THE KINKS REVIEWS:
The Kinks (1964)
The Kinks (1964)
Album Score: 5
Ah, the poor Kinks. They didn't have such a great start, did they? They were certainly one of the great bands of the '60s who single-handedly pioneered Brit-pop, and here they are in 1964 as some below-average, dime-a-dozen rock band. The only reason they were allowed to record this album is because they stumbled upon a new sound and a hit single called "You Really Got Me." This sound, as it turns out, produced the first hard rock song. It's funny that the Kinks would be writing sissy songs and Americana in the late '60s and early '70s far from hard-rock during that genre's explosion (in the late 1960s and early 1970s).
If it was 1964 and you just bought this album right when it came on the stands, it'd be fair for you to assume that the Kinks were just a two-bit one hit wonder who accidentally made one or two great songs. The only song on here that even approaches greatness is "You Really Got Me." In fact that one is so freakishly excellent that you'd wonder how the same band could surround it with such miserable knock-offs. It's a shame! But you have to feel at least somewhat forgiving --- everyone has to start somewhere.
Basically, there's no reason to own this album unless you're a huge Kinks fan. You can purchase "You Really Got Me" from iTunes. However, if you must buy this album, you'd might as well hold out to get the version with the whopping 12 bonus tracks. It's a shame that version is hard to come by these days, but that's the version real Kinks fans need. As it turns out, these bonus tracks contain another song that you ought to own: "All Day and All of the Night." It's another memorable, catchy hard-rock song that really compliments "You Really Got Me" well.
So, I think I've basically said it all. There's 26 tracks in this super-expanded bonus edition of The Kinks and only two of them are actually great! You heard it from me first. OK maybe you didn't. I'm just agreeing with everybody else.
Read the track reviews:
Kinda Kinks (1965)
Album Score: 8
There was quite a huge improvement here over their debut album and one that hopefully proved, to whoever was listening, that these guys had more potential than they ever let on. They're allowed to write an almost insane number of original compositions here (there's just one cover, a lackluster cover of "Dancing in the Street") which ends up proving that Ray loved to be a songwriter. He's still largely trying to gain his footing in the art, but he's really beginning to produce some interesting stuff.
Notably, he's beginning a slight shift away from the too-Bealtes-esque tracks that filled up their debut album! There's a few sensitive ballads here and there. "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me From Worryin' About That Girl" is an engaging song though nowhere near as engaging as they would eventually become! The melody is nice although I don't think Davies was quite to the point where he was ready to come up with elaborate and appropriate arrangements for his compositions.
Naturally there's their hit from the album "Tired of Waiting For You," which is tons more interesting (on the composition front) than even "You Really Got Me" from their original album. Of course, it's not quite as memorable. Ray also provides more touching vocals, and even the arrangments are considerably more advanced than anything he'd ever done before. (Even then, it's a far cry away from his later work.)
Much of the supporting material on the album isn't worthy of distinction. Despite the presence of a few relatively more sensitive tracks, much of the rest is simply mediocre. A few of them are pretty stinkin', though, like the ugly "Naggin' Woman" and the very throwaway "Come On Now." But even these seem nicer than the average song on their previous album. At least the instrumentation is heavily improved!
Surprisingly, the bonus tracks are even better and (gasp) more essential and Kinks-like than the tracks that appear on the regular album. These show Ray delving even further into his sandbox of music composition! Naturally, these show Ray at his formative stages, but he still managed to come up with a few rich products. "Set Me Free" is an interesting track that's sounds like a combination between the Beatles and the Kinks. (Maybe it's the missing link --- or something.) "Such a Shame" sounds very Kinks-like with its song-structure and melody. "See My Friends" is probably the most unique of the bonus tracks (and the original album for that matter) featuring an interesting melody and a fake sitar!
Read the track reviews:
The Kink Kontroversy (1966)
Album Score: 9
This is the Kinks' most consistent and solid album to this point. At the same time, it's woefully inconsistent when you compare this to their classic albums. This is a transitional album --- about half of the songs are set in the old-school rock ways and the other half point to their first classic album, Face to Face, released the following year. Thankfully, the old school rockers are done much better than they were on Kinks and Kinda Kinks! Although, they're not quite out of the clear. There are a few relatively weak rockers such as "It's Too Late" and "Gotta Get the First Plane Home," but there are much more solid rockers as "Milk Cow Blues" (the only cover) and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone."
