive boogie and wretched country/folk, and it's a complete disaster. There's not even a single song here which displays at least some signs of life. Indeed, Ray has himself so deeply immersed in the concept he'd forgotten to render these songs artistically valuable: he concentrates on the lyrics, totally abandoning the actual melodies and never caring for entertaining performance. But even the lyrics are shallow: he keeps quoting himself with phrases like 'here comes yet another day', the 'plot' libretto is horribly banal, and the few good points aren't worth the whole experience. It gets even worse when the band tries to rock out, like on the Johnny Thunder sequel song 'One Of The Survivors': the only thing it does is amply demonstrating us that Ray has totally lost the ability to create good rock'n'roll. The guitars are just kinda sitting there, doing nothing; where are those crrrunchy Dave Davies riffs of old? The 'plot songs' are used-up chewing gum, like the never ending, excruciating 'Money And Corruption/I Am Your Man', or the melodyless Flash anthem 'Demolition'. The ballads are unconvincing (come on now, who is 'Sweet Lady Genevieve' and what has the Tramp to do with her?), the nostalgia songs sound like a second-rate Village Green cover band ('Where Are They Now?'), and other rip-offs of earlier Kinks' classics abound ('Sitting In The Midday Sun' is just a retread of 'Sunny Afternoon', for Chrissake! Shame on you, Davies, for ridiculizing such a beautiful thing!) Not to mention that careful listening will bring out more and more outside, ahem, 'influences' - is it just me or does the main melody of 'Here Comes Flash' objectively remind of Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid'? Ironically, the song that I find the most listenable on here (although I still can't rank it as 'best song') is 'Cricket', the Vicar's aria, and that's just the tune that's the closest to that Show-Biz/Hillbillies sound. Apparently, by this time the Kinks have been so much transformed into a jazz band that it was easier for Ray to write a good Twenties stilization than a good rock'n'roll song. But if Hillbillies and (to a lesser extent) Show-Biz were saved by the brilliant humour of both the lyrics and, face it, the melodies were funny too, then this is a completely different affair. You won't find any humour on Preservation. Even the plot itself, which seems absolutely ridiculous and, moreover, borrows a lot from Tommy, isn't taken with a grain of humour: did Ray actually take his personages seriously? What an ar... er, sorry, I just wanted to say that even if you're strong enough to endure this record in its entirety (and you could because, like I said, the material is hardly offensive), you'll be sure to start yawning and preparing yourself a cup of coffee in about three or four minutes time. The Velvel release, however, is good in that it includes the song 'Preservation' which wasn't originally on the albums. It was a local single released in order to explain the plot in brief, already after the release of both acts I and II, and, strange enough, I'd probably bet that this is the best song on the entire album. Maybe it's because the main riff is stolen from 'Purple Haze'?
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PRESERVATION ACT II
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
Well, at least this one's a bit more diverse and entertaining, with a couple more musical ideas.
Best song: MIRROR OF LOVE
Track listing: 1) Announcement 1; 2) Introduction To Solution; 3) When A Solution Comes; 4) Money Talks; 5) Announcement 2; 6) Shepherds Of The Nation; 7) Scum Of The Earth; 8) Second-Hand Car Spiv; 9) He's Evil; 10) Mirror Of Love; 11) Announcement 3; 12) Nobody Gives; 13) Oh Where Oh Where Is Love; 14) Flash's Dream (The Final Elbow); 15) Flash's Confession; 16) Nothing Lasts Forever; 17) Announcement 4; 18) Artificial Man; 19) Scrapheap City; 20) Announcement 5; 21) Salvation Road; [BONUS TRACKS:] 22) Mirror Of Love (single edit); 23) Slum Kids (take 1).
All right, they patched it up a bit - I'll be the first to admit that, even if this is a double LP and it's far more bogged down in the narrative aspect, this is nowhere near as lethargic and bleak a bore as its predecessor. I mean, this time around you can at least say there's about half filler and half memorable tunes, with the filler at least saved by its plot significance. Which is why the record gets a 5 for the good half and one more point for the dubious, but existent "entertainment value". As I've already said, this is the 'bulk' of Preservation: the plot mainly carries itself out here, with a few stupid 'announcements' thrown in now and then to help the listener understand what the hell is going on. Not that they help a lot, but seems like the good guy, Mr Black, using popular slogans and a 'people's army', manages to overthrow the regime of Mr Flash, after which they change roles (apparently this is the foundation for Ray's concept): Mr Flash suddenly shows signs of humanity ('Scum Of The Earth', 'Mirror Of Love', etc., etc.), while Mr Black turns out to be a dictator proceeding to build an 'Artificial Man' and lead his people along 'Salvation Road' while at the same time closing off TV stations and limiting oil and food supplies. Pathetic, eh? In all - no hopes for the better, man... I suppose I'm indeed being a bit too harsh on poor Ray here: to my educated mind, this Orwellian concept, overloaded with cliches and second-hand banalities, really shows a harsh decline in the man's level of poetic mastership. But wasn't he, after all, trying to popularize both the anti-communist and the anti-capitalist idea among wider masses of population that haven't even read Orwell before? Well - you might take it both ways. If there is one interesting thing about the overall concept of Preservation, it's that there are no good Guys at all (with a capital letter - the general masses are, of course, quite righteous). Capitalists like Flash suck because they oppress the poor, and communists like Black suck because they oppress the freedom of the individual. Get it?
Now, musically this is indeed higher than the first act - a strange thing, because I'd bet Ray's heavy accent on the lyrics in Act 2 must have had made him drop the melodies in the gutter. Now, however, I think that the melodies in Act 1 were so poor not only because the record was so plot-obsessed, but because it was also a toss-off: Ray was just hastily throwing something on the market in order to appease RCA and the public. Act 2 is thus far more elaborate and so manages to be more listenable despite all the length. Some of the tracks manage to rock out with enough force (the dreary 'Introduction To Solution', with a memorable vocal melody; 'Money Talks', a tune later reprised on subsequent albums at least a million times, including 'Low Budget'), although some still fail ('Second-Hand Car Spiv' and 'Artificial Man' just go by blearily without a trace). Perhaps Ray just thought the band needed to shake it up a bit: after all, Act 2 was to be highly dynamic as opposed to the completely static Act 1, and if it were to drag on in a similar wretched manner, the audiences would have easily drowsed off at the very beginning of the live show. I cannot, therefore, say that the record sorely lacks energy; problem is, the energy is only sporadically complemented by a decent mellody. The ballads, sung by Ray along with a certain Marianne Price, have some emotion to lift them off the ground, even though they're still generic operetta ('Nothing Lasts Forever'; the solo Price spot 'Scrapheap City'). But I found Price's deliveries rather dull and conventional, performed in a routine Broadway style that doesn't leave any space for real innovation or just a fresh idea or two. So it's not amazing that the really high point of the album is yet another of Ray's trademark jazzy tunes: 'Mirror Of Love', set to what's probably the most catchy Preservation melody and graced by Ray's amusingly shaking voice. Unsurprisingly, it was also chosen as the single from the album - being only vaguely relevant to the plot, it was still obviously viewed as a real melodic highlight.. Finally, there's at least a decent bunch of amusing moments on the record, like Mr Black's slogans on 'Shepherds Of The Nation' (the funnily chanted lines like 'down with nudity, down with pornography, sodomites beware!') and the goofy dialogue in 'Flash's Dream' (Ray was probably reading too much William Shakespeare: the scene is certainly influenced by similar events either in King Richard III or Julius Caesar). So, even if the amount of filler is still enormous, at least the good moments are scattered throughout all the record, which makes it easier to sit through. Also must be mentioned that the Velvel reissue has two bonus tracks: an alternative version of 'Mirror Of Love' with complementary backing vocals which still doesn't sound different from the original, and a lengthy six-minute live blues jam called 'Slum Kids (take 1)', even though I wonder what (take 1) stands for here: the song was obviously recorded live during a regular show. Did they do it two times that night? From Ray's introduction one can deduce that this was a song they used to do during the live Preservation shows, but for some reason it didn't make it onto the album. A pity: even if it's nothing spectacular, beefing up the record with a couple of generic blues numbers could have made sense...
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
A 'stealfest', but it's memorable and entertaining, which is more than you could say about... er...
Best song: RUSH HOUR BLUES
Track listing: 1) Everybody's A Star (Starmaker); 2) Ordinary People; 3) Rush Hour Blues; 4) Nine To Five; 5) When Work Is Over; 6) Have Another Drink; 7) Underneath The Neon Sign; 8) Holiday Romance; 9) You Make It All Worthwhile; 10) Ducks On The Wall; 11) (A) Face In The Crowd; 12) You Can't Stop The Music; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Everybody's A Star (Starmaker) (mono); 14) Ordinary People (live); 15) You Make It All Worthwhile (live); 16) Underneath The Neon Sign (live).
Here's the bad news: this is yet another concept/rock opera album, and it does not even try to reach the lyrical and emotional depths of those graceful days of yore. In addition, it features a very confused and befuddled Ray Davies contributing a lot of dubious ideas and stealing a lot of melodies which obviously do not belong to him (well, some of them do belong to him, but they had already belonged to him for a long time, if you know what I mean). At least, he's gotten rid of the Preservation bandwagon. This time around, however, the concept is basically as follows: the protagonist (a mysterious 'Starmaker') allows himself (for no obvious reason at all) to be subject to an experiment, swapping places with an ordinary employee called Norman and enjoying the 'simple pleasure of life' like a six-hour working day, ordinary food and banal tastes of Norman's wife, to prove that everybody can be a star. The finale comes when 'Starmaker' suddenly realizes that he has totally merged with Norman and cannot pull himself out of the 'ordinary' state. So it all ends up with his decision to quit all his 'pretensions' and become one with the faceless crowd. Of course, all of this leaves a lot of questions which Ray apparently didn't bother to find answers for (why did the Starmaker make this 'sacrifice', how could Norman's wife accept him instead of her husband, what has become of the real Norman, why couldn't the Starmaker pull himself back into his former state, are the Starmaker and Norman really two different persons or was it all just Norman's dream or something, etc., etc., ad infinitum). But forget it. Great artists don't usually bother themselves with such trifles. Over the years, suspicion has arisen that the Starmaker is actually but a figment of Norman's broken mind and an effect of split personality, in which case the concept acquires an additional mini-level of depth. And that's the last you'll hear me talkin' of it.
On the good side, though, the humour is back. Maybe the lyrics aren't as amusing as the 1971-72 work, but they're really funny, nevertheless, unlike the rigorous, emotionless and moodless graphomany of Preservation. 'Ducks On The Wall' ('Starmaker' ridiculizing his wife's tastes - a hilarious attack on the average person's banality), 'Holiday Romance' (a failed love affair), and 'Rush Hour Blues' all qualify. And the 'plot' sequences are rather wisely relegated to pieces of spoken dialogue, some of which aren't even on the actual disk, but are mixed in among the lyrics. So you won't have to clutch the booklet all the way through, which is a bit of a consolation. The melodies are also an evident step up from Preservation. The problem is that most of them are stolen: by this time Ray was probably so busy concentrating himself on stage shows, concepts and lyrics that he had almost no time left for actual songs. So he milks all the precedent musical legacy for all its worth: the opening 'Everybody's A Star' features the same riff as the Who's 'I Can't Explain'; 'Underneath The Neon Sign' is positively charming, until you realize you've already heard it before as 'The Midnight Special'; 'Ordinary People' is, once again, generic operetta; and 'Rush Hour Blues' is Jerry Lee Lewis-style boogie-woogie. As usual, the level of filler is overwhelming ('When The Work Is Over'; the closing tunes are utterly unstandable), and overall, I couldn't say that this album is intentionally better than Preservation; rather it's accidentally better. You can't deny the catchiness of the catchy tunes, after all, stolen or not; 'Rush Hour Blues' is a fascinating piece of boogie, and 'Underneath The Neon Sign' just got to stand as one of the Kinks' finest mid-Seventies tunes. And after all, it's the Kinks, want it or not; better still, Soap Opera is often called the 'solo Ray album that never was'. Rumour has it that this is one of the albums that brother Dave hates most (you can even deduce that from the liner notes - which, apparently, won't admit that in the open), and it's easy to see why: it's obvious that Ray didn't let him even come an inch close to songwriting in this case. But it's all right by me; even the filler songs are deeply soaked in Ray's own charming humble personality, and there's a certain intimate warmth about songs like 'You Make It All Worthwhile', 'Underneath The Neon Sign' and 'When Work Is Over' that makes them easy to sit through. In any case, I simply won't buy into the theory that Soap Opera is the worst Kinks album: its jazzy, at times Broadway-ish sound isn't really all that different from everything the band'd been doing for the last five years, and there are enough fine moments to guarantee a decent - if not shattering - listen. It's a wonder, indeed, that the band didn't break up at this point, with their live performances degenerating into rock theatre a la Genesis and worse (not that I hate Genesis' rock theatre - it's simply that this style couldn't have fit the Kinks). The bonus tracks on the Velvel reissue illustrate this 'live side' with three live tracks taken from a contemporary stage presentation of Soap Opera, and the first impression is really horrible. Dave's supplementary heavy metal solos merely serve to transform quiet jazzy ballads like 'Ordinary People' into hardened arena-rock power ballads and certainly don't save the situation, as Ray seems to be surrounded with female actors and enjoying 'acting' more than actual singing, getting off-key all the time and not paying attention to where the mikes actually are. Eventually you get used to this theatrical mood, but it's still not the pleasantest of things: 'degeneration' is indeed the best word here, especially if you look back at the Kinks' once splendid career. Don't get me wrong: I'm not dissing Soap Opera, unlike so many other reviewers, but if you're not a Kinks diehard, there's absolutely no reason you'd want to sit through this album. Cool inlay photos, though. As usual.
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SCHOOLBOYS IN DISGRACE
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
A slightly bland piece of nostalgia, but infested with the Davies charm; plus, it really works if you put it on at a class reunion.
Best song: THE HARD WAY
Track listing: 1) Schooldays; 2) Jack The Idiot Dunce; 3) Education; 4) The First Time We Fall In Love; 5) I'm In Disgrace; 6) Headmaster; 7) The Hard Way; 8) The Last Assembly; 9) No More Looking Back; 10) Finale.
By the Kinks' usual standards, this was as unconvincing as ever, but at least this time around there are some favourable signs of change in the air. I originally gave this record the same rating as Soap Opera, but since then I have acquired a somewhat more benevolent attitude towards it enough to pull it up one whole point: indeed, Schoolboys In Disgrace, while it does give one quite a few things to mock about, can be considered an album that the band recorded in a 'convalescing' state, slowly returning from Ray's unlimited fantasy world into the world of real Kinks-style music.