The best (and definitely the most interesting) tracks are the ones that are in the proto-classic Kinks vein such as "I'm On an Island" and the ballad "Ring the Bell." Both of these are excellent songs (especially the former) but they do sound like weaker models of the Kinks formula that worked.
There's a great gem in the bonus tracks called "Dedicated Follower of Fashion." Because all mainstream record companies are run by chickens with their heads cut off, not all versions of these Kinks albums will contain the bonus tracks! It's definitely worth it, because "Dedicated" is by far the greatest track --- it's freaking fantastic. It rings of the classic Kinks sound so well that --- um --- you'd might as well just call it the beginning of their classic sound. They're pioneering Brit-pop here --- a distinctly British sound --- but the melody is catchier than anything. Fan-freaking-tastic.
This is such a scatter-shot album that it could be off-putting to many listeners. Again, you might consider this a for-fans-only release, but this is certainly more enjoyable than many of their bloated '70s rock operas.
Read the track reviews:
Face to Face (1966)
Album Score: 11
Finally, the good ole Kinks turn in something entirely timeless! They make a huge leap from Kinks Kontroversy in terms of quality, and they create this utterly splendid and artistic work. It was originally meant to be a full-blown concept album, but the record company didn't like that very much, so they forced Ray to scale it down and release it as a normal pop album. That's quite a shame, because this would have easily beat out Sgt. Pepper's by a year.
But anyway, this is a great album, and one that every classic rock fan should own. It's a bit of a flawed classic, though --- while much of this material is undoubtedly brilliant, some tracks are clearly better than others. Fortunately, these were included as a big lump on this album! "Fancy" is a weird attempt at mysticism, and --- well --- it's pretty clear that Ray wasn't into that kind of thing. "Little Miss Queen of Darkness" is a strange track that starts out to be some tropicana, but they insert a bit of strange disoriented drum solos. It's weird and you get the feeling they weren't sure what to do instead of being genuinely experimental. And then there's bit of a usual rocker and uninspired rocker "You're Lookin' Fine."
The highlights are what makes this album great, though. "Party Line" is a great, straight-ahead rocker that'll put you right in the mood for the album. Naturally, the style is fashioned in a similar vein as a Beatles rocker, but there's something distinctly Kinksian about it. This is followed up by the gorgeous ballad "Rosey Won't You Please Come Home" that even features some interesting instrumentation --- a clavinet, anyone? They save "Sunny Afternoon" for near the end, which is a hugely enjoyable track and easily among the catchiest of the Kinks discography (and that's saying something).
This album not only marks the Kinks at the beginning of their peak years (from 1966-1972), but it also marks the beginning of Brit-pop. Where would the '90s have been without the Kinks? Pulp, Blur and Oasis wouldn't have had any idea what to do! This is also effectively where Ray Davies seizes his control over Kinks. He comes up with all the wild ideas even though his brother Dave probably still wanted to rock out. Well, despite all that this album wasn't exactly a commercial success --- really, apart from a few singles, very little the Kinks ever did were commercial successes. It's unfortunate but true --- at least the lack of severe popularity allowed them to concentrate on making great albums ... and that's just what they're gonna do.
There are so many excellent tracks in here that any rock fan who does not possess this album is seriously missing out. At the same time, this is still rather far removed from their peak. ...Excited, yet?
Read the track reviews:
Something Else By the Kinks (1967)
Album Score: 13
Awhile ago, I stated that Something Else is the Kinks in full maturity. Face to Face was a great album that seemed like the group were free to explore their surroundings, but they locked into a distinct and mature style with Something Else. This album has style ... and nobody can deny it that. Though the Kinks might not have gained universal worldwide popularity (though they came *close* on a number of occasions), these '60s albums gave them their solid reputations among us fake music critics (AKA people without a life) and probably some real ones.
What am I talking about? Surely all you're going to have to do is listen to "Waterloo Sunset" to prove my point. That's the prettiest song these guys have ever done. The melody is not only pristine, but the vocal harmonies are just gorgeous. OK, they borrowed those ideas from the Beach Boys who were ultimately able to enact it better. But being a great musician is being able to borrow ideas from your influences and using them for good, right?
The quality characteristic of this album is tracks like "Harry Rag" and "Tin Soldier Man," which sees these guys combining British music hall and Vaudevillian ideas with Beatles-inspired art-rock. This is the distinct Kinks sound that made them semi-famous! (It's unfortunate though intriguing that the general public just knows them for a handful of hits that have nothing to do with their classic sound...)
It's hard to deny that there hasn't ever been anything like "David Watts." If there has, then I'm really missing something, and I'd be really interested to hear evidence to the contrary. That's a strange song --- it's droning and menacing and it's also enormously infectious. Very unique. Also, weird songs like "Lazy Old Sun" and "Situation Vacant" might not be so successful, but it's easy to tell that Ray's creativity was absolutely flourishing.
He even lets it get it away from himself in "Funny Face," which is just awkward. He also apparently run out of ideas in the straight-ahead bossa nova track "No Return" and the too-usual psychedelic track "Live Me Till the Sun Shines." I guess these instances are what's keeping this from becoming a true, bona fide unbeatable classic up there with Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds. It might be comforting to know that the Kinks were still scaling their mountain with two undeniably great albums immediately in the horizon.
But this is a definite classic, and there's no denying that.
Read the track reviews:
The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
Album Score: 14
Now we're getting into Kinks albums that I actually have personal history with. This album used to be in my Top 5 favorite albums of all time --- that's how highly I once thought of this. Not that I don't love this album to death anymore, but I've become acquainted with many more albums since this to grab those coveted places. So, you might be wondering what makes this album so great. It's great, because it rules. That's why. Do I need to go in more detail? ................... OK, maybe I should.
It's pretty clear that The Kinks were one of the most unique bands of their era. They had a distinct style, and they wrote fantastic pop-rock songs with it. The quality of songwriting manages to be a significant improvement compared to its already spectacular predecessor Something Else. You see, every song on Village Green Preservation Society manages to sound inspired and meaningful whereas there were still a few "kinks" in the previous record. The only song that doesn't sound inspired is "Big Sky," which happens to also (arguably) be the most unique song of the album. And even that's not so bad.
The funny thing about the album is that you might not get the distinct impression that Ray was doing anything revolutionary. There are several spots where he borrows certain styles or ideas already explored by previous '60s artists. Plus, part of his aim was to fiddle around with styles of music that had long existed before such as music hall, tropicana and classical music. Furthermore, he's trying to write good pop music, and he's not being overly weird!
However, the attitude of these songs and the distinct style and personality that Ray gives them do make these unique and personable. Not to mention that his songwriting manages to produce a catchy hook nearly every time. I have already mentioned this in previous Kinks reviews, but the whole Brit-pop movement in the '90s owes everything to Ray Davies. They all wanted to be The Kinks, but unfortunately for them, that was impossible!!
This is a concept album with its theme about nostalgia preservation. I used to be a little more impressed about the concept (as I used to be more impressed with concept albums in general), but I genuinely think Ray nailed that. Who knows why he's so interested in preserving the past, but I like what he did --- a solid message, a unique voice and great tunes. How can it go wrong?
Read the track reviews:
Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969)
Album Score: 14
I also have a rich history with this Kinks album. The middle of May 2002 immediately pops in my mind whenever I put it on! I downloaded it from Audiogalaxy, burned it to a CD and thought it was the coolest freaking thing I've ever listened to. Never mind that it is '60s music; I've always been an anti-hipster. I gave much less of a darn about current music back then than I do now --- in my mind, the '60s was a lot cooler than any other decade. I still hold that to be true in many regards! Plus, it was finally wonderful to run across something that sounded much cooler than The Beatles. (By the way, I bought this album a month after I pirated it, so the RIAA can screw themselves. ... Oh, um, too late.)
Arthur: Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire is undoubtedly one of the great Kinks albums and one of the finest albums from 1969. It's funny to note that this was originally meant as a soundtrack to a failed television special! Well, I find this to be a difficult album to review, because it's essentially perfect. Many of my reviews concentrate on explaining why an album is less-than-perfect, but here's an album I can do nothing but praise completely!
And where better to start my assessment of this album than the beginning? They open the album with "Victoria," which constitutes the perfect Kinks tune to sing along with at the top of your lungs. Believe me, I have plenty of experience with that! I also like the way they choose to end the album... Actually, it's more of a two-fer ending with their special brand of country-rock, "Nothing to Say" and "Arthur." As an American, I find it fresh to hear what the Brits can do with the genre ... because, well, they don't make it sound so dang American!