What's happened? On first sight, nothing much. This is the Kinks' eleventh concept album and third rock opera in a row (prepare yourself, Guinness!), this time built around a story of a certain 'naughty schoolboy' who was punished by the Headmaster for his conduct after which he became a hard and cruel person and 'grew up into Mr Flash'. Huh? As usual, the melodies never approach classic status, with not a single timeless song on here (the seven-minute long anthem 'Education' is particularly rotten), and just as often stolen, although it's really the stolen tracks that rank among the best here ('Jack The Idiot Dunce' is another Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation, with Ray even adopting Lewis' 'ooh-ooh's, but it's funny and eminently danceable; 'The First Time We Fall In Love' certainly owes much to the Beach Boys, with its beautiful harmony parts; and 'The Hard Way' gotta be the best track on the album, even if it's yet another take on 'I Can't Explain'). And the lyrics are often entirely straightforward and unbearingly banal ('schooldays were the happiest days of your life/but we never appreciate the good times we have/until it's too late'). In all - doubtless, this is yet another failed experiment? And yet there are serious reasons to love, or at least feel good about, the album. First of all, even if it's nominally a rock opera, there's not much 'operatic' feel about it. In fact, the 'plot' is really limited to the album title, cover and liner notes, plus a short sequence of songs in the middle ('I'm In Disgrace', 'Headmaster', 'Hard Way') which could just as well be deemed as independent songs. So, rather than being a real opera, it's rather a 'thematic' album, more like Village Green. The 'theme', of course, is Ray's nostalgia for his schooldays, and even though it may look a lil' prissy, it's at least not artificial. And this allows Ray, for the first time in almost five years, to drop a tiny bit of genuine autobiographic emotion on record; plus, the liner notes hint at the fact that Schoolboys reconciled Ray with Dave, who was also eager to participate in the process, as the nostalgic subject of school reminiscences was certainly closer to his heart than the peripeteiae of Norman and the Starmaker. Thus, the opening 'Schooldays' might have banal lyrics indeed, but banal or not, they are heartfelt, so you can say: "YEA! This is the real Ray Davies. Welcome back, brother!' Was that a tear I just brushed off my eye? Eh... sorry. Same goes for most of the tracks on here. Forget that tripe about the little boy who grew up into Mr Flash: this record is really autobiographical, drawing on Ray's (and Dave's, as we learn from the liner notes) real school life experiences. There's no more concept on here than on Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak, and like the latter, it's the kind of record that actually goes down far easier if you forget it was ever meant to be a conceptual one. Second, the 'theatrical' elements are clearly evaporating. The female backing vocals and brass section are still there, to be sure, but their use is limited. The 'rock' elements prevail, and the more 'rock' there is on a Kinks' record, the less space is left for theatrical gimmicks. And there's not even a teeny-weeny bit of dialogue going on, because dialogue is needed for the 'plot', and, like I said, the plot here is almost non-existent. And 'No More Looking Back' is even regarded by some as a sort of 'farewell' to the Kinks' 'theatre' period. I really don't know if Ray was forced by the rest of the band to drop his artistic pretensions, his brass section and stupid plot-writing, or if he made the decision of his own free will, but who cares? Groovy. The background is thus laid for the Kinks' rockin' Arista comeback. And lastly, apart from 'Education' (which mainly earns my hate because it's so damn long), there are no bad songs here. Not a single one. Some complain about the corniness of many of these numbers, but remember, it is a retro album, and the appearance of boogie or doo-wop elements on a retro album is only natural. Plus, they feel perfectly at home when they're sitting there, back to back with power ballads like 'Headmaster' and rockers like 'I'm In Disgrace', so you don't hear me complaining. The hooks are all firmly in place. Besides, I feel like giggling all over when I try to imagine a little scared boy with his pants down who crouches before the headmaster and pleads for mercy with lines like 'Headmaster this is my confession/This time you won't be overjoyed/I've destroyed what little faith you had in me...'. If I were a headmaster, I'd sure pity the rascal - it's not advisable to spoil the butt of a future Cicero. The album is all filled with such corny little passages, mind you, but somehow it only works to its advantage. Obviously, the Davies magic was back for a while. Oh yeah. This record was the last drop which overfilled RCA's cup of patience. They were thrown out immediately after its release, because it probably sold less copies than anything else released by anybody in 1975. But buy it just because the band look so dang ridiculous in green school uniforms!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
A return to the 'basic sound'; the songs still sound like chewing gum, but at least it's not theatre any more.
Best song: PRINCE OF THE PUNKS (on the new Velvel re-issue)
Track listing: 1) Life On The Road; 2) Mr Big Man; 3) Sleepwalker; 4) Brother; 5) Juke Box Music; 6) Sleepless Night; 7) Stormy Sky; 8) Full Moon; 9) Life Goes On; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Artificial Light; 11) Prince Of The Punks; 12) The Poseur; 13) On The Outside; 14) On The Outside (1994 mix).
A new year, a new record, a new record label: Arista this time. The Arista guys were more lucky than RCA, though: this and the next few albums were relatively successful, provoking a much talked over 'comeback' which lasted until 1983 (funny that this more or less coincided with the Stones' comeback). Indeed, somewhere around this time Ray re-worked his recording formula and ended up with an entirely new scheme which had served as a basis for all of his following albums until at least Give The People What They Want and maybe later. And to give him his due, an artistic liberation from the impending doom of soap operas, schoolboys in disgrace and concept album preservation really worked well: just like the Stones, these late Seventies turned out to be somewhat of a Silver Age for the Kinks. At least, the Kinks' first three albums on Arista do fall into that exact period...
The scheme was as follows: since Arista certainly wouldn't hear of any 'rock operas' and 'concepts' and, moreover, such things had really started to threaten the band's existence, Ray turned to, lightly speaking, 'thematic' records. From now on, the Kinks' records were based on a certain artistic 'idea' that could be traced on many, but not all of the tracks. For Sleepwalker, this theme is comparing life to a nightmare (title track, 'Sleepless Night', 'Full Moon'), just as for Misfits the main theme is coping with life's simple problems and for Low Budget it's a more general problem of city survival. The mood that prevails on the album is grim, dark and utterly pessimistic. OK, you might say the same things about Ray's rock operas, but on those albums the 'mood' was completely overshadowed by theatrical excesses, while here the songs are much more up to the point, hard-edged and sincere. The only track that relieves the atmosphere is the closing 'Life Goes On' which tells the listener that he just gotta live on and not worry too much about routine problems. (This, too, is an essential element of Ray's late-Seventies 'scheme': no matter how dark the album got, it had to end with a consolation or just an optimistic note: just listen to 'Get Up' on Misfits, 'Moving Pictures' on Low Budget or 'Better Things' on Give The People...). While the melodies on the album might generally not live up to the Kinks' higher standards, they are definitely an upgrade on Ray's previous Seventies' efforts at songwriting. One main change, already perceived on Schoolboys, is obvious: the Kinks are on their way back from jazz, New Orleans, and Broadway to their native Hard Rock homeland, with more crunchy rockers than before, apparently all due to brother Dave's gradual recuperation and improvement of his playing skills. This is why this period is also often billed as the Kinks' 'arena-rock' period - not a very true definition, because there are just about two or three genuine 'arena-rockers' on here, and even those miss the trademark arena-rock component, i.e. the crowd-pleasing factor. I mean, heck, numbers like 'Mr Big Man' are indeed relatively heavy, but you can't get the crowd to swoop around in ecstasy to the song's tricky beat. Plus, not every 'hard rocker' is an 'arena rocker' by definition, and I really hate generic arena-rock... Anyway, time has really been kind to the album - I would be hard-pressed to name even a single bad song on here. A couple of them are unmemorable, and the originality factor is almost non-existent: by 1977, Ray has comfortably settled into an artistic pattern that had no respect for originality or experimentation, none whatsoever. A bigger connoisseur of Seventies', Sixties' and Fifties' pop music than me would definitely have no problem in pinning down most of the Sleepwalker tracks, tracing them to their original source; me, I can only say that there are serious influences which I can't exactly identify, but hey, my intuition never fails me. In any case, even dumping the endless search of originality, Sleepwalker is still totally enjoyable, not to mention that it's really adequate and a far more sincere and moving statement than something like Soap Opera. All the more convincing is the fact that it opens with 'Life On The Road' - a romantic, upbeat rocker where Ray announces that 'I'm livin' the life that I chose, Livin' my life on the road'. That is, the boys are back on the road again... Welcome back, boys. Relative highlights include the ballads - 'Brother' overdoes the pathetic side a little bit, but Ray was always good at the pathetic side, and whether the ode is dedicated to Dave or to just about anybody in a broad Christian kind of way, it's very moving; 'Stormy Sky', on the other hand, is gentler and humbler, almost caressing in a George Harrison kind of way. As for the rockers, I actually enjoy 'Mr Big Man', although it borrows way too much melody and atmosphere of 'Headmaster'; but it has better lyrics at least - how well could you sing along to 'don't make me take my trousers down!' without blushing? 'Mr Big', on the other hand, returns us to the 'powerman' theme, and not in an unconvincing way at that. The title track is upbeat as well, but incorporates way too much happy-dippy dance energy to match the personal philosophy of its lyrics. Same goes for the retro rocker 'Juke Box Music', which is great to wiggle your ass to, but somehow hardly fits on the record - the Kinks desperately looking for a hit single? A bit too blatantly commercial. Not bad, though. 'Life Goes On' is a total hoot, too, a great way to move you out of the depression inflicted by Ray's dreary werewolf stories of 'Full Moon' and the like. Overall, this is all good. A typical word of praise for the album is that this is where Dave finally emerges as a competent, inspired soloist; a typical word of critique is that the production is too slick, but I usually disregard both of these factors. I hardly listen to Kinks' records for brother Dave's soloing (unless it's something like live albums of the One For The Road type, where this is really important), and I could care less about the production if the melodies are good. Hey, it's been so long since we last heard the Kinks really rock out (wasn't that on Arthur? What, eight years ago?) that I've almost forgotten that they weren't slick a decade ago. At least you get to hear all the instruments, and what else do you need? Strange enough, bassist John Dalton left the band just as they were putting on the final touches. He must have been one really strange type, to have stayed with the band through all the throwback years and quit them just as they were once again starting to pick up steam. He was replaced by Andy Pyle. Oh, and the Velvel re-issue is quite treasurable this time, as it includes a great B-side that would be completely lost otherwise: 'Prince Of The Punks' does not only boast the best and most energetic melody on the entire CD, it also features a magnificent set of lyrics dealing with the punk 'revolution'. If I were ever to completely explain why this genre offends me, I couldn't have done it better than this song does. Besides that, there are three other tracks from this era, one of which is a decent rocker ('Artificial Light'), the other one a scary intriguing 'goth-dance' (sic!) number ('The Poseur', originally thought of as the title track to this album) and the third one a truly beautiful ballad ('On The Outside', with some charming vocals; the two different mixes are quite unnecessary, though). If not for the lack of originality, this edition would garner a solid 12 from me; but the melody recycling is still a bit too naggin' to make me forgive it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
Somewhat bland and generic. Insipid, if you ask me. But there are some painfully good moments, too.
Best song: MISFITS
Track listing: 1) Misfits; 2) Hay Fever; 3) Live Life; 4) A Rock'n'Roll Fantasy; 5) In A Foreign Land; 6) Permanent Waves; 7) Black Messiah; 8) Out Of The Wardrobe; 9) Trust Your Heart; 10) Get Up.
By this point the Kinks were obviously keen on the idea of 'return-to-roots' with some basic hard-rockin' stuff. Sleepwalker pioneered the idea, and this album continued it even further - there's more of that "pure rockin' energy" we all treasure so much than in all of the Kinks' last seven or eight albums taken together. Whether it is really a good change or not is another thing, though. My basic guess is that after the horrible flops of Ray Davies' rock opera efforts he kinda sank in and let brother Dave (ah, that good ol' brother Dave) convince him to throw in a bit of distortion and speed, together with a few self-penned (Dave-penned, that is) numbers for a change. Bringing the 'band factor' into the band again, eh?
The bad news for this record is that once again Ray concentrates mainly on the lyrics, totally neglecting the melodies; if the upbeat tone and the loudness of the songs are actually able to trick you into thinking of Misfits as a true 'comeback', after a while, when you get used to the atmosphere, you'll start noticing that the melodies are in fact a notch worse than on Sleepwalker. This is primarily due to a return to pure conceptuality - it was a bit hard to perceive an all-unifying theme in Sleepwalker, but there sure is one in Misfits, and it's perfectly symbolized by the album's title. It's all about the little man and the outcast: nerds with ridiculous psychological problems, sick people, transvestites, self-isolated rock junkies, prejudiced middle-class workers scared to death by disastrous social changes, all of these personages that had always been popular with Ray make an almost 'group appearance' here. And, as is the usual case (at least, as has been the usual case since Preservation), where there is a deep conceptuality, there's also a relative melodic poorness. However biting Ray's social critique might be, I want melodies first and social importance after; in terms of music, I'd easily take Paul McCartney's 'Silly Love Songs' alone over a good half of this album. Hey, if I want social critique, I'll stick to Karl Marx, right? It doesn't help that the lyrics are mostly straightforward either, sometimes to the point of being dumb ('Black Messiah', 'Get Up'), but sometimes to the point of being just hilarious ('Hay Fever', 'Permanent Waves'). 'Black Messiah' is a particular hoot: 'Everybody has a right to speak their minds/So don't shoot me for speaking mine', Ray gives out this warning and then proceeds to entertain us with lyrics that are not necessarily racist as such (after all, only the most bitter PC types would want to condemn Ray for ridiculing the idea of the God being black), but are just amazingly shallow and narrow-minded for such an intelligent person as Ray. What is that, fear of the black people taking over the world? Is that supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? Go figure. I'd better go listen to that kind of comic melodrama Ray does so well - the lyrics to 'Hay Fever' and 'Permanent Ways' are jolly good, in the fine old Muswell Hillbillies tradition. Yet after all, Ray Davies is no Bob Dylan - however good his lyrics are, we mostly listen to the Kinks' for the music. And this is not one of the highlights of the record. Most of the songs break in at the same midtempo and the word 'filler' pops up too often on my lips. Indeed, tracks like 'In A Foreign Land', 'Get Up' and 'Out Of The Wardrobe' (yet another song about a transvestite after 'Lola'; was Ray trying to justify the band's name or what?) are forgettable even after a billion listens, since they do not present us with even a single creative idea. 'Live Life' is little better, even if it is a little louder (the main musical skeleton was later re-worked as the title track for Low Budget); and 'Black Messiah', controversial as the lyrics might be, essentially just sounds like ordinary lounge music. Dave adds a composition of his own ('Trust Your Heart'), unfortunately, it is just a multi-part musical tidbit culminating in a lot of unpleasant screaming. Really lightweight compared to his far superior efforts around 1967. So? Any good ideas on here? Well yes, as is the usual case with late Kinks releases, all the filler is interwoven with some real gems. It's frustrating to realize that you could take the entire catalog of late Seventies/early Eighties Kinks and come out with a TERRIFIC compilation that could range on par with even some of the 'classic' albums, and yet the albums themselves ride this darn gamut between the beautiful and the annoyingly lame. And when I say 'beautiful', I primarily mean the gorgeous title track, of course. Even though Ray's songwriting capacities may have deteriorated over the years, he was still able to put out a wonderful, emotional ballad now and then, and this is just what you could ask for: a sad, complaintive, but also slightly consoling ode to all the tramps and outcasts; for once, the lyrics sound serious, mature and expressive. Classic! Plus, there are some more compositions that wouldn't be ranked as 'good', but they're at least upbeat, punchy and funny, like the amusing 'Hay Fever' and anti-commercial 'Permanent Waves'. 'A Rock'n'Roll Fantasy' was the minihit for this record, and this story about drowning all your troubles in rock music has its moments, despite the pathetic whiny intonation in the verses. These songs are enough to somewhat punch up the rating, even though practically none of the songs are nasty or anything. It's just a typical late period Kinks album, albeit arguably worse than both the preceding and the following one. To be objective, though, I have to add that a significant number of fans mark it out as the guys' very best record of that entire period - I suppose it has something to do with the magical force of the title track, which is, indeed, arguably the most emotionally moving number they did since... ehh... since Arthur, at least. (Yeah, I like it more than 'Celluloid Heroes' - after all, 'Misfits' speaks to the listener in a far more direct and biting way). But one song doesn't make a ten-track record, after all.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
A very funny album. Lightweight, but this time around much more satisfying.
Best song: (WISH I COULD FLY LIKE) SUPERMAN
Track listing: 1) Attitude; 2) Catch Me Now I'm Falling; 3) Pressure; 4) National Health; 5) (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman; 6) Low Budget; 7) In A Space; 8) Little Bit Of Emotion; 9) Misery; 10) A Gallon Of Gas; 11) Moving Pictures.