Of course, "Shangri-La" is the real masterpiece from the album although that obviously comes with stiff competition. It's kind of similar to the Beach Boys' ultimate statement in pop "Good Vibrations." "Shangri-La" is a beautiful mini-pop suite ... and if you didn't need proof of it before, this proves why this guy is so heavily revered as a songwriter. Also other and lesser mini-suites like "Yes Sir, No Sir" and "Australia" can be considered another feather in that hat.
The lyrical matter is rich and diverse, and Arthur counts as an album that I paid more attention to the lyrics than I usually do. They touch upon war and social matters to some high degree of resonance. When people tell you how much they like the Kinks' lyrical goals, they're probably talking about this album more than any other --- because they are incredibly rich and moving sometimes. As a reviewer, I almost exclusively dwell on the music and not so much the lyrics, but these ones will force any listener to sit up and take notice.
And so, Arthur is one of the finest albums ever made... You should probably own it if you don't already.
Read the track reviews:
Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1 (1970)
Album Score: 11
One of the few issues virtually every critic (and undisciplined Blogger!) can agree on is that this was a major step down from their previous album released merely a year earlier, Arthur. In fact, this was such a significant step down that if you were listening to it for the first time without having been told that it’s substandard, it could illicit anger! … But after that shock finally wears down and the head clears up, you might take a less-biased approach to the album and discover that it's actually not so bad. Had this been released by virtually any other band of the era, you might just love it! I’d say this album is certainly worth owning, but try not to make this your first Kinks excursion.
Now that I’ve said that this is a good album, let’s not go too far in defending it! The material is substandard, and Ray Davies let that happen! It’s perfectly understandable that the follow up to Arthur wouldn’t be quite as good, but it’s sheer laziness to let the quality slip this much. Is this album so worthy of Ray’s reputation as one of the rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest songwriters?? I should hope not!
At least this is the album with “Lola” on it. It’s so utterly famous that the general public seems to assume that’s the only song The Kinks ever did! This song continues to be so well-saturated within our society that I don’t really feel the need to elaborate on my thoughts of it other than it’s a fantastic tune with some stellar arrangements! It’s a #1 hit and deserved it. This was exactly what Ray was shooting for, and he made it. (He seemed to write a song about its journey to the #1 spot on the charts in “Top of the Pops” … or at least predicted it.)
There are a number of other excellent tunes that makes this album, overall, worth owning. “Get Back in Line” is a catchy and sarcastic ditty about union lines. “The Moneygoround” seems a bit like a parody, but at least the melody was well written and I’m rather fond of that over-played piano in the background. “Apeman” is an especially noted highlight that also charted well as a single in the UK. It’s an alluring combination between The Kinks established Brit-pop style and tropicana. The playful lyrics add to the fun! The album closer “Got to Be Free” is especially noted for pointing directly to their upcoming Americana album, Muswell Hillbillies.
Naturally, the problem of the album lies with the other songs! Absolutely nothing there is *bad* as it is lackluster. Some of it sounds more like a Ray Davies imitation than Ray himself, which is a quality that nobody wants to hear, ever. “Top of the Pops” seems like a ripe example… It’s entertaining and somewhat catchy arena-rock number. It’s meant as a goofy parody, which is one thing, but the melody is just dull and it doesn’t work. “The Strangers” is another example. By no means is it bad, but simply an uninspired ballad that is forgettable… I could go on, but you get the picture!
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 9
This album was released during the end of what’s known as the Kinks’ Golden Age from 1966-1972, and generally recognized as the weakest of all of them! It’s also not as widely available to purchase as the others and not always included in their discography. After all, it’s a film soundtrack and not one of their rock albums. Don’t worry, though. The film was a British comedy about a penis transplant, so don’t expect any elaborate orchestral soundtracks suited for the likes of Spartacus or Ben Hur! This is still good ole rock’n’rolla. More than half of these are singing tracks, which is blatant proof that all Kinks fans should own Percy to complete their discographies. The fact that there are a small handful of prime Kinksian gems on here means that they should do it pronto.
The album opener “God’s Children” is a perfectly sweet song with a wonderful melody and endearing instrumentation with traditional instruments (piano, violins, acoustic guitars). Just ahead of that one in terms of quality is “Moments,” a hypnotic and similarly beautiful ballad that any Kinks fans would be amiss to forgo hearing.