No, you didn't get it: Ray Davies really wanted to become a superstar again. Having assembled all of his will together and listened to some contemporary music, he decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea to take all of his (and brother Dave's, for sure) rockin' ideas and dilute them with a touch-up of punk and disco. In other ways, why not follow the Stones' direction? Indeed - why not? Because first time around, it really works.
The songs on Low Budget are definitely up a grade as compared to Misfits. First of all, they are diverse: besides the standard ballads and midtempo rockers, you have your generic punk rock ('Pressure'), your generic disco number ('National Health'), and some interesting mixtures of these genres ('Superman' is disco rock, 'Misery' is... err... pop punk?). They have different tempos, and that's an improvement: if you do not pay enough attention while listening to Misfits, you may even not notice the breaks between songs. And finally, Ray is obviously working on these songs. Poor Mr Davies! I can almost see him busting his brains and trying to write a catchy tune or a hit single. He doesn't stop before anything - writing banal lyrics, employing simplistic chords and melodies, even stealing from his betters ('Catch Me Now I'm Falling' borrows the riff from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'; 'In A Space' begins suspiciously similar to Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Superstar') - it's a wonder he didn't get sued. Melody recycling in the Davies camp probably reached its peak at the time, and strictly speaking, I oughta have penalized the album for such a tremendous lack of originality, but I just prefer to view all of this as one complex groove based on an intentional 'borrowing' of other people's melodies and reworking them into something else. A kitsch move, but I love good kitsch. On top of it, Ray really succeeds and comes up with a thoroughly enjoyable album. I suppose on some level it can be called 'trashy', but if we really start digging around and see what is trashy and what is not, we'd be surprised to learn that more than half of the music we enjoy very much can easily fall into the 'trashy' category. So let's just drop all pretentions. Okay? The hit single was 'Superman', and it's really good: the lyrics are banal but funny (also drawing heavily on all the possible cliches like 'we've gotta get out of this place' and 'I'd like to change the world'), and the melody is downright fascinating. So what if it's disco? It sounds original! Dumb, but original. Ain't never heard the Bee Gees or KD Lang come up with anything like that, for sure. I like fun tracks like these. Plus, my favourite tracks also include 'Pressure', a great little cross between Chuck Berry and the Ramones (and they can play pretty speedy, too - if they want to, even speedier than the Stones rocked the year before). Then there's the title track, a brilliant description of poor economic conditions in the late Seventies with grossly exaggerated vocalization and lyrics so goofy I don't even mind the lack of a distinct melody. To hell with the melody when you have something like 'circumstance has forced my hand to be a cut price person in a low budget land'. Okay, not to hell with the melody - it's just trivial, but it suits the necessary catchiness requirements, so count me happy. Then there's the wonderful ballad 'Little Bit Of Emotion' which is a definite highlight; it's slightly similar to 'Misfits' in thematics and in the mood which it is supposed to set, and it's pretty emotional indeed. Funny how Ray was able, time after time, to get at least one beautiful ballad on an album - a ballad of undeniable quality that could have easily matched the earlier classic stuff. Even the lyrical matters aren't particularly trite this time around, cuz you don't often get songs about people afraid to show their true emotions in public... But hell, these songs are all listenable - even the obvious blatant filler like 'Misery' or the pseudoblues 'A Gallon Of Gas' are able to hold my attention ('A Gallon Of Gas' even made it to the live To The Bone fifteen years later). Finally, the closing 'Moving Pictures', yet another disco track with painfully cliched lyrics ('Life is only a moving picture/Nothing in life is a permanent fixture' - clumsy and unoriginal), has yet another carefully thought over and played riff which serves as a good launching pad for memorizing it. What happened? The obvious answer is that Ray could really make some good songs if he tried hard. In fact, I can't think of any other reason. If you can, tell me. Where Misfits was a total failure in that it just didn't manage to hold your attention, Low Budget is certainly a success. Oh, and have I mentioned the catchy ballad 'Catch Me Now I'm Falling'? See, the borrowed riff of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is just a little imported tidbit, and they could perfectly have done without it. Maybe Ray was deliberately trying to make a risk and see whether Keith Richards would like to sue him or not. Anyway, the song itself is great, even though a little bit long. It sounds totally simple and 'childish', but so do all the other songs on here. Heck, so do all of the Kinks' songs, for that matter; it's just the degree of 'childishness' that matters. Here, the degree is very high, but there's also enough humour, solid melodical hooks and energy to make it stand up higher than the Kinks' 'soap operas' of the mid-Seventies. If you're one of those de-prejudiced nice people who are able to give the Monkees their due, Low Budget will definitely be a gas; otherwise, be warned - you might think of it as particularly cheesy. [Balderdash!]
READER COMMENTS SECTION
ONE FOR THE ROAD
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Hey, great selection of live songs! And where are those screaming girls?
Best song: 20TH CENTURY MAN
Track listing: 1) Opening; 2) Hardway; 3) Catch Me Now I'm Falling; 4) Where Have All The Good Times Gone; 5) Lola; 6) Pressure; 7) All Day And All Of The Night; 8) 20th Century Man; 9) Misfits; 10) Prince Of The Punks; 11) Stop Your Sobbing; 12) Low Budget; 13) Attitude; 14) (Wish I Could Fly) Like Superman; 15) National Health; 16) Till The End Of The Day; 17) Celluloid Heroes; 18) You Really Got Me; 19) Victoria; 20) David Watts.
Superstars need live albums, and big superstars need double live albums (and the Kinks were sure aiming for big superstardom once again - at least, Low Budget did give 'em some hope of catching up with the bandwagon). Moreover, they need successful live albums - and keeping up with the expectations, this one even managed to go gold. To say the truth, it really deserves it; and gold is the keyword - it's not breathtaking enough to merit "platinum". The overall playing level is quite good, mainly due to the fact that Dave's soloing technique only got better with the years. The track selection is also clever, drawing largely upon the newer material as well as throwing in a decent selection of the classics (mostly rearranged, but that's to be expected, isn't it?). Oh, and the audience is finally willing to actually sit back and listen - we've finally moved out of the epoch of Kelvin Hall hysteria.
Unfortunately, the production is somewhat muddy; for 1980, I could have expected the mikes to capture the instruments and vocals better, and for a brand new CD edition, I would have expected the mix to be embettered... tough luck. And this, combined with the fact that most of the tracks are quite heavily metallized (and heavily metallized live performances require a very serious level of mastering in order to be consistently enjoyable), really results in 'earing problems - especially when Dave is deciding to rip out on a solo, because every now and then I get a feeling I'm listening to something chaotic and uncontrolled when it's probably not so. Probably. But how can I tell? How can I tell if this is just poor production or it's poor production that serves to mask the poor sound? Ah, well, like every good idealist should, I'll hope for the better solution. Anyway, this is something you'll have to live up to. Like I said, the track selection concentrates heavily on the newer material, i.e. Low Budget: they perform almost half the songs out of it, but it's OK if you dig the album. And I dig it. Apart from that, it has some other mid-Seventies classics ('Misfits', 'Hardway', 'Celluloid Heroes'), as well as lots of evergreen hits. Of course, none of these live versions can live up to their studio versions - all the studio subtleties are lost, but that's what they were going for: loud, in-yer-face rock! Wow! We kick ass! Shucks. Yeah, right. All of the tracks are listenable, even minor disasters like a strange ska-ified version of 'Till The End Of The Day' (sounds like self-parody, but at least it's intentional self-parody, so you can just pity the guys without despising them) and a shameful singalong version of 'Lola'; the latter is simply butchered, and my guess is that it was intentional as well. Actually, Ray plays the intro to Lola, then says 'we're not gonna play that one tonight' and just as the crowd goes wild and starts hauling out the rotten tomatoes, he quickly retreads and says 'okay, we'll do it'. And they do it, but frankly, I wish they didn't. Ray is clearly just annihilating his own creation, and towards the end he cries out 'okay, this is the disco version, come on' and leads the crowd in a desperate and dumb chanting of the reprise that only goes to show how much he hates the song. Ha ha. Then again, in the long run all of this stuff is just fun - and even if you're dissatisfied, you'll be sure to pick your spirits after listening to the blistering 'metal' versions of 'All Day And All Of The Night' (with a few lines from the trusty 'Banana Boat Song' inserted), 'You Really Got Me' and especially '20th Century Man' (the definite highlight of the record; strange enough, it was cut out from the original CD pressing for space reasons and re-installed only recently). You'll laugh at the adlibbed new verses in 'Low Budget' and 'Superman' - the latter, by the way, is played far rougher and in a less discoified version than the original, not to mention that it's seriously extended. You'll tap your feet to the anti-punk anthem 'Prince Of The Punks', jump up like a young ostrich kid at listening to 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone', drop a small pool of tears at Dave's unprecedented emotional soloing on the lengthy 'Celluloid Heroes', and sing along with the Davies dudes on the closing 'Victoria' and 'David Watts' (unfortunately, both songs are mercilessly shortened down - well, what do you want from an obligatory encore?). It's obvious that the album does have its problems. The Kinks want too much to be cool, which explains the roughness of the sound - but they're not ardent enough to serve as a suitable substitute for the younger punk bands. And the Kinks mainly want to play newer material (a typical thing with Ray, who regularly used to drop all the songs off a certain album from the repertoire as soon as the next one came out), so some of the oldies are just trodden over in an obligatory kind of way. But with a little tolerance and good will, these problems can be overlooked, and whatever the case, One For The Road is more than a historical document (like Kelvin Hall was) - it's a downright enjoyable album, with enough care and love inserted into it. Unfortunately, Ian Gibbons later overdubbed some keyboard parts, so you can't really state that it's a totally live, untrumped-up album; but as a product, it works. Even if you won't love all of it, 77 minutes of music for the price of one CD ain't that much, eh? When you could pay the same price for a silly early Beach Boys album clocking in at 20 minutes?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9
Stupid and senseless heavy metal. Even the ballads sound flake and fake.
Best song: YO-YO
Track listing: 1) Around The Dial; 2) Give The People What They Want; 3) Killer's Eyes; 4) Predictable; 5) Add It Up; 6) Destroyer; 7) Yo-Yo; 8) Back To Front; 9) Art Lover; 10) A Little Bit Of Abuse; 11) Better Things.
The Kinks' artistic comeback seems to have ended as quickly as it had begun. Either Ray thought that, with Low Budget behind his back, he wouldn't be needing to work that much any more, or else he just wasn't in the right mood. Low Budget was diverse, funny and pleasantly lightweight, with lots of ideas being carefully planned and carried into life. Give The People seems to concentrate on their newly-found 'metallic' side: more than half of the tracks are gruff, lifeless rockers, all set to a standard heavy metal pattern. Well, it's nice seeing them making a kinda definite statement and all, but no thanks. Anybody can pick up a guitar, add a hell of a lot of distortion and go out into space. Me, I'd expect something slightly more intriguing - a good song or two, for a change. And this is exactly what this album refuses to present to me. Well, okay, maybe one or two. But not more!
As usual, Ray makes the album a 'diluted concept' one, this time revolving around commercialism and selling out and whatever - the title track carries the main message, so that in the end you can't even understand if it's the establishment that it's so corrupted that it feeds the people dreck so that the people can't even ask for anything else but dreck or if it's the people whose nature is so corrupted that it endlessly requires dreck from the establishment. If you didn't quite get past this sentence, you have no hope of deciphering Ray's message, either. But the problem remains the same: all of Mr Davies' messages might be all right, but they require to be set to good music. Having completely run out of ideas and ripped off (or, rather, 'creatively quotated') most of his contemporaries, Ray now turns to ripping off himself and in the process, abandons good music altogether. Getting past all the leaden metallic noise, you'll be able to discover those one or two mini-classics I've mentioned. Thus, 'Yo-Yo' is a nice kind of 'desperate' song with a heartfelt, paranoid message which could have been even better if only Ray took some more time to work on it; and 'Destroyer' (the mini-hit off the record), even if it mixes the melody of 'All Day And All Of The Night' with the lyrics of 'Lola', at least mixes them decently. And yes, that closing ballad, 'Better Things', is kinda good, too. Guess I'm just a sucker for pretty little ballads that close up all those late Kinks' albums - they're cheerful and optimistic and celebratory and Ray's soothing voice soothes and caresses you like nothing else. But the rest of the record (and it ain't that little) just doesn't hold its head high. The few other attempts at balladeering don't have the kind of tearful hooks Ray used to spice up ditties like 'Misfits' and 'Little Bit Of Emotion', and as a result sound draggy and insincere, especially 'Art Lover', either an ode to a pervert or a lament of an outcast. Never mind the lyrics, though - I know lots of people enjoy Ray Davies' songs for the lyrics, but this is certainly not the place to start. 'Come to daddy'. Really, Ray! Same goes for the power ballad 'Killer's Eyes' which somehow seems to miss my sprite because it, well, it just drags. It drags along without a memorable melody - pure atmospherics. The remaining seven songs are amateurish heavy metal at its ugliest, like the opening 'Around The Dial' which seems to be poking its nose around, not knowing where to fit. The title track is kinda scary, with all its references that all the people really want is sex, blood and murder on TV, but musically it sounds like a parody on 'Pressure' which already was a parody on Chuck Berry. Pathetic. I'd like to notice, however, that the way he sings 'add it up' on 'Add It Up' is interesting in that fifteen years later, it obviously re-appeared on the Stones' 'Flip The Switch'. Coincidence? Aaarrgh, probably, and not a very comfortable one at that. 'Back To Front' is especially nasty, sounding like a techno take on a war march (and that must sound totally crazy, too). In all, there's not even a single track among these cheap metal monsters which I'd be willing to call 'near-classic'. Come to think of it, there's not even a single track I'd call 'near-good'. Why? Because Ray's a lazy sluggard, that's why. Instead of playing rock'n'roll, he suddenly decided that the band would be better off if it borrowed something from hardcore or thrash-metal - but not only doesn't the band have good chops for thrash-metal, they don't have the least idea what a good thrash-metal song needs to be, well, preservable, if you get my drift. Okay, so perhaps the stupid martial chants of 'Back To Front' are the only thing I'd call openly offensive on here. But during Low Budget, I knew that Ray could use that heavy metal punch to achieve some kind of emotional resonance - and for one thing, it was at least funny. Nothing's funny about these songs. They're just stupid and boring. Oh, sorry, I think I've forgotten to mention 'Predictable': this is really one song which could approach the definition of 'good' (and who knows? - maybe it could even surpass it). It's interesting, if only for the fact that it features very masterful interaction between Ray's main singing and the back-uppers. And the lyrics are really surprising: he complains that his life is so safe, boring and 'predictable'. C'mon, Ray, isn't it the very thing you were asking for on 'Low Budget' and 'A Gallon Of Gas'? No satisfaction, really! For some strange reason, many people seem to think of the record as the Kinks' Arista pinnacle, though. (However, lots of people think of Misfits and others think of Low Budget and some think of State Of Confusion, so I guess there'll hardly be a consensus here). Well - whatever. If leaden, tuneless, humorless heavy metal is your ticket, welcome to this paradise. If, however, you prefer your Kinks smart, light and entertaining, step a couple years back.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
STATE OF CONFUSION
Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
They kinda learn their metal homework, but much of this is terrible exercising in self-plagiarism.
Best song: HEART OF GOLD. LONG DISTANCE on the Velvel release bonus tracks
Track listing: 1) State Of Confusion; 2) Definite Maybe; 3) Labour Of Love; 4) Come Dancing; 5) Property; 6) Don't Forget To Dance; 7) Young Conservatives; 8) Heart Of Gold; 9) Cliches Of The World (B Movie); 10) Bernadette; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Don't Forget To Dance (extended edit); 12) Once A Thief; 13) Long Distance; 14) Noise.
With this album, the band was in a state of confusion indeed - their 'Silver Age', fuelled by Low Budget and One For The Road, was fading away, and now the Kinks were finally fading into obscurity despite, or maybe because of Ray frantically trying to find the golden middle between his personal vision and the obligatory commercial approach. Perhaps the public was just offended at Mr Davies treating it so cruelly in his last album; they took their revenge by not buying his next offering - even if, for all it's worth, State Of Confusion is at least a couple heads and a forefront above Give The People...