The rest of the tracks aren’t nearly as nice as those (even the singing ones) and it’s fairly clear that Ray was never planning on working on this soundtrack as hard as he would on a regular Kinks album. An instrumental version of “Lola” is fun to hear with its Booker T. styled organ melody. The other instrumental tracks are shakier in quality, but it’s hard to criticize them for that, because I’m not sure how they worked in the film. I do agree, without reservation, that this is the worst Kinks album of their Golden Age, but it’s still The Kinks in their Golden Age, which must mean it’s fantastic.
Read the track reviews:
Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
Album Score: 14
A new label, a new sound and one of The Kinks’ last hurrahs before they sunk into a major career slump (that they would never completely re-emerge from). This is one great album and currently in the #1 spot as my favorite Kinks album ever pressed. Ray abandon his signature Brit-pop songwriting style (perhaps to the dismay of some audiences) and adapted a more jazzy/ragtime/Americana tone and reinvented it in his own image. The result is a fresh and extremely tuneful album! I’m not even much of a country-rock fan, but the genre sounds positively good when this band is playing it.
Things are off to an excellent start with “20th Century Man,” an utterly bouncy song with impeccable, organic arrangements. This track doesn’t has overtly American overtones, but there’s still a sense that they’re just The Kinks messing around with the style. After that, they delve neck deep into New Orleans jazz with “Acute Schizophrenia Blues.” This is a good place to mention the lyrics… They’re hilarious! Throughout the melody, Ray’s painting humorous stories with the lyrics instead of astute and satirical social observations like he was on Arthur. Well, the lyrics add to the fun on Muswell Hillbillies.
“Holiday” is also hilarious, and you can hear Ray singing a pleasant, laid-back tune like an old man… it’s quite a treat! “Skin and Bone” is genuine American R&B except with the benefit of modern recording technology… and that’s also a wonderfully good time. “Alcohol” is one of the album’s best tracks… a wry and humorous piece about a man’s life destroyed by alcohol (which as it turns out was a very personal subject for Ray… as if he was writing about himself). That song isn’t really Americana but British music hall with a bit of jazzy horns for effect. Let’s skip down toward the end of the album to “Oklahoma U.S.A.” It’s a hopelessly gorgeous piece with a beautiful texture carried out by a morose piano and a sad melody… It hits me like nothing else they have done before. Ray, being the showman that he is, lets the album end on an upbeat note to leave us all with a smile on our face! … What a fantastic album, and there are no weak spots.
It’s never a doubt that Ray deeply understands American music. Of course he doesn’t! He’s BRITISH! I’m not sure what an actual jazz/country/ragtime fan would think of Muswell Hillbillies … they might hate it for all I know. I rarely listen to those genres, and even then it’s not on purpose. But he knows how to imitate it well, and make the genres make sense to him. That’s what this whole album is--- Americana translated through the eyes of a Brit… And this Brit happens to be one of the finest songsmiths on the planet.
Read the track reviews:
Everybody's in Show-Biz (1972)
Album Score: 12
This is one of those albums that can affect me differently depending on the context I listen to it. With their previous album, Muswell Hillbillies fresh in mind, I can come into Everybody's in Show-Biz feeling horribly betrayed. Many of these tracks are along the same Americana/jazz lines, but it doesn't sound nearly as crispy nor as well-written. Other tracks cover Brit-pop territory that was well-covered in their previous albums, and many of those also pale by comparison. But when I listen to this album without the material still fresh in mind, I can really get myself to enjoy this! Compare this to practically any other album ever released by any rock group, and I hope you'll learn that this *is* among the elite. (Oh... sorry about that... I'm sure Ray Davies wouldn't care for me giving rock 'n' roll a class system!) But seriously, these guys are awesome.
Another thing to note early on in this review is this is a double album. One side is filled with brand new material and the other side is live. Both are done remarkably well. The studio side has its fair share of great, memorable melodies and tunes. Perhaps not quite the same amount of personality as exhibited on Muswell Hillbillies, but I've already complained about that! The funky “Here Comes Another Day” starts things off with a snappy start as Ray treats us to a catchy and memorable melody. “Maximum Consumption” sounds like a leftover from Hillbillies. Tighten up the instrumentals, it certainly would have been a comfortable fit, too! “Unreal Reality” is a hugely enjoyable tune with another wholly danceable groove.