Seriously now, this is simply a good album. More than good: it's interesting, which is far more than I could say about its predecessor. It doesn't sound all that different on the surface: the same emotional ballads crossed with the same overblown metallic rockers. But this time, something clicks with me: I'm guessing that there must have been little changes applied to different areas of music-making, such as slightly improved production (the metal buzz doesn't actually overwhelm the melody even in the worst cases), playing (a few cool riffs scattered around the place) and particularly Ray's delivery - one of the greatest Vocal Mobilizers of all time comes around to his senses and delivers a few impeccable performances. For instance, how is it possible not to love 'Cliches Of The World (B Movie)', a fascinating epic about being bored of life and dreaming about being captured by aliens and moving to a better planet? The song swirls around from a generic rocker to a catchy poppy chorus to gloomy mind-boggling sonic landscapes... all of this, I think, culminates in Ray roaring out 'just an illusion, just an illusion!', perhaps his most convincing cry of desperation and despair in centuries. Almost equally convincing is the title track, with an ominous synth-based introduction - the wild 'aaaaaah!' scream in the beginning used to annoy the hell out of me since I viewed it as an obligatory tribute to the hair-metal raunch of the day, but one should certainly realize that all these things on Kinks albums are more parodic than anything else. Oh, and, while we're on the synth topic, there sure are a lot of synths here, but that doesn't mean State Of Confusion is a synth-pop album: kudos to Ray for being able in these murky Eighties' days to use the synthesizer as a helpful tool rather than a mean master. Returning to the meat of this here particular review, and yeah, speaking of meat, what about 'Young Conservatives'? Just less than a week prior to this, Moscow had a youth demonstration celebrating the first year of President Putin in office... Really, '...revolution used to be cool, but now it's out of fashion... it's time to join the young conservatives'. Eh? Why the hell is Mr Davies always speaking for ME? Plus, doing it in such a catchy manner? Bravo, Mr Davies! (And I also like the slight David Bowie reference, which you all should be able to easily figure out from the song). Not that State Of Confusion always succeeds in these things. 'Definite Maybe', for instance, escapes me every time I hear it... all I remember is that the melody is partially recycled from 'Prince Of The Punks'. 'Labour Of Love', then, is partially recycled from 'Low Budget', only it sounds even more clumsy and heavy and ugly on the move, and is devoid of 'Low Budget's humour. The two misfires (which, unfortunately, come right at the beginning and set a rather stupid mood for the rest of the album) are, however, compensated by brother Dave. Brother Dave comes to the rescue by recycling the rock'n'roll classic 'Lucille' as 'Bernadette', which might just happen to be his best contribution to a Kinks album since [insert favourite Dave song here]. Not that the song says anything important, but it rocks along pretty good, it hides the ugliness of Dave's voice and actually presents us with a cool vocal melody. This leaves us with the four ballads, all of which are good. 'Come Dancing' was the closest thing to a hit and perhaps the last critically-remembered Kinks song of any value, although, frankly speaking, its primary value is in not having any particular value - it's just a retroish Fifties-style popper with appropriate 'sister come dancing' thematics. (Cf. 'Jukebox Music' off Sleepwalker). The synth touch, though, certainly updates the song and brings it closer to the kind of sound elaborated by the Cars, so if you like the Cars, you'll like this, and vice versa. Then there's also the second best-known song from here, which is 'Don't Forget To Dance', and it's good enough - a great consolative hymn to the aging lady of 'Come Dancing'... but the thing that spoils all the fun is that the song is basically a rewrite of 'Misfits' - apart from the chorus, both the vocal melody and that pretty guitar line that the main body of the song is based upon completely coincide with 'Misfits'. I have but to reiterate Mark Prindle's once voiced complaint: what IS Ray's problem? Is it really so hard to write a new song that he has to constantly draw on his own past writings for inspiration? So I turn for said inspiration to 'Property' instead - masterful use of the synth (I adore that wah-wah-shaped wobble that really adds an enormous depth to the song), catchy as hell vocal hooks that don't seem to be lifted off anything (not for the moment, at least), and cool harmonies all over the place. 'Heart Of Gold' is masterful, too, an endearing ode that has Ray at his most charming; I simply can't imagine the more sensitive ladies not swooning all over the song. Not that it's independent. Okay, maybe I'm already paranoid... Maybe I'm starting to imagine things. Why does that chorus ('but underneath the cold exterior I know you've got a heart of gold') remind me so painfully of 'you got something better, you've got a heart of stone' ('Property Of Jesus'; Bob Dylan; Shot Of Love; 1981). If it IS a coincidence, which I'm not sure of, the Lord was certainly playing a cruel joke on Mr Davies. Regardless, still a beautiful song. Still, all these facts (but two complete duffers, nice mastery of metal techniques, etc.) were undecisive until I heard the bonus tracks on the blessed Velvel release - 'Once A Thief' is an expendable rocker as far as I'm concerned, and the extended mix of 'Don't Forget To Dance' is like all extended mixes are supposed to be, but 'Long Distance' certainly gotta qualify as one of Ray's best ever long-period ballads. It may not seem much at first, but give it a try. When Ray gets to the chorus, there's a vision of musical paradise right before ya - 'am I talking to long distance, can you put me through, twelve thousand miles but I got no resistance... LONG DISTANCE LONG DISTANCE LONG DISTANCE!'. It's more than tension, it's hypertension and a brilliant, breathtaking, untrivial resolution of what could have been the ordinariest of the ordinary mid-tempo "ballad-rockers", undoubtedly a stroke of genius. Total friggin' marvel which shows that Ray was not at all spent, it's just that inspiration only seemed to visit him once in a while. Oh yeah, and there's also 'Noise', an excellent rocker dedicated to... well, dedicated to noise. Usually, the Kinks' late period metal clash gets on people's nerves, but here it's supposed to get on your nerves - it's a song about noise, after all. 'ALL I HEAR IS NOISE, CAN'T GET AWAY FROM THE NOISE...'. What's with the weird-sounding Eastern-influenced mid-sections? What's with the moody synths? What's with the excellent guitar solo? What's with the Kinks saving their best songs for B-sides and all that crap? DANG! All in all, this Velvel cookie is definitely the one late-period Kinks album to own if you only want to own one, although I'd personally save some more money and buy the more 'lightweight' but equally 'fun' Low Budget as a minor companion.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
WORD OF MOUTH
Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9
Dreary-hard rock mixed with unreasonable balladry - what a shame.
Best song: DO IT AGAIN - nothing even comes close.
Track listing: 1) Do It Again; 2) Word Of Mouth; 3) Good Day; 4) Living On A Thin Line; 5) Sold Me Out; 6) Massive Reductions; 7) Guilty; 8) Too Hot; 9) Missing Persons; 10) Summer's Gone; 11) Going Solo.
Looks like the Kinks were travelling on a roller coaster throughout the period - one good album alternating with one terribly mediocre for almost a decade. Here I was all puffed up about how effectively the songs on State Of Confusion recaptured the band's melodicity of yore and even returned them to their Brit-pop roots with stuff like 'Come Dancing', and how the bonus tracks were really a great addition... nah.
As it turns out, they dared follow that album with a bland, meandering, dreadfully inconsistent collection of rockers that do not rock and ballads that do not ballad, er, resonate, whatever. Apparently, the recording sessions for it sucked pretty much, with Mick Avory finally kicked out of the band for good in the very midst (he only plays drums on three songs - coincidentally, the worst ones, which pretty much proves that the band settled down a bit when the endless bickering between Dave and Mick came to an end); but that still cannot serve as an excuse. No, the Kinks do not go back to the exaggerated metallism of Give The People; instead, they just do a boring set of hard rock songs, full of hideous production, hookless generic riffs and distracted, uninteresting Ray vocals. There is at least one exception from the formula, the band's last significant chart contribution 'Do It Again'. Borrowing riffs and chords from all possible departments as usual, it still manages to work because it captures an atmosphere of optimism and cheerfulness so well. It's strange, if you ask me, that they preferred to begin the record with the song instead of ending it on that note, as the usual formula for the several preceding albums (bar State Of Confusion) was to put the album's most optimistic anthem as the last one. But maybe they were just totally at the end of their rope and had to begin the record with what they knew was the best song, I don't know. In any case, that looping hard rock riff between the verses is pretty cool and powerful, and I'll be damned if the echoey 'do it again... do it again... do it again...' doesn't constitute a hook. The song's easily the last total Kinks classic you'll ever hear - and Ray certainly acknowledged that fact by making 'Do It Again' the chronologically latest number to be performed during the To The Bone shows ten years later. There's not a single good song on here apart from 'Do It Again', though; most of the other material ranks from passable to very, very mediocre. For one thing, Word Of Mouth is very scant on romantic ballads, and judging from the single example, I can see why: 'Missing Persons' is pure melodyless schlock a la Barry Manilow or late period Elton John. Not only does it take a whole fuckin' minute to actually get going, it simply ridicules the conception of 'ballad attractiveness' as such, by containing not a single hook. If you like the sound of a piano going ding-ding and Ray's sweet voice going hoo-hoo, you'll probably like it, but please don't come running to me with bazooka in hand screaming how this is an underrated masterpiece worthy of 'Sunny Afternoon' or even 'Little Bit Of Emotion'. Speaking of emotion, yeah Ray, a little bit of emotion wouldn't hurt, actually. As for the rockers... eh, well, I really like Dave's white-noisy tone which screechingly opens the title track, but after the first three seconds it just turns out to be a 'Low Budget' kind of thing without the catchiness of the chorus and without the sense of humour. Whoever had the bad idea of making 'Good Day' begin with these dinky electronic bleeps must be shot on the spot; not only do these dinky bleeps have nothing to do with the song, they also make me paranoidally reach out for my pocket watch to press the "stop" button every time they come on. The harmonica in the song is probably a good touch, and it's a good thing that the song lacks a generic metal riff, but otherwise I don't have anything interesting to say about it. Dave's 'Living On A Thin Line' is marginally entertaining, I guess, except that he seems even more fascinated by modern technology than his brother (which would really work bad on 'When You Were A Child' off the next album) - but at least there's a hook in the chorus or sumpthin'. I'm also a bit partial to the crunchy start of 'Guilty' and to the comic country-rock and lounge stylizations on the album's "humour number" 'Too Hot', and I guess 'Going Solo' with its chimy synths tries to recapture a bit of the 'Come Dancin' atmosphere, but it still fails. Don't even make me mention the other songs. Nothing stinkingly bad, mind you - it's still a strong overall nine - just mediocrity in spades. Look, I'm not exactly Mr "I-want-every-song-to-be-a-masterpiece". I'm really tolerant, I just want to have a nice little hook to go along with the nice little hard rocker you're offering me. Now don't crucify me if you didn't give me the hook. In fact, I'll say more: I'm willing to admit that Word Of Mouth was such a drastic failure just because, well, the time wasn't good. Their next album, in fact, would work around that situation a bit by putting Ray more upfront, punching the energy up some and actually taking more care of the hooks. But trust me, this experience is pretty miserable. And the bonus tracks? Two extended edits of two unmemorable songs? Pfff. I actually got a used copy of the older, non-bonussed version and I'm staying with it, thank you very much.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
A generic "classic rock" album in 1986? Wowee, not an uninteresting proposition.
Best song: none.
Track listing: 1) Working At The Factory; 2) Lost And Found; 3) Repetition; 4) Welcome To Sleazy Town; 5) The Video Shop; 6) Rock'n'Roll Cities; 7) How Are You; 8) Think Visual; 9) Natural Gift; 10) Killing Time; 11) When You Were A Child.
There's two good things I can really say about this record. The first one is that for a 1986 album released by an "oldies" band, this is surprisingly well-produced: guitars-a-plenty, a solid "classic" rhythm section, and maybe only just a couple or so songs suffer from over-synth-treatment. Well, it's not like the songs really have that fresh and raw rock'n'roll energy to them, but hey, the Kinks had all but lost that energy a long time ago (in fact, one could argue that the band never really rocked convincingly even in the Seventies, although that wouldn't be entirely true), and so with lowered standards Think Visual comes across as a perfectly enjoyable album, from a purely sonic point of view. Real drums, real guitars, no computer processing... eh? Not bad, I think! And since "heaviness" doesn't come across as the word of the day, there's very little of that generic garbage metal riffing that clogged just about everything at the time.
The second good thing is that Ray's charisma is still working, in fact, it's probably the only thing that saves a good majority of these underwritten, frequently hookless tunes. He's long since run out of original ideas, and spends most of the record falling back on the cud he'd chewn for twenty years now: boredom and routine of the everyday life, petty escapism, rough and rude anti-humane establishment, and the overall believe-in-yourself philosophy. But he's still in great vocal shape, and usually manages to deliver his message in a fun, endearing way anyway. Which is good, because with Think Visual, the Kinks finally reached the bottom of their social importance. It was the first Kinks record not to have a single classic or near-classic song on it; at least Word Of Mouth had 'Do It Again', but the songs on this record, all of them, are so uniformly "pleasantly mediocre" that it would be impossible to pick a highlight. I'm not even sure if there were any singles taken off the album, but even if there were, none of them made any chart impact, nor did the album itself; apparently, the public just didn't need any more slices of nostalgia like 'Come Dancing' from these guys, nor were they really offering any. And what they were offering didn't interest the public much. It doesn't even interest me that much, frankly speaking, but believe it or not, the songs do grow on you with time, as you start to notice some subtle details here and there, or it's just the sincere, charismatic atmosphere that starts eating into your brain, which only goes to prove that Ray's genius is still present - maybe hampered by the fact that the man just wasn't willing to even give a simple try to move on into some different territory at the time, not any more. But in any case, 'Working At The Factory' is a decent opener with a nice lyrical allegory - the protagonist spends his youth as a factory worker, then discovers music as his saviour only to be transformed back into a 'factory worker' when the music industry becomes as soulless as the original factory itself. The primitive melody still gets redeemed by Ray's passionate delivery and the song's passion. Then 'Lost And Found' is a moody minimalistic ballad that might have worked fine in the hands of Stevie Nicks, but I still like the way Ray intones 'we were lost... and found, just in time with the hurricane crossing the coastline'. One of those songs that can be called "a positive zero tune" - nothing really going on, but you're still feeling good about it. 'Repetition', to me, sounds like a rip-off of John Lennon's 'Nobody Told Me' plus some other tune I can't exactly remember (Jesus, that riff gotta have been reused - I just can't seem to remember where it comes from), but a goofy enough rip-off. The bluesy 'Welcome To Sleazy Town', building upon the foundation of 'A Gallon Of Gas', is a funny enough tale that should have been used as the title theme to some movie with a similar plotline - would be a great 'un. 'I used to have this spot on main street, it was bouncing, it was hot...'. No great shakes again, but I like what the Kinks can do to a bluesy rhythm to totally twist it and suit it to their own needs. And 'The Video Shop' ends the first side with a funny poppy melody, unfortunately a little spoiled by synthesizer abuse and the fact that it has 'video' in the title, even if the song is actually a muffled sarcastic attack on the video business. The second side opens with brother Dave singing praise to the devil's music as played in 'Rock'n'Roll Cities', which sounds like a parody on bad ZZ Top but still has some corny appeal which I can't seem to figure out, takes you further into mean-nothing-remember-nothing-feel-good-anyway ballad territory with 'How Are You', presents you with the band's only attempt at a 'specific' sound with the rocking title track that goes from weird acoustic picking in the intro to a bouncy unusual guitar riff in the song's main part to an unexpected music-hall-piano enhanced break (eh? Ray, that was bizarre!), then segues into preaching territory with 'Natural Gift' that dares to reuse the 'I Can't Explain' riff once again, at the same time pairing it with big "artsy" synthesizer swoops that almost come out of nowhere and a classy bassline with one of Jim Rodford's best performances ever, soothes your mind with yet another friendly ballad ('Killing Time'), and then ends in a complete disaster with brother Dave's overproduced synth-driven 'When You Were A Child' that could have been recorded by any synth-pop outfit, you just name it. Wowie zowie, and I ended up with namechecking every single song on here, too, what an honour for such a mediocre album. In any case, I think it's still a must have for obstinate Ray fans - it doesn't deviate from the "late Kinks formula" at all, and I guess it's albums like these that go on to become minor cult favourites just because they didn't have any hits (in the "yeah, everybody loves State Of Confusion because it had 'Come Dancing' on it, but me, I far prefer Think Visual because it's not so hit-oriented and actually provokes you into thinking" vein). Funny enough, Mick Avory is credited for drumming on 'Rock'n'Roll Cities' - which probably means it must be an outtake from the Word Of Mouth sessions, if not earlier.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
LIVE: THE ROAD
Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9
Yeah, I know the title can be misleading, but imagine that, it is in fact a live album, recorded on the road.