Two ballads here deserve explicit mention. “Sitting in My Hotel” is a wonderful Brit-rock tune with surely one of the finest, sweetest melodies that these guys ever penned. If it couldn't get any better than that, they manage to top that in a huge way with “Celluloid Heroes.” If you've heard anything from this album it's probably that ditty since it's the most well-known, but if you don't know what I'm talking about DEFINITELY LISTEN TO THAT SONG!! It's one of these guys' most phenomenal masterpieces... The melody is beautiful! The lyrics are certainly memorable, too.
The live side is interesting mostly because of the legend that Ray was drunk outta his mind during it. Listening to it, I can see how that would be true. Popular sentiment would have it that there are three classifications of drunkards: angry drunks, sad drunks and funny drunks. Ray would have to be a funny drunk... because he is funny. Oftentimes, he delivers spirited performances of material overwhelmingly from Muswell Hillbillies. He's even privy to randomly breaking into choruses of '30s and '40s pop standards like “Mr. Wonderful” and “Banana Boat Song” apparently without even warning the band. (The band seemed more together for the cover of “Baby Face...” and that's an especially fun one to hear Davies most enthusiastic miming of Louis Armstrong.) For the most part, the studio versions of these songs are better, but that doesn't make the experience of listening to the live side any less.
Read the track reviews:
Preservation Act 1 (1973)
Album Score: 8
And the woeful mediocrity sets in, and it's painful. These once beautifully melodic, warm and innovative popsters have been reduced to boring imitators of themselves. What a shame! But let's not let our emotions get too carried away. This is a mediocre album, and it deserves treatment as such. Most of these songs are well-written and make for enjoyable light entertainment. There's nothing in here I would call a “great single” -- this is the sort of album you might listen to politely and would never be bothered to listen to again. It shares that quality with many '90s Brit-pop groups. That brings us to the reason why many Kinks fans hate this album. I put “hate” in italics, because many of them truly loathe this album.
The Kinks are sounding more like Kinks imitators than The Kinks. That's a horrible accusation to make for any well-established band, but it's true. Even worse, I'd imagine that many Kinks imitators would've at least found some more memorable melodies! What happened, guys? Previously I mentioned this album was without a “great single.” All the previous Kinks albums had great singles... even those early garage-rock albums. Yeesh, that makes the prospect of Preservation Act 1 seem even worse!
I haven't even mentioned the story behind this album, which might even be more alarming! Ray Davies was planning to write a rock opera to extend over three LPs. This opera would expand on themes already covered by The Village Green Preservation Society. However, the record company wanted them to come up with an album quicker, and Ray hadn't time to finish these three LPs. So, he released this album, which serves as an introduction to the characters in the rock opera in Preservation Act 2 to be released a year later. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
What comes closest to a highlight is “Sweet Lady Genevieve.” It's a likable tune with a sweet melody, but even that one lacks what the Kinks were best known for: warmth, humor and creativity. It's not unfathomable that any average schmoe could've come up with it... and I hope I stressed enough that Ray Davies was far from an average schmoe! Even his attempts to be weird and creative in this work, such as the soundtrack-resembling “Morning Song,” comes off as silly and utterly misfired. Blah.
But as I said, many of these songs are pretty good. The album opener “Preservation” is the closest thing the album has to a genuine rock track. Resembling glam music of T.Rex, it's a fun song to sit through even though it seems to be missing bite. “Here Comes Flash” is another rocking tune except they combined some theatric elements to it. The instrumentation, which notably consists of a somewhat menacing surf guitar, makes the effort snappy and likable. “Sitting in the Midday Sun” is another example of a well-written tune that recalls The Kinks' glory days... but even then, that seems oddly like Ray was imitating himself without channeling the charm that originally came with it. Oh well.
This album is only for Kinks discography completists. Definitely steer clear of this if you're trying to get acquainted with the band!
Read the track reviews:
Preservation Act 2 (1974)
Album Score: 9
The earth shattering double album rock opera dealing with matters of oppression, capitalism and revolution is now upon us! The great Ray Davies only gave us a smattering of this work in Preservation Part 1, and his efforts have now come in bloom. Let us bask in its presence. This will only come once in a lifetime. ... Er, you probably could already tell that I don't care much for this concept album as do plenty of other reviewers, but I do have some good things to say about it. For a start, it is certainly better realized and developed than the first installment. The concept is actually fleshed-out (which wasn't difficult to do considering the first one was an introduction to the characters and nothing more). Naturally, I don't care much for the plot, so that's not the reason I consider this album an improvement.
What I care about is the music, which is considerably more polished and tuneful. It's well documented that Ray took more time to develop this material, and it shows. However, even though it has its fair share of highlights, it falls considerably short of achieving what they were trying to ... namely make something that would be as well regarded as Quadrophenia. It's a commonly held belief among music fans that the once unstoppable Ray was in a slump by this time in his career, and I can do nothing else but agree with that consensus. However, always remember that this is Ray Davies, and the music can never be that bad. (Granted, I have yet to hear Phobia---it'll take me awhile before I'll let the sparkle in my eye flicker out.)
A good number of bits impress me as someone who tried to compose music. For example, “When a Solution Comes” is a highly creative tune that starts out like a sleepy ballad, but it turns into a riveting atmospheric piece. There's tons of fun to be had with that one. “Second Hand Car Spiv” is about as quirky as the title makes it sound. “Flash's Confession” might have lacked a great melody, but I'm dazzled by Ray's arrangement ability! These guys apparently moved into a brand new studio to work in this studio---one that would apparently allow for more creative time. It definitely shows.
Unfortunately, the album's plagued with so many uninspired ideas that should probably put it toward the bottom of your must-get list. Making it worse is its huge length, which makes it doubtful you'll be up to listening to it all the way through (unless you're like me and force yourself to sit through it to write a review). While I can appreciate many of the tracks in a technical standpoint, that has nothing to do with what music I enjoy listening to. Overall, I find this too bland and inconsequential to ever want to revisit it in my “leisure time.” I'm pretty certain the next time I listen to the album will be whenever I decide to revise this review.
There are a number of tracks titled “Announcement” most of which contain a jingle and a little news announcement that advances the concept album's plot. After listening to this album so much, I get sick and tired of hearing that damned jingle! At the end of the whole album (if you manage to stay awake that long), there's a full blown, curtain-closing production based on it. Even apart from that, the song seemed uninspired as those types of songs go, but it seemed like they were deliberately trying to rub it in you. Brrrrr!
Sorry Ray, but this isn't a great album. A few good ideas and generally solid songwriting keeps this far from being a bomb, but this was very far removed from your best work. I think you probably realized by now. His band was certainly aware of that at the time, and so was his record label. (More on this developing story in later Kinks reviews!)
Read the track reviews:
A Soap Opera (1975)
Album Score: 9
Another year another rock opera. I guess nobody could stop the ever-determined Ray Davies in his ambitions to produce the greatest rock opera in the '70s. Even though he was falling considerably short of that goal, I suppose this is the closest he ever got. While this album's musical quality is similar to the triple-disc Preservation series, it's shorter... which means it'll take up less of your time! Nonetheless, this being the Kinks, you'll expect a number of formidable melodies, and this might even be mildly enjoyable to some listeners.
The concept of this one has something to do with a rock star who trades places with a normal person (named Norman, even) to try out an ordinary life for a change. He has to get dressed every morning and go to a 9 to 5 job... and he learns an important life lesson by the time the album's over. (Actually, I'm not sure about that... I can never be bothered to pay full attention to the plot!)
Nicely enough, they open the album with its most convincing rocker, “Everybody's a Star (Starmaker)” with a catchy melody and fun '50s pop vibe. It's also evident here that he's incorporating play acting into these songs to advance the plot, which is a style I prefer more than that bland news announcer from Preservation Act 2. Even better, they follow that up with the pretty ballad “Ordinary People.” The melody might be generic as hell, but at least it's pleasant and catchy. After that, there's the lesser “Rush Hour Blues,” a choppy albeit enjoyable boogie rock song that could have used more life. The next three songs appear to be the album's weakest. “9 to 5” is just a dead dull ballad. “When Work is Over” is another attempt at boogie rock, except it's extremely bland. Then there's the faux-country “Have Another Drink,” which is 50 cries away from Muswell Hillbillies.
It gets better toward the end when Ray delivers the cute “Holiday Romance.” The melody is catchy and the play acting he does within it is silly and fun. “You Make it All Worthwhile” also features a likable melody and fun play acting. As long as Ray's insisting on writing these sorts of songs, the least he could do is make them catchy and fun... which he does pretty well with that duo. “Ducks on the Wall” seems to be either the best song or the worst song depending on who you talk to. I don't really like it, but it has a cute novelty value to it. Still, I have to fault Davies for failing to make a truly endurable melody there. The album ends with the half-hearted “You Can't Stop the Music.”