Best song: THE ROAD
Track listing: 1) The Road; 2) Destroyer; 3) Apeman; 4) Come Dancing; 5) Art Lover; 6) Cliches Of The World (B Movie); 7) Think Visual; 8) Living On A Thin Line; 9) Lost And Found; 10) It; 11) Around The Dial; 12) Give The People What They Want.
Now come on guys, this ain't really funny. So all right, I know Ray Davies doesn't really like performing old material in concert, preferring to stick to whatever fresh songs he had the luck to pen in the preceding four or five years (never mind that the "fresh" songs are usually just a re-run of old ideas). But there's gotta be a limit to everything - releasing a live album with only one song dating back to the "golden era", and even that one from 1970, is just stupid, goddammit. I know Ray prob'ly knew nobody was going to buy the stuff anyway, but it still gotta stand as one of the most embarrassing statements from the Kinks. Not to mention the total lack of inventiveness: only a band that has almost completely lost it can issue a live album called Live: The Road after it already issued a live album called One For The Road. (I'm sorely itching for a pun, but I think I'll refrain, it's way too obvious).
Anyway, it's not horribly bad or anything, it's just... weird. There's one new studio recording here, called - guess what - 'The Road', easily the most autobiographic song Ray ever wrote, so autobiographic, in fact, that it namechecks all the Kinks (for some reason, the exiled Mick is referred to as 'Mrs Avory's son' - eh? Was there a taboo over mentioning the name 'Mick' imposed by Dave?), as well as draws comparisons between the Kinks and Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and... Free for some reason. The lyrics are almost pathetically clumsy throughout, but the song itself is actually pretty decent, with a couple time signatures to show that the band still knows how to use 'em, and with a lot of the same nostalgic charisma that made Think Visual a justifiable buy. There's also one more new song recorded live, called 'It', starting with a taped quotation from Gorbachev-Reagan detente talks on TV and then transforming into a rumination on the life of a bored housewife or something. Anti-commercial and anti-routine, anyway, with a slice of nostalgia again and a strange half-bluesy, half-jazzy jam at the end which steals its main melodic line from somewhere but I just can't remember where exactly. Oh wait, I remember, the introduction to 10cc's 'The Second Sitting For The Last Supper'. Probably a coincidence, dammit. As for the one "golden oldie" I mentioned, it's 'Apeman' - which deceptively starts with one bar of 'Lola' and one traditional call-and-response of the silly banana song. A good rendition, which actually made me, for the first time in ages, remind of how great the effect is when Ray and Dave sing in unison, with Dave's higher pitch providing a great counterpoint for Ray's lower notes. Still inferior to the endearing ska take on the song as heard on To The Bone, though; and besides, it runs for a bare-bones two minutes. Say what you want, Ray is still the master of "fuck you, I don't give a shit about what you want to hear" approach. Now the actual track selection could certainly be worse. I think the only two inclusions with which I'd have to radically disagree are 'Around The Dial' (gosh, Ray, you can do heavy metal much better than that) and 'Art Lover' (which, to me, still sounds like a song about a child molester, no matter how much Kinks fans are going to disagree with me. I mean, 'come to daddy'? Whaddafuck?). But on the positive side of life, they do a charming version of 'Come Dancing' which couldn't be performed any better; demonstrate the exact reasons why 'Cliches Of The World (B Movie)' is actually a good song (hey, late period Kinks' depression don't get any better than the 'just an illusion! just an illusion!' cry in the middle eight of the song); do two of the better songs on Think Visual (well, actually, scrap that 'better' - they're all pretty uniform); and while I would certainly prefer to hear 'Do It Again' than 'Living On A Thin Line', this relatively underproduced version is definitely better than the one on the studio record. Oh yeah, and the actual show begins with the familiar 'All Day And All Of The Night' riff, but just as you clutch the liner notes to see if you missed any hidden tracks or anything, the band reminds you that they're actually playing 'Destroyer' instead, with a little bit of spoken comedy in the beginning. And, of course, the album ends with 'Give The People What They Want', which is pretty misleading for the album, if you ask me. Ray, do you really think that the people want this album? Some people never cease to be childish idealists. So do I have anything positive and uplifting to say about this? Well, maybe only the fact that since this material is all relatively new, the Kinks actually have fun playing it. Don't get me wrong - I don't want a "greatest hits live" package, or at the very least if it's gonna be one, I'll take something like To The Bone, a nostalgic and intimate 'this-is-gonna-be-the-last-time' farewell to the Kinks' legacy. But I still think that throwing in two or three "golden oldies", especially something rare and untainted like, I dunno, 'Harry Rag' or 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home', could have seriously benefited this record. Ah well, I'm not the boss here anyway.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9
The album cover is... uh... kind of smart. I guess.
Best song: AGGRAVATION
Track listing: 1) Aggravation; 2) How Do I Get Close; 3) UK Jive; 4) Now And Then; 5) What Are We Doing; 6) Entertainment; 7) War Is Over; 8) Down All The Days (To 1992); 9) Loony Balloon; 10) Dear Margaret; 11) Bright Lights; 12) Perfect Strangers.
"Mr Ray Davies, please? May I have you for a second, just, you know, to get your plans for your next record? We're all waiting with impatience!"
"Well you know... I'm actually glad you asked, because in my mind's eye, it's going to be a golly gee delicious little album. Let's see now... I have written a song about how modern day civilization oppresses the individual and makes him subject to stress and neurosis. Then there's a song I have about how in modern day civilization all kinds of humane emotions are lost and true feelings are hard to come by... well, yeah, there's also this song about how in modern day civilization people swallow the bait of lightweight entertainment that makes them oblivious to their social problem. And oh, did I mention I also wrote an interesting song about how modern day civilization actually destroyed the primal innocence of the virgin world, uncorrupted by politicians and corporations? As well as penning another song where the protagonist is a guy oppressed by modern day civilization and wondering why it is driving the world to inevitable apocalypsis? Wait a bit, I still haven't told you about this little ditty I wrote about how in modern day civilization the mass media are happy to feed the people with violence and crime and the people actually demand more of that stuff... or about how modern day civilization treats its veterans like swine, duping them with patriotic ideology when necessary and abandoning by the side of the road when the time has passed. Say, maybe you want to hear this fresh little song? It's about how modern day civilization promises total bliss and prosperity in the nearest time without the least proof that it can actually manage it! Or if you don't like it, chances are you'll like this here tune where I use the metaphor of a balloon to show how modern day civilization actually leads people to insanity... oh wait, here comes my brother Dave - he'll be happy to explain you a few things about our prime minister... hey hey mister reporter, don't you wanna hear what the last two songs are about?" .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Ray Davies should be ashamed of himself. UK Jive isn't a bad album - it's just a typical Eighties Kinks album - but somehow it almost thrives on being the prototypically generic Eighties Kinks album. Never as of yet have all of Ray's songs been so blunt and straightforward; sometimes it seems we're being treated to a public lecture course on the wrongdoings of capitalism instead of a musical album. Never as of yet has he recycled that many musical ideas - almost every song, unless it has a melody so bland and hookless you can't even remember where it was ripped off from, features musical quotes and stolen riffs from a gazillion of sources, both the Kinks' own and any kind of band from the Who to Pink Floyd. And never as of yet have I felt this burning, tingling, devastating sensation of total, absolute, unprecedented redundancy. Listening to UK Jive makes me feel like a mentally challenged patient who has to be retold the same kind of message over and over again to at least begin to get to the core of it. Except I don't like to feel like a mentally challenged patient! Thank God at least that when taken one by one, the songs aren't really that much worse than the ones on Think Visual or the ones on Word Of Mouth. (Although this is a lower nine than the WOM one - maybe a high eight would be more like it). The biggest blow is that they're all put together; it's just one horrendous streak of Ray spewing out more venom than I could even imagine him having. It seems like age is only making things worse for the man; at least, through all the bleakness of the preceding records we could occasionally perceive an optimistic glimpse or two coming out (usually on the final track - 'Better Things', 'Get Up', etc.), but not on UK Jive. It's ALL depressing and bleak. Geez, even brother Dave, who was really never much of a political writer, now feels it his duty to uphold his brother with the sneering 'Dear Margaret' (surprised the band didn't get sued for it - 'I like your wiggle when you walk'? And the whole metaphoric presentation of the lady as a cheap whore? Ah well, who cares if the album didn't sell anyway!). Speaking individually, 'Aggravation' is kinda nifty, a six-minute hard-rockin' epic (it's the one that actually resembles Floyd's 'Another Brick In The Wall' in parts) with several interchanging parts. 'How Do I Get Close' is the only song on the entire record that feels endearing to me in the classic Ray Davies fashion, displaying this fascinating warmth of vocal tone and emotional richness that, in the past, used to bring me to tears; now it just reminds me of those other songs that did. 'War Is Over' comes close to matching this warmness, but unfortunately, has even less melodic potential. 'Loony Balloon' is seriously dragging and can bore you in seconds, but if it doesn't, you might like the lazy shuffle that isn't actually overblown to pathetic volume like most other songs. And I never thought I'd say it about any Kinks album, but bro'r Dave actually wins over bro'r Ray on here - 'Dear Margaret' is stupid, but fun (besides, bro'r Dave is always more convincing than bro'r Ray when he has his way on a heavy rocker), and 'Bright Lights' and 'Perfect Strangers' are (a) mildly catchy and (b) the only songs on the album that don't deal with politics or sociology, which is refreshing. Instead of inserting them among Ray's tracks, though, they made the mistake of putting all the three at the tail end of the album, and thus endangered them because one might just not be able to sit through this pile of blandness until track 10. Now I'm really not that hard on the album - and I actually did sit through it several times and it wasn't really a headache (as it would be with the following record) - but I'm still not willing to go into details over the songs because, well, I simply have better things to do. Oh wait, just one more before I go: the title track has got to be one of the worst Kinks songs ever recorded, from the ridiculous 'du-d-du-d-du' Sha-Na-Nisms of the intro to the 'My Generation' coda "sampling" of the outro. Ray, you simply have bad taste.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 6
What are these guys doing, trying to rival Slayer or anything? SOS!
Best song: SOMEBODY STOLE MY CAR
Track listing: 1) Opening; 2) Wall Of Fire; 3) Drift Away; 4) Still Searching; 5) Phobia; 6) Only A Dream; 7) Don't; 8) Babies; 9) Over The Edge; 10) Surviving; 11) It's Alright (Don't Think About It); 12) The Informer; 13) Hatred (A Duet); 14) Somebody Stole My Car; 15) Close To The Wire; 16) Scattered.
The critics hated it, the people never bought it, and I can sure tell why. If you thought Give The People was heavy metal, then this one is the ultra-heaviest. This is not to say that it's good heavy metal, like the one you'd find on a few better albums like Low Budget or State Of Confusion - it's just generic crappy heavy metal. Either Ray and Dave thought the world wasn't yet convinced of their having fore-fathered the genre, or else they thought that straightforward metal arrangements would perfectly suit the general mood of the album - which really isn't that pretty. The album cover is gray, and the music sure as hell is of the same colour. Songs about disillusionment, crisis, hatred, fear and death abound - long gone are the happy days when Ray preferred to hide himself from these things behind a wall of picture books, Waterloo sunsets and tin soldier men. This time we have a 'Wall Of Fire' instead. About half of the songs are driven by heavy, boring metal riffs, and Dave plays an obligatory metallic solo in every one, so they practically end up sounding like each other. You might get interested in 'Wall Of Fire' just because it's the album opener, but 'Drift Away', the title track, 'It's Alright' (Dave's solo spot), and lots and lots of others - they aptly demonstrate that there was really nothing good about 'Wall Of Fire', it was just the first song, 's all. Yeah, indeed.
Not that there aren't any 'softer' tracks. There are, but they're dull as well, like 'Only A Dream' which sounds as an uninspired parody on Dylan's 'Tangled Up In Blue' (both lyrically and melodically). Something definitely went wrong for those sessions: Ray sounds distanced and cold instead of how he's usually supposed to sound - intimate and warm. The vocal/melodic hooks are also things of a distant past by now. Pisspoor ballads like 'Still Searching' sound like a Kinks-imitating band with not a single clue as to what they're exactly doing. Relative standouts include 'Hatred (A Duet)' with Ray discussing his personal problems with Dave, and the Beatlish 'Somebody Stole My Car' (with a direct reference to 'Drive My Car' in the end). 'Hatred' is pretty nice, being the fastest rocker on the record, and the idea of Ray and Dave sharing a duet together and making lots of references to their personal problems works not only on paper. 'Somebody Stole My Car', then, steals the 'best song' spot only because it's somewhat more lightweight and easy-going than just about everything else. But they're only relative standouts, anyway, which means they haven't got a chance of acquiring 'classic' status. At least, only over my dead body. I really don't know what happened, but obviously at some particular moment in his life Ray totally lost the ability of composing good music. I really don't have the least idea as to why. I have a deep hidden feeling it can have something to do with Dave's love for heavy metal, but this can't be the sole explanation. Take their two recent compositions on 1994's To The Bone, for instance - they're so much better! And they're not heavy metal, either. Get the idea? I suppose I should simply read up on this stuff or something like that; maybe the sessions were tense, or maybe Ray's mind got thoroughly distracted midway through the writing process, or maybe... hey, could be anything. I just don't feel like searching for 'Kinks, Phobia' on the Internet right now. Even worse is the fact that this is one ultra-long album. Most of the tracks go well over four or even five minutes, when they really don't deserve it. This implies the fact that the album is almost impossible to sit through in one time - it's well over seventy minutes, and these are seventy minutes of torture. In fact, I really don't remember a more painful experience since listening to Clapton's Pilgrim. The closing tracks don't have the least chance to get caught in my memory - it's all a hard-rockin', hard-friggin' mess. Don't buy it unless you gave the oath of collecting every piece of plastic associated with Ray Davies. I couldn't even get myself to listen to it more than two times. I guess I ought to (what's a poor reviewer to do), but at least gimme time to catch my breath... P.S. Two years passed since I wrote this review and see what happens: I still agree with everything I wrote back then, and that doesn't happen too often. This further convinces me that Phobia is one of those really, really, really bad records that I had the unluck to review. Now I find out that, apart from 'Hatred' and 'Somebody Stole My Car' (still the only two good tracks on the album), the only thing I still keep in my brain is Ray wailing 'EVERYBODY GOT A PHOBIA!'. I sure have a phobia, too. Kinkophobia! Or, let's be more exact, Kakokinkophobia.
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TO THE BONE
Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Subtle! Good live versions of old classics just can't fail, now can they?
Best song: well, it's like a compilation, so screw it
Track listing: CD I: 1) All Day And All Of The Night; 2) Apeman; 3) Tired Of Waiting For You; 4) See My Friends; 5) Death Of A Clown; 6) Muswell Hillbilly; 7) Better Things; 8) Don't Forget To Dance; 9) Sunny Afternoon; 10) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion; 11) Do It Again (acoustic); 12) Do It Again.
CD II: 1) Celluloid Heroes; 2) Picture Book; 3) The Village Green Preservation Society; 4) Do You Remember Walter; 5) Set Me Free; 6) Lola; 7) Come Dancing; 8) I'm Not Like Everybody Else; 9) Till The End Of The Day; 10) Give The People What They Want; 11) State Of Confusion; 12) Dead End Street; 13) A Gallon Of Gas; 14) Days; 15) You Really Got Me; 16) Animal; 17) To The Bone.
Seeing as Phobia had just fared quite miserably, and probably realizing that the only force that was left in the Kinks lay in their roots, Ray made a sudden decision to release this live-in-the-studio album. The actual tracks are interspersed, though: judging by the audience's sounds, some are from large venues (like the opening 'All Day And All Of The Night') and some were probably done without any audience. Most, however, come directly from Konk Studios with a couple dozen guests admiring the band's skills at playing live. The track listing mostly consists of the evergreens from 1965-70 with a later hit thrown in now and then ('Come Dancing', 'Don't Forget To Dance', 'Give The People What They Want', 'Do It Again', even 'A Gallon Of Gas'!) As usual, most of the tracks are heavily metallized, but that's no serious problem, moreover, if you've heard the earlier live albums, you're supposed to be used to that.
Most interesting, though, is the fact that an absolute majority of these songs seem to work. The guitarwork is immaculate - you rarely hear a missed or sloppy note, Ray's vocals are indistinguishable from what they were twenty years earlier, and the rhythm section, even though it has nothing to do with the original Kinks (Bob Henrit on drums, Jim Rodford on base), is as tight as necessary. I would even go as far as to state that some of these versions surpass the originals - my pick is 'Set Me Free' which somehow seems to be transformed from a slightly noticeable pop ditty into a ferocious and highly emotional rocker, mainly due to Dave's mighty arena-rock passages at the beginning of the song. It should also be noted that 'Apeman' is simply gorgeous, being driven by accordeon and a prominent ska-ish drum pattern: it simply makes you wanna dance and sing along in a way that could never be done by the original version. Some other songs get a rearrangement, too: 'Do You Remember Walter' is being introduced by Ray as 'one of my Bavarian songs' and it does sound Bavarian (where's the accent, though?) until halfway through it regains the paranoid pulsating beat of the early version. Even some of the older stinkers turn out to be all right: 'Give The People What They Want', for instance, is stripped of the stupid martial rhythms and only retains the very meat, including the awesome metallic riff, thus being transformed into a solid catchy pop-metal affair. Plus, you also get a short acoustic set from Ray (apparently played because the other Kinks were late for the gig - hear Ray say stuff like 'I think the Kinks have just entered the building' all the time), where he invites the audience to sing along on 'Sunny Afternoon' and 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'. Now just don't you think that I'm a great lover of audience singalongs, but at least it's soothing to see that Ray has still got it in him. And he sure can play, too: just listen how aptly he substitutes that precious flute bit on 'Village Green Preservation Society' for acoustic guitar! Now that's what I call 'care-for-sound'! Other highlights include a nice remembering of 'See My Friends'... remember, arguably the first psychedelic song ever... heartfelt ballad renditions, as in the case of 'Don't Forget To Dance' and 'Better Things'... Dave's friendly ragged vocal on 'Death Of A Clown'... ah, well, it'd take forever to list all the minor twirls and twists. Nothing in particular really leaves me disappointed. Yeah, in fact, this album could even be recommended to Kinks neophytes who'd like to taste some of their best material. Of course, with some serious and nasty understatements, too. The metallizing of these tracks sounds all right by me, but it really isn't that typical of the classic Kinks sound - like I already said somewhere above, its main purpose is simply to remind people who really invented hard rock, because the Kinks were never born to be heavy metal players. And some of the most classic cuts really lose a bit of their magic 'childish/British' aura when played live ('Dead End Street', for one). On the plus, Kinks neophytes will have a chance to hear some of Ray's funny stories and entertaining banter in between songs, so they'll at least get some sweet fun in recompense. Oh, and another thing! The CD has two bonus studio tracks at the end - 'Animal' and the title track, namely. They're not particularly great, but they're good! The choruses sound nice and strong, and they're memorable. Lovely acoustic song, good familiar thematics - 'To The Bone' actually continues the topic of 'Juke Box Music' and 'Come Dancing', only with a strangely dark edge. And yeah, they're not at all heavy metal. What else can I say to convince you? Well, at least these tracks are a significant relief in that Phobia might now be judged not as a demonstration of total ruin and washed-upness, but rather as a creative misstep. This, of course, is appliable only if these two songs aren't some old outtakes. In which case I prefer to discard this last paragraph. Also, I've heard from different sources there are actually two To The Bone's - a UK one and a US one (gee, happy old days are here again!) The UK one is a single CD, but, just as you might guess, it contains some tracks not found on the US one. So?.. And it goes without saying that, if To The Bone turns out to be the last Kinks album - and it might as well turn out to be so, since the Kinks went on a grinding halt after the album - it's a nice and soothing summary of their entire legacy. Really, really comprehensive.
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THE GREAT LOST KINKS ALBUM [bootleg]
Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Everybody needs a little bit of unreleased stuff in their lives. To make them feel so much higher.
Best song: well, it is a compilation, so screw it!
Track listing: 1) Ballad Of The Virgin Soldiers; 2) I'm A Hog For You Baby; 3) I Believed You; 4) Revenge; 5) Got Love If You Want It; 6) Don't Ever Let Me Go; 7) This I Know; 8) A Little Bit Of Sunlight; 9) Tell Me Now So I'll Know; 10) There's A New World Just Opening For Me; 11) All Night Stand; 12) Time Will Tell; 13) Spotty Grotty Anna; 14) And I Will Love You; 15) She's Got Everything; 16) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion; 17) Mr Reporter; 18) Sand On My Shoes; 19) Lavender Hill; 20) Rosemary Rose; 21) Misty Water; 22) Mr Songbird; 23) Did You See His Name; 24) Where Did My Spring Go; 25) When I Turn Off The Living Room Light; 26) 'Til Death Us Do Part; 27) Pictures In The Sand; 28) Berkely Mews; 29) Easy Come There You Went; 30) This Man He Weeps Tonight.
Hello everybody. This is the general management of Only Solitaire speaking to you. Normally we don't allow bootleg reviewing on this site because we're nice law-abiding civilized gentlemen who reverentially see to it that every artist reviewed on this site gets every penny's worth of his income, but on this special occasion we're willing to waive the rules just once because the situation really calls for it. Our reviewing staff promises to remedy this unquestionable travesty by specially ordering 10,000 copies of Ray Davies' autobiography and distributing it among the illiterate people of Russia in order to promote the glory of the Kinks once and forever. And here's our one and only special reviewer d'honneur, George Starostin, to take it from here. Take it from here, George!
G.S. [hastily sweeping his huge heap of MP3 CDR-s under the carpet, standing up]: Err, hrr, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This day, we're gathered together to gather some information about the rarely seen and heard recordings of the unquestionably kinkiest band on Earth. Let me precede the boring academic description with a boring academic clarification: the original Great Lost Kinks Album was, in fact, an officially released record. It came out in 1973 and stayed in print for a few months before being withdrawn forever; it featured fourteen rare/unreleased songs by Ray and Dave, a few of which have become since available on compilations and Rhino re-issues of classic Kinks albums, but most of which still are pretty hard to locate unless on bootlegged copies. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to locate the original Lost Album; I have, however, been presented with this special bootleg edition, sent to me by the generous Mr Fredrik Tydal of faraway Sweden (a country that loved the Kinks so much it launched a thousand imitators, most notably Ace of Base). To be fair, it's a double bootleg, since what we have here [pulls out the CD] is a lovingly made copy of the bootleg itself. A goddamn authentic copy. [Scrutinizes the cover.] Well, of course, the cover could have been made more interesting than black and white, but since we all know that Sweden ranks up there with Mozambique and Romania as one of the world's poorest countries, I guess we can pardon Mr Tydal for not possessing a colour Xerox. Especially since he was kind enough to supply the original liner notes with some of his own comments. That's called "meticulous", if for any chance any of you dumbasses don't know the proper word for that approach. [Hisses from the audience, muffled screams of 'get on with it, already!'] Patience, gentlemen! If the fishy 'Neue Revue' has waited until the year 2000 to issue these thirty-to-thirty-five-year-old recordings, why isn't it possible for you to have one minute's patience? Okay then. This album gets an 8 not because there aren't too many fantastiwastic songs (there's plenty of those), but because it's rife with stuff of a very dubious quality, especially in the first part, which doesn't let me get around to enjoying the great stuff quickly enough. For instance, the 'Ballad Of The Virgin Soldiers', a 'theme tune written by Ray for a 1970 TV play', is a really crappy folksy instrumental with abysmal sound quality. I'm presuming it was never actually used, or else they could have employed the real TV version that certainly wouldn't have sounded like it was recorded in the Twenties. The alternate versions of 'Got Love If You Want It' and 'Revenge' don't go anywhere where the original versions didn't go. The acoustic demos from 1965 are pretty patchy, and while they do feature some nice melodic ideas, 'A Little Bit Of Sunlight' reeks a bit too much of Herman's Hermits for me. And so on and so on... Granted, there are some cool findings even from that period. For instance, I'm pretty sure that if 'Don't Ever Let Me Go' had ever been given a sharp, crisp arrangement and officially released, it would be a better song than 'You Really Got Me' - it employs the same famous riff, but is a bit more complex vocally and so wouldn't offend those who find 'You Really Got Me' way too minimalistic or something. The backing track for 'Spotty Grotty Anna' is dumb, but cool. And hey, even some of the demos are nice - one can only wonder what songs like 'All Night Long' could have metamorphosed into. Now the second part, starting from track 17 or so, is a different thing altogether. This one mostly consists of songs from the original Lost Album, omitting a few of these (like Dave Davies' several contributions) but also adding some that weren't present on the original. Needless to say, every Kinkophile needs this bunch in his collection: while I can't seriously say that any of these songs stand as equal with 'Sunny Afternoon' or 'Waterloo Sunset' or 'Victoria', they're universally better than much of the filler the Kinks were putting on Something Else, for instance. Lessee. 'Mr Reporter' is now available on the Rhino re-issues, but this here version features Ray on vocals, which is always preferrable to Dave (sorry Dave fans, Ray didn't sing the majority of the songs for nothing). The early version of 'Tin Soldier Man', called 'Sand On My Shoes' and featuring a different set of lyrics, is brilliant. If only 'Lavender Hill' and 'Rosemary Rose' had been included on Something Else instead of 'No Return' and 'Funny Face', the rating for that album would have been pumped up one point at least - 'Lavender Hill' has one of the very few wah-wah solos in the Kinks' collection, and 'Rosemary Rose' is somewhat similar to 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home' with its totally unpredictable chord changes and overall gloomy atmosphere. 'Misty Water' and 'Mr Songbird' are dang excellent Village Green outtakes - I guess the chord sequences on 'Misty Water' could have been deemed a bit too simple for that album, but that doesn't prevent it from sharing the same delicious English country vibe. Then there's a bunch of nice tunes recorded for the BBC TV in 1969, the best of these being 'Where Did My Spring Go' (another broken-hearted nostalgic wail from Ray Davies, culminating in absolute goofy hilariousness as Ray speeds up the tune chanting 'where did my teeth go, where did my muscles go, where did the pleasure go, where did my hair go, where did my liver go', etc., etc.); 'When I Turn Off The Living Room Light', a song that would have made Soap Opera a much better album had Ray remembered of the song's existence at the time of that album's writing; and the Twenties cabaret send-up 'Til Death Do Us Part', which is, if I'm not mistaken, the first attempt at the genre attempted by Ray before he turned that into his habitual occupation in the early Seventies. So there you go. I haven't namechecked all the songs, because this is an ungrateful occupation, but the album in general is certainly anything but a pointless waste of your time. Now that the promotion has been done, ladies and gentlemen, I humbly retreat back into the shade to review my complete Great White collection. Ah, the things a reviewer has to do to his honour in order to be recognized as "open-minded". Crap. I'd have earned more respect selling AT&T prospects. Have a nice evening, and may your musical tastes mature along with your hemorrhoids.
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BBC SESSIONS 1964-1977
Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
I think they could have represented the band's evolution better. But then again, maybe not?
Best song: unapplicable.
Track listing: CD I: 1) Interview; 2) You Really Got Me; 3) Interview; 4) Cadillac; 5) All Day And All Of The Night; 6) Tired Of Waiting For You; 7) Everybody's Gonna Be Happy; 8) See My Friends; 9) This Strange Effect; 10) Milk Cow Blues; 11) Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight; 12) Till The End Of The Day; 13) Where Have All The Good Times Gone?; 14) Death Of A Clown; 15) Love Me 'Til The Sun Shines; 16) Harry Rag; 17) Good Luck Charm; 18) Waterloo Sunset; 19) Monica; 20) Days; 21) The Village Green Preservation Society.
CD II: 1) Mindless Child Of Motherhood; 2) Holiday; 3) Demolition; 4) Victoria; 5) Here Comes Yet Another Day; 6) Money Talks; 7) Mirror Of Love; 8) Celluloid Heroes; 9) Skin And Bone/Dry Bones; 10) Get Back In The Line; 11) Did You See His Name; 12) When I Turn Off The Living Room Lights; 13) Skin And Bone; 14) Money Talks.
Well, now the BBC catches up with the Kinks (when's the Gerry And The Pacemakers At The Beeb due out?) - yet, as in the case of the Who, the results are a bit underwhelming. First of all, it's a 2-CD collection with each CD containing about fifty minutes of music, and where's the fun in that? Especially after you read all the liner notes about the sessions the songs were taken from - obviously, the BBC has enough material to fill up an entire boxset, and they don't even give the max on these two CDs? That's disgraceful, if you ask me.
The second problem is that in albums like these, it is essential to set the accents right - and they're certainly not set right over here. Oh sure, the Kinks performed unique live versions of their songs on a regular basis only in the early period, whereas later sessions are rife with "pseudo-live" tracks with occasionally re-recorded vocals. But all the more important it is to include every, or nearly every live performance from the 'classic' era. The album in question, meanwhile, has a lot of that pre-Face To Face stuff, and a lot of the post-Pye stuff (Disc 2 concentrates on the 1972-74 performances), and just one friggin' Arthur track... and nothing from Face To Face itself. That sucks, if you ask me. Of course, we have to be grateful for what we have anyway. At the very least, the two discs do provide a glimpse at the band's evolution from second-rate R'n'B performers with occasional glimpses of greatness to first-rate Brit-pop heroes and then to the "questionable" status of roots-rock/music hall heroes. The first eleven songs don't do a whole lot for me here; they present one minor surprise (the Kinks performing Dave Berry's hit 'This Strange Effect' - in full Kinks-style, but it's not like I'd be ready to die for this song) and pretty much nothing else. Mostly solid, occasionally a bit flabby, renditions of early classics, both self-written ('See My Friends' comes off as particularly good) and covers (yeah, nothing like a cheerful inclusion of 'Cadillac' to show how unexperienced these guys could be with their early R'n'B material! Fortunately, they make up for it later with an invigorating 'Milk Cow Blues'). Plus, a couple dumb questions from the BBC host and a couple equally dumb answers from the band members themselves ('what do you think are the essential ingredients of a #1 hit?' - Dave: 'uh... it's gotta be original... it's gotta be sincere... and-uh you gotta have what the kids want...'), which reminds me of the old truth about how rock stars are actually only dumb in direct proportion to the host/interviewer/reporter questioning them. Things get seriously better later on. There's sort of a "fake" Dave Davies solo section ("fake", because he's actually backed by the rest of the band), with the guy singing 'Death Of A Clown' and 'Love Me 'Til The Sun Shines', the latter particularly energizing. You also get 'Waterloo Sunset', which is a great boost to the album - there's no other known official live recording of the song, although this here version is disgustingly brief; another music-hall "throwaway" from Mr Dave, called 'Good Luck Charm' (nothing to do with the Elvis hit), and the definite highlight of the set, an inspiring 'Village Green Preservation Society' with Ray at the piano and Dave reproducing the timeless recorder hook on the guitar. Disc 2 is at the same time more mature and more patchy - I could certainly live the rest of my life without having to hear the chaotic version of 'Demolition' again, and even if 'Money Talks' is one of the best songs from the Preservation series, a whole two versions of it are hardly warranted, right? Still, the central part of the disc, all of it taken from a broadcasting of a live show at the London Hippodrome Theatre in July 1974, is excellent - and if you thought the messy, drunk, sloppy sound of the second disc of Show-Biz was an adequate representation of the Kinks sound at the time... well, come to think of it, it probably was when the Kinks toured the States in 1972. It certainly wasn't, though, in the midst of the Preservation galas, and songs like 'Victoria', 'Celluloid Heroes', and 'Here Comes Yet Another Day' are as tight and inflaming as anything else. Only 'Mirror Of Love' sounds shakey and squabbly at this concert, with the brass section all over the place, but that's how it is supposed to sound, right? Like a squabbly old Twenties recording. My biggest gripe with the album is that, while it says 1964-1977, there's actually only one track from 1977. It's good; it's a very moving (very slow-moving, too!) rendition of 'Get Back In The Line', the best ballad from Lola - although, of course, the 1977 audience doesn't seem to recognize it. But the same performance also included lots of Sleepwalker material, 'Slum Kids', 'Hard Way', and 'Father Christmas'. Where's all that? I want that concert! Why do the guys at the BBC do this in half-measures? What, do they think the public won't buy a CD with 'Slum Kids' on it? At least they do have the audacity to throw on a couple of lost gems like 'Did You See His Name' and 'When I Turn Off The Living Room Lights', but I already have those on the Lost Kinks Album bootleg. (Okay, so that's just between me and Fredrik Tydal. But what is that anyway, an appetizer for an unexisting main course?). Bottom line - for the fan only. (And no, not all BBC Sessions are only for fans. I'd recommend the Led Zep and Hendrix editions to just about anybody with even a mild interest in the guys). But for the fan, a must, if only to hear 'VGPS', the Golders Green concert bits, and 'Get Back In The Line'.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1996
There's at least a couple dozen notorious Kinks' hits packages, even though there's never yet been a complete retrospective box set, due to the numerous record labels the band had signed for, but this one's the most fresh and widely available. So if you're just starting with the band, you might as well get it, because the track selection is very reasonable. It covers the entire Pye period (1964-70), with practically no serious gaps: you get your early head-banging singles ('You Really Got Me', 'All Day And All Of The Night', 'Tired Of Waiting For You', 'Till The End Of The Day'), the fantastic Britfest stuff from 1966-67 ('Sunny Afternoon', 'Dead End Street', 'Waterloo Sunset', 'Autumn Almanac') and the cream of their 'mature', 1968-70 period (title track from TVGPS, 'Shangri-La', 'Drivin'', 'Lola', 'Apeman'), plus some 'rarities' which bands of lesser stature would have killed for ('Mr Pleasant'; 'Days'; the 1969 hilarious flop single 'Plastic Man'). I was somewhat disappointed by the inclusion of both 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' and 'Dandy', 'cos they pretty much sound the same; on the other hand, the exclusion of, say, 'Set Me Free', 'Picture Book' or 'Victoria' is a crying shame, but, in all, this is a very representative collection which can easily make a Kinks' fanatic out of you if you give it a couple o' spins.
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APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Since Ray Davies didn't ever really have to battle his material through to get the other Kinks' appreciation, being the main songwriter and all, it's unsurprising he's only had a couple minor side projects apart from his main band, and one of them already after the band just wouldn't function no more. They're no great shakes, these projects, but nice enough to own for devoted fans. As for brother Dave, he did have a short-lived, not too productive, solo career, and I have nothing against it being short-lived, if you ask me.
AFLI-3603 (released by: DAVE DAVIES)
Year Of Release: 1980
Overall rating = 9
Next time, better get somebody's help in the studio, sir.
Best song: RUN
Track listing: 1) Where Do You Come From; 2) Doing The Best For You; 3) Visionary Dreamer; 4) Nothin' More To Lose; 5) The World Is Changing Hands; 6) Move Over; 7) See The Beast; 8) Imagination's Real; 9) In You I Believe; 10) Run.
Coincidentally or not, Dave arguably chose the worst timing for launching a solo career. He'd almost had a shot at it in the late Sixties, back when 'Death Of A Clown' suddenly took off and established his image as that of a potentially independent songwriter - but apparently going solo around 1968-69 wasn't considered cool, and plans for a solo album were scrapped (most of the remnants can now be found among the bonus tracks to Arthur). Then there might have been a good spot in the mid-Seventies, when he and Ray almost had a falling out because of elder brother's rock opera pancakes - yet again he preferred to lay low and patiently wait until Ray's stock of Andrew Lloyd Webberistic ideas ran dry.
So it wasn't until the Kinks reestablished themselves, this time as crunchy arena-rock champions, in the late Seventies, that Dave resumed his plans for solo activity. Now, all together, let us try to remember the ingredients that Dave was bringing to the band around 1979-80. Key albums: Low Budget, One For The Road. Ring a bell? Right you are - the Generic Radio Friendly "Metal Lite" Guitar. With a level of technique and skill much higher than before, but seriously cutting down on freshness and, well, reality of the sound. So seriously, in fact, that somewhere in between Low Budget and Give The People What They Want his guitar parts pretty much turned from corny entertainment to noisy slop. And also, somewhere in between these two he released his first solo album. In the great Paul McCartney/Roy Wood tradition, Dave insisted upon handling all the instruments himself, with the exception of drums and lead guitar on a small bunch of tracks. Mistake. Error. Miscarriage. Not because he can't play them, not even because the playing is too clumsy and/or the overdubs too obvious - no, merely because Dave Davies isn't too interesting as a multi-instrumentalist. These keyboards he plays, they're mostly generic Eighties squeaky-synthy ones (especially painful on 'Doing The Best For You', where the whole song is pinned on a keyboard riff), and these drums he pounds, they're just strictly rhythm-keeping, and these guitars... ooh, these guitars. Whenever he keeps the tone quiet and subtle, be it acoustic or folksy "electric mild", it's tolerable, but I just don't buy into this "glossy rock'n'roll vibe" at all. Very coprorate-sounding, uh, I mean, corpo-rate. Then there's the issue which I cannot get around. I'd like to, but every time I try, it blocks my way that very instant, so I'll just have to let it out: I still don't like Dave Davies' voice. In fact, more than that, I still find Dave Davies' voice one of the most displeasing voices in rock'n'roll history. It's okay on Kinks records, where it doesn't come along too often, but when it's ten songs in a row, I feel like I'm justified to make some sort of complaint. Dear Mr Davies, your voice STILL SUCKS AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. I know, I know you can't help it, and I know encoding it electronically would make it seem like you agree with me, but that's my feeling, and I can't help it either. On the positive side, if it's arena-rock we're dealing with, I'd rather have yours than Lou Gramm's. None of this would be too painful, though, were the songs on here real good. But they aren't. At least, they haven't managed to prove it to me. Dave follows the strict "rockers / ballads" rule, but his ballads come across as way too stadium-oriented to leave space for solid hooks, and the rockers, in classic elder brother fashion, are for the most part recycled and somewhat trite. Once or twice, however, Dave does step aside into "power-pop" territory, delivering something in between a rocker and a ballad, and that's where the main blob of entertainment value is to be found. I like 'Run', for instance. Even if Dave overscreams on it, his pair o' chords ain't gonna apply for opera any time soon, and the resulting roughness nullifies any potential 'power ballad' effect. It's the only song on this album, I think, that could have become a minor Kinks classic if only Dave's minor ego would overcome itself and yield the vocal duties to Ray's major one. Well, that one and 'Imagination's Real', I suppose. The nice guitar tones and slight attempts at background vocal harmonies there are quite Kinkish as well, and even when it comes to the lyrics, Dave seems to be cuing his inspiration from Big Brother, although I wouldn't recommend anyone to actually open the lyrics sheet: Ray's verses himself, especially by the early Eighties, were becoming pretty trite, and nothing useful will come out of analysing Dave's second-hand production. Typical quote: "Got to leave the old world behind/Use a fantasy/Imagination is real". Okay, maybe it's irony. It's not much of a relief. But never mind the lyrics, it's just a pretty nice song with a pretty nice chorus. Also, Dave is becoming a real great guy when it comes to "cathartic soloing" - somehow he is able to squeeze a ton of real emotion out of these high notes with no cringing and shoulder-shrugging involved on my part. However, the other two ballads, ones which press upon the "power" aspect on the thing, are completely expendable. Not "horrible", no. (Which reminds me to remind you of a standard procedure: before calling a power ballad "horrible", don't forget to do the 'Aerosmith check', i. e. ask yourself the question: "Would I rather listen to this or 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing'" and if the answer is (b), I won't forget to put flowers on your grave). But certainly inadequate and placing volume value over hook value, and believe you me, it is not a very gratifying experience to hear the acoustically challenged voice of Dave Davies battle it out with trashy anthemic-metal guitar. As if in desperation, Dave even tries to explore his rockabilly roots, basing 'Nothin' More To Lose' and 'Move Over' on simplistic rock'n'roll chord sequences and even lyrically paraphrasing 'Roll Over Beethoven' on the former. Can't say it makes me happy - once again, the guitar sound is just not right. He who wishes to do retro rock'n'roll must not do so according to the tonebook of Judas Priest. Judas Priest have their own set of rules, good for Judas Priest. Chuck Berry had his own. No good shall come out of their meeting on a Dave Davies solo album. None of the other rockers are memorable at all, save for that nagging synth riff on 'Doing The Best For You', which I find annoying and hope the same for you. Oh yeah, there's supposed to be some conceptual stuff splattered around, too, but please wake me up when you find it. It probably has to do with the album title - simply the record's bar code, supposedly a sarcastic reaction to corporate domination (the new CD edition, by the way, is renamed AFLI-4036 - hey, can't wade through the same river). And then there's a whole bunch of fuck-the-system lyrics, too, which brother Ray would probably highly approve as well. I could care less, of course, unless it's just one of my grumbling conservative days. The final Georgepinion on this puppy is - nobody needs it, although listening to it is hardly fatal (slight neuroses are possible among highly susceptible individuals, though). If it's the subtle creative soul of D.D. you're after, you're much better off with a solid compilation of his Kinks-era material. If it's ballsy Eighties rock'n'roll, try, I dunno, Metallica instead. If it's social critique, try setting yourself on fire on the White House lawn. In short, life can be so much more entertaining than having listened to AFLI-3603 five times in a row that I think I'm gonna try some Latin dancing right after I upload this review. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and have a nice Dave, ho ho ho.
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BUG (released by: DAVE DAVIES)
Year Of Release: 2002
Overall rating = 11
You know... the world so doesn't need a solo Dave Davies album in 2002, he has little choice but to make it real real good to even begin to justify its existence.
Best song: ROCK YOU ROCK ME
Track listing: 1) Who's Foolin' Who; 2) It Ain't Over; 3) The Lie!; 4) Let Me Be; 5) Displaced Person; 6) Rock You Rock Me; 7) Flowers In The Rain; 8) Fortis Green; 9) Why?!!; 10) True Phenomenon; 11) Bug; 12) De-Bug; 13) Life After Life (Transformation); [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Susannah's Still Alive; 15) Death Of A Clown; 16) Dead End Street.
Actually, this is a somewhat important release. Not only is Bug Dave's first solo project in two decades, it's also the first entirely new Kinks-related project in one decade, and throwing subjectivity in the pot, it's the best Kinks-related project I've ever heard since at least State Of Confusion. All these years the world has been waiting for brother Ray to come out with something special, serious, and solo; but considering that after all these years, brother Ray has more or less caught up with the practice of lazing on sunday afternoons - and no-one of his age and past merits could be blamed for that - Dave finally, for once, sort of got an upper hand.
It's inarguably Dave's best solo album, and I'm not afraid to say this even not having heard some of his Eighties' stuff. Why? Because it's the one that does not scream "Dave Davies Solo Album!" at people who can understand it if somebody cries, say, "Lou Reed Solo Album!", but don't quite get the potential meaning of a "Dave Davie Solo Album!". Instead, Bug pretty much reads like a new Kinks album, warts and all. In fact, just hand, like, half of these songs over to Ray to sing and you won't feel the difference at all. Not that such a move is necessary or anything. For the first time in my life, I have actually enjoyed eleven tracks in a row as vocally performed by Davies "Stop Your Naggin'" Junior. Not only that, but on some of the tracks his singing is actually passionate and even beautiful. Age has not diminished the whine in his intonations, but it has taken out some of the hoarseness and adjusted his cords for maximum effect on ballad-like material. Then again, maybe it's just that he never cared much for ballad-like material in the first place; we all know Dave the ballsy rocker, but few of us have ever paid much attention to Dave the charming heartbreaker because that has always been reserved for Ray. Now, with Ray unavailable, brother Dave is pretty much taking over everything. The rockers, the social critique, the power ballads, the power pop, even the Victorian music hall - yes, there actually is a Victorian music hall piece ('Fortis Green'), and I'll be darned if it ain't a bloody good imitation of the Something Else/VGPS style. Could even be an old outtake, but if it isn't, kudos to Dave for still being able to come up with something so immaculately nostalgic (fishing with his dad is one of the song's main memories). He never forgot the cockney overtones either, even if it's, what, the first time in history he's really going for that particular accent. However, 'Fortis Green', with its stringent ties to 'Tin Soldier Man' and all, is not too indicative of the album in general. Heavy guitar rock has always been, and still is, this guy's primary way of making a living, and all the balladeering and experimentalism don't even begin to begin until the first five tracks have thoroughly re-hammered that fact into your head. But fortunately, with the days of generic Eighties pop-metal long gone by, these rockers sound way easier on the ears than could have been expected. Heck, they sound way easier on the ears than the Phobia stuff. This is rock'n'roll, not heavy metal; and at its most nostalgic, it hearkens back to the early Seventies' infancy of arena-rock rather than its ugly smelly maturation a decade later. The change is felt as soon as the crunchy opening chords to 'Who's Foolin' Who' reach your aural space. When the first riff and introductory chorus are over and the dust has settled, you might be surprised to discover that Dave Davies now sounds like... Elvis Costello! Yep, that's right, the melody is fairly reminiscent of Elvis in his rap-tinged 'Waiting For The End Of The World' or 'Pump It Up' avatar. But it's a good, noble connection here, because it helps indicate that Dave is still going strong with that punk spirit, and that neither all that Eighties overproduction nor an almost complete non-existent as serious artist for twenty years have managed to whiggle it out of him. In other words, it's a perfectly placed first push to an album like this, and even if the remaining rockers are inexceptionally less fiery, 'Who's Foolin' Who' kind of takes all of them under its wing for protection. None are great songs, I'd like to make that clear. Too many of the melodies, riffs, ideas, moods seem recycled and rehashed from the past. Too many chord sequences sound over-familiar. But it would take a serious musicologist with years of listening experience to pin down all the sources, and that alone is proof enough that Bug is at least worth being enjoyed, if not revered. Good rocking guitar tones, catchy choruses, and the ability to create atmosphere - be it the 'my heart's beating like a drum!' desperation of 'It Ain't Over' or the 'can't you see we're living in a lie' melancholy of 'The Lie'. The guitar solos are good, too. And none of that splatter-five-fingers-over-two-chords grunge crap, thank God. The album's centerpiece, which rather clearly separates the "straightahead rock" material from the "retro/futuristic" section, is the sprawling seven-minute power ballad with a title as stupid as 'Rock You Rock Me' and a melody as unforgettable as any Kinks ballad ever written. Like any respectable person, I enjoy poking fun at power balladeering from time to time, occasionally even stooping to calling the entire style miserable or ridiculous, but experience teaches that any generalisation is primarily statistical, and 'Rock You Rock Me' is one of those exceptions - a power ballad that gives the genre a good name. Well okay, perhaps it's just the shock of hearing Dave singing this really beautiful vocal melody in a really beautiful voice - a gentle falsetto with a barely perceptible poorboy whine to it, in fact, only barely discernible from big brother's usual style. Uh, say, where's that voice been hiding for, like, forty years? Or maybe it's just that everything has been handled so right. That there's a real thought out piano riff. That the song starts out with just a piano and an acoustic. That the electric guitar crawls in so stealthily you don't even notice it until it has claimed its stake. That the piano is never, even during the climactic guitar solos, fully drowned out. Or that the chorus is so disarmingly simple: 'rock you, rock me, rock on, have faith, have hope, have love'. Power ballads aren't good for sophisticated declarations of multi-level spirituality. They're good for bringing out the anthemic monster in you, and 'Rock You Rock Me' manages to do so without the help of a lighter - or even Steve Tyler, for that matter. There's also a pretty orchestrated non-power ballad here, 'Flowers In The Rain', every bit as good, every bit as piano-filled and again introducing us to this newly-found prettiness in Dave's voice. And then there's 'Fortis Green', upon hearing which you begin to wonder if Dave the rocker will ever make his appearance again, so apt he suddenly appears at all these new jobs. He does, on the somewhat trippy, trans-inducing singalong 'Why' and the weird hardcore-meets-rap title track, but even these are separated by the oddly shaped, synth-poppy, nearly guitar-less 'True Phenomenon'. All of a sudden, he gets so caught up in this "hey, we got our rocks out on the first half already, now for something completely different" mood that he ends the record with two massive technofests - the four-minute rave of 'De-Bug' and nine minutes of the completely synthesized 'Life After Life'. Unfortunately, if the title of the latter reminds you of Cher, you're on the right track. It's about as boring as Cher, except there are very little vocals and you almost don't get to hear them. As applied to Dave Davies, I view this move as reckless, irresponsible hooliganry: nobody has the right to block Mr Davies his way into the studio to record something like this for his own delight, but if there's one person in this world whose ability to perform his daily activities have significantly improved ever since eight minutes of Dave doing techno found their way into his collection, I'd very much like to make his acquaintance. On the positive side, the stupid techno codas don't really do that much harm. You can just pretend that the album ends with 'Bug' and happily shut it off; considering that even without these two the remaining length exceeds 54 minutes, you have been given your money's worth. And especially so if you have an edition like mine which tacks on three live performances of Dave and whoever his band are doing two of Dave's old classics ('Susannah's Still Alive' and 'Death Of A Clown') as well as one of the brothers' old classics ('Dead End Street') in some sort of club ambience. The sound quality leaves an awful lot to be desired, but the energy, spirit and playing quality still make this worth a listen. (They even bring in a kazoo to mimic the trusty brass solo on 'Dead End Street'). I suppose I could also discuss the concept of the album with you, could I? As in, what the heck is "the bug" and why there are so many different covers for the album (the one I nicked from an extraneous source which shall be ho-hummed is actually the back image of the booklet) and what's up with all these people with blank eyes and how does it tie in with the lyrics and so on. Well, I won't be doing that. If you wanna find out, just check out the whole social agenda of the Davies brothers, old and young, starting from the year 1965 and still going relatively strong. Or maybe you can just go out and bore yourself to death watching the re-make of Stepford Wives or something like that. It's the bug of your choice. Whatever be, Bug is not genius, but a good sign, and here's hoping that when Dave has finally recovered with his health (if I remember it right, he suffered a stroke not long after the album was released), we'll get more reminders of why the Kinks, after all, were a band, not just one man's mechanism.
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RETURN TO WATERLOO (released by: RAY DAVIES)
Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating = 9
Not as retro as the title might suggest. That's the album's weak point.
Best song: VOICES IN THE DARK (END TITLE)
Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Return To Waterloo; 3) Going Solo; 4) Missing Persons; 5) Sold Me Out; 6) Lonely Hearts; 7) Not Far Away; 8) Expectations; 9) Voices In The Dark (End Title).
"A Ray Davies solo album". Does that sound like an oxymoron to you? Haven't, like, all Kinks albums been Ray Davies solo albums? Chief singer, songwriter, conceptualist, etc., etc.? Well, yes, and that's probably why the man never really took up a solo career (practically the same, while we're at it, goes for Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull). Especially if we consider that by the mid-Eighties, the Davies brothers were all that was left of the original Kinks. Brother Dave, however, was still around, and since Return To Waterloo was a mini-project in which he wasn't involved directly, Ray apparently thought it logically incorrect to stick the Kinks name on the final product. Besides, it was a very side-, a very mini- project, come to think of it.
Return To Waterloo was actually a 60-minute movie, designed and produced by mister Ray himself, a movie which I happen to own but somehow never had enough free time (or free will, for that matter) to sit through. It's sort of a... well, a little nostalgia, a little dream sequence-like, a little plotline, bizarre and gruesome in spots, all playing like a long long long conceptual music video. Waterloo is, of course, the Waterloo station in London - again - but it's not like there are any direct references to 'Waterloo Station' the song. There's this guy traveling by train, and he's sort of a rapist and/or serial killer, or maybe he isn't (just like in 'Art Lover', you're never really given a straight answer), and there are flashbacks and hallucinations and whatnot and, well, who fucking cares. If I ever watch it to the end, I may review it in the video section, but don't hold your breath. We're here to talk about the music, goddammit. And unfortunately, there's not much to talk about in the first place. Out of the nine tracks, one is called 'Intro' and I have yet to hear a track called 'Intro' that sounds less like a typical "intro" on any other album. Out of the remaining eight tracks, three are taken directly from Word Of Mouth - and they're not even re-recordings, although it does make me wonder why their inclusion has no bearing on Dave Davies' not appearing in the credits. (Or maybe he didn't play on those three in the first place?). This leaves us with just five new compositions, a grand total of twenty minutes' worth of music; allegedly a great disappointment for the fans, who, on one hand, were happy about the album being recently released on CD after decades of oblivion, but, on the other, were quite justifiedly pissed off about the complete lack of bonus tracks to beef up the value. Adding insult to injury, brother Dave's absence is felt quite acutely. Ah well, you never know the best things in life until you start to miss 'em. True, Dave's playing in the Eighties wasn't always the epitome of good taste, but without it, some, if not most, of these songs are getting that smelly synth-pop feel that I, for one, would never want to associate with Ray's caliber. And certainly not when it comes in such a blatantly deceiving fashion as the one employed on the title track - which starts out as an upbeat acoustic shuffle, only to change fifteen seconds later into a near-completely electronic creation, all synthesized strings and drum machines and robotic bleeps and guitar licks that set a new definition for "minimalism". On the positive side, the songs aren't bad. Whatever one might think of the movie, it's obvious that Ray took the idea quite close to heart, and that it fired him up enough to issue a little set of songs that were at least State Of Confusion-quality, i.e. an improvement over Word Of Mouth, if not a major one. Pop songs with an introspective/nostalgic/romantic undergrowth, Ray's main specialty; I sure would take that over his clumsy attempts at arena-rock. The title track has some brilliant hooks, in fact - the vocal melody sways and swerves in all sides before it smoothly touches the ground, and almost each and every line reflects a different shade of emotion, from optimism to melancholy to happiness to sadness to sort of accepting things the way they are. Too bad the silly organ-disguised synthesizers and clap machines take away so much from the final effect. 'Lonely Hearts' is much less synth-dependent, but is also somewhat more predictable, based on a straightforward retroish doo-wop melody - although Ray's vocals have this slightly weird Lennon-ish tinge to them, reminding me of John's solo work around 1975 ('Angel Baby', etc., you know, that kind of pseudo-Motown stylisations). 'Not Far Away' is easily the weakest of the five tunes, a brawny "energised" tune with Ray trying to sound punkish on the verses, upbeat and inspiring in the chorus, and not convincing me on either. And 'Expectations' is a little acoustic shuffle that has enough sense to undergo a quick metamorphosis by the time it begins to bore you - unfortunately, the metamorphosis is into dumb arena-rock mode, all booming drums and martial vocals and very little sense, prompting you to actually go back to the first half and stay there. Best of all is the closer, the only song on here I'll actually want to hold on for a little longer. With a little tweak and twist, 'Voices In The Dark (End Title)' could have been recorded by Depeche Mode if they happened to wake up in a non-vein-slicing mood one day - so much synth and so little "live sound" there is in it. But it's here and now that I seem to remember... this is Ray Davies, and his talent is writing great melodies, and you can play a great melody on a PC speaker and it'll still be one and this one is just so great. The main hook consists of a, I think, fourteen-note synthesizer riff (over which, occasionally, a corresponding vocal melody is sung), and it takes genius to come up with stuff like that, and there it is. It's songs like these that actually make you wanna live, you know, by realizing how much of that simple, but unexplainable beauty there can be in a thing so obvious and primitive as a one-finger-on-the-keyboard melody. And although neither the title of the song nor the lyrics are too optimistic, the melody is. One thing you can certainly say about Ray Davies is he may not always know how to come in, but he always knows how to go out with a bang. So, as much as I'd like to tell you to stay away stay away stay away from this silly waste of money, I can't; the title track and 'Voices In The Dark' alone are inexpendable for any self-respecting Kinks fan. In a perfect world, it would be nice to have them tacked on to the end of Word Of Mouth as bonus tracks, but maybe it's essential for Ray to separate Return To Waterloo as something that's his and his only from everything that he shares with his troublemaking kin. (As far as I know, Dave himself was never too fond of the project - then again, he never took all that kindly to his brother's eccentric conceptualism outbursts in the first place, and this time he never even got placated by being allowed to participate). Side controversy: Mick Avory is listed as performing the music on the front cover of the album, but inside the booklet only Bob Henrit is credited for drums. Is that supposed to mean that Avory plays on the Word Of Mouth tracks and Henrit is there on the rest? Or is that supposed to mean I'm a dumbass?
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THE STORYTELLER (released by: RAY DAVIES)
Year Of Release: 1998
Overall rating = 10
Talk less, sing more, you pretentious sumbitch!
Best song: STORYTELLER
Track listing: 1) Storyteller; 2) Introduction; 3) Victoria; 4) My Name; 5) 20th Century Man; 6) London Song; 7) My Big Sister; 8) That OId Black Magic; 9) Tired Of Waiting For You; 10) Set Me Free (instrumental); 11) Dad And The Green Amp; 12) Set Me Free; 13) The Front Room; 14) See My Friends; 15) Autumn Almanac; 16) Hunchback; 17) X-Ray; 18) Art School; 19) Art School Babe; 20) Back In The Front Room; 21) Writing The Song; 22) When Big Billy Speaks/The Man Who Knew A Man; 23) It's Alright (managers' dialogue); 24) It's Alright (Havana version); 25) It's Alright (uptempo version); 26) Julie Finkle; 27) The Ballad Of Julie Finkle; 28) The Third Single; 29) You Really Got Me; [BONUS]: 30) London Song.
Well now we know who to blame for the partially yawn-inducing, partially gut-pleasing VH1 Storytellers series: Raymond Douglas Davies. Don't splatter me over the wall if I'm wrong, but he was probably the first one to use the format. And ironically, he was also the most well-prepared, because what we're dealing with here isn't just a one-time session but rather excerpts from a full-fledged solo tour, over the course of which Ray, armed with just an acoustic guitar, a couple musician friends to back him up, and his newly published hallucinatory autobiography X-Ray (which I so far have been mighty scared to read for fear of possible split personality problems), would alternate snippets from Kinks classics with bits of half-spoken, half-sung autobiographical excerpts. This here album, drawn from the actual tour material, only carries the "biography" from his childhood days up to the moment when 'You Really Got Me' became a hit; I don't know if there was more during the actual performances, because all I have is the bleedin' record.
And, um, it's nice in a way, because Ray himself is nice in a way, but of course it does not stand up to repeated listening. More than half of the album is dialogue, and you'll be learning a lot from it - how it felt to be the brother of five sisters, how the band got its first five-watt amp, how Dave christened it "The Fartbox" after sticking that famous needle in it, how 'See My Friends' was actually a lament for a dead sister, how they found their first gig, how they found their management (referred to by Ray as "two guys, Robert and Grenville"), and, of course, how they had the first groupie experiences. It's particularly funny every time when Ray slips from spoken dialogue into sung dialogue - transforming his idle guitar-picking into sort of a backup for a "talkin' blues" thing or something like that. The man's obviously in good spirit, rarely telling any actual jokes but nearly always telling his story so you can't tell whether he's joking or not - and naturally, that's the best sort of joke, so the hall's constantly in an uproar. Me, I particularly like the little prick at brother Dave - 'Dave had this great way of playing the guitar, the way Dave played was very... individual!... I was astounded by the speed of Dave's hands, the way Dave played guitar was very similar to the way he spoke! [insert a fast flurry ragged chaotic electric solo played by someone in the background...] Exactly!' The problem is, there ain't much going on musically. To warm things up, Ray opens with a couple classics - a very lively (as can be done with an acoustic guitar) rendition of 'Victoria' and a somewhat less inspiring rendition of '20th Century Man' (introduced by the obligatory rant about a mechanized society and how we're all 'victims of design'; thankfully, it's the only moment on the entire album). Then, however, as he goes into "narrative mode", the actual songs are reduced to minor auxiliary pieces: like, the beautiful 'Set Me Free' just gets one bridge and one verse, 'Tired Of Waiting For You' is less than one and a half minutes long, and 'Autumn Almanac' abruptly ends right at my favourite place in the song ('...this is my street'). On the other hand, many of the other "songs" are nothing more than just the same biographical, or, in a more abstract manner, sociological/philosophical observations set to simplistic guitar plunking and plinking ('Art School Babe', 'London Song'). There are also isolated "retro passages" where Ray recreates some of the sounds of his youth ('That Old Black Magic' indeed). Yep. And that's about it. It's a good thing the CD includes the studio version of 'London Song' as well, because when it's professionally recorded in the studio with production and instrumentation layers, it becomes a really cool funk-rocker with jarring, threatening guitars and an impressive riff-heavy wall-of-sound that shows Ray is still capable of at least writing and recording one full fledged significant song (and the lyrics, where he keeps choosing between the good and bad sides of London, are really good too). But wait, not one, actually two songs: the second one is 'Storyteller', which, for some reason, nobody ever mentions. But it's a lovely uptempo ballad with a catchy melody and a lot of that Ray-only humane atmosphere, a song that wouldn't be out of place on even some of the best Kinks albums. The steel guitar (or slide guitar, I never know which is which) is a nice addition too. On the whole, though, it's nice to have something like that from Mr Davies because an autobiographical project like this at least rips him out of the vicious circle of endless self-repeating which he got himself into so many years ago. Essentially, it looks like the only alternative - after album upon album of songs where melody comes second and "we're all mindless automatons grinded into submission by The Machine" comes first, what else can the guy possibly sing about? Only about himself, and so he does. On the other hand, well now he did it, and what? There's nothing left, and Mr Ray Davies vanishes into near-total obscurity. Last I saw him, he was making a very shabby-lookin' appearance at the Queen's jubilee singing the obligatory 'Lola' dressed in the obligatory Union Jack. For all I know, he may never release any musical product again - but perhaps he doesn't need to, and if it's gonna look like another Phobia or UK Jive, I don't need it that much either. This one is nice, though.
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