This is an album of very spotty quality, and I only enjoyed some of these tracks partly because I forced myself to. This is not the sort of album I ever want to listen to on purpose. I do prefer this slightly to Preservation Act 2. Of course, I'd recommend that you get neither of these albums ... unless you like to keep hunks of plastic around that you'll seldom find the desire to listen to.
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Schoolboys in Disgrace (1976)
Album Score: 10
Ray Davies' mid-'70s concept albums might have been ambitious, but he was becoming more and more aware that they were just not sticking. Not only were they being greeted with poor reviews and a lukewarm response from many of his fans, but the band members themselves were resisting it. At any rate, Ray eventually figured that he should abandon these ambitions. Er, he wasn't quite ready yet, that is. Schoolboys in Disgrace is still a concept album. But it has far fewer Broadway-fied show tunes, and there are only isolated incidents of play acting.
The concept, if you care enough to pay attention to it, is a prequel to Preservation. It's about the schoolboy beginnings of the evil capitalist, Mr. Flash. I don't care to go any deeper than that. I feel like I've gotten enough of this dang concept! Anyway, I'm far more interested in the melodies and instrumentation... Speaking of that, there isn't anything particularly original here... As a matter of fact, that almost seemed to be the point! The music is centered around old school rock to apparently deliver a nostalgic feeling that would remind us of our schoolboy days. This album contains a lot of riff-rock, corny ballads and even some obvious Beach Boys tributes. While I don't care much for derivative songwriting (especially from Davies), I do recognize and appreciate that he was seemingly paying closer attention to developing the melodies and music. There are even some very strong hints of his old songwriting prowess. In that way, this is surely the finest Kinks album ever since Everybody's in Show-Biz ended their Golden Age.
The opening track, “Schooldays,” is probably the album's best. It's a gorgeous ballad that gives us another sweet glimpse into the real melodic talent of Ray Davies! It seems odd for any rock album to begin with a ballad, but it seems to fit here. It radiates vibes of sweet nostalgia, which is the concept of this album after all, and he'd might as well douse us with it right away! Next is “Jack the Idiot Dunce,” which is obviously a throwback to the Beach Boys' automobile ditties. It's catchy though the lack of originality tends to drag it down. It does feature some play acting, but it seems more out of fun instead of trying to be straight-Broadway.
The third track “Education,” is easily the album's weakest. Oddly it seems ripped off from a Preservation song, “He's Evil,” and it goes on for seven minutes offering a seemingly endless string of bland melodies and half-baked ideas. I think we're all looking forward to the moment when this group would put this sort of thing behind them. And then there's “The First Time We Fall in Love,” another Beach Boys throwback, but this time it's one of their hopelessly gorgeous ballads. I always thought Brian Wilson and Ray Davies could both share the title for the best ballad writers of the 1960s despite their distinctively different songwriting styles. It's interesting, at least, to hear Davies adopt Wilson's style for a brief moment. Well, that song is gorgeous, and Ray should sing in that gorgeous falsetto voice more often!
The remainder of the songs are OK... Apart from a really weak excursion into country-western music, “Last Assembly,” the tracks are an array of old school guitar-rockers. I could take them or leave them, but they have their good qualities about them. If you try very hard, you can enjoy most of them and appreciate some of the subtly nice ideas Davies had for them. (“No More Looking Back” does a few odd things here and there, but in the end it just sounds like an average guitar rocker.) I know I've been pretty harsh on this, but it's warranted. I won't accept anything from Ray Davies that can be considered even remotely bland.
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Album Score: 11
Geez, these concept albums never end! The Kinks' follow-up to Schoolboys in Disgrace is a high-brow rock opera about Luke Sleepwalker who likes to sleep. He dreams about fighting to end the oppression from the evil Empire, which is on a rampage modernizing planets. One night, he's in a particularly deep sleep, and he sleepwalks off a cliff. Seeing this as an act of social resistance, the Empire sees the errors of its ways, and they let all the planets keep their culture but still give them the tools of modern convenience... Kidding! Rest assured, Schoolboys in Disgrace was the last of the concept albums. Sleepwalker is just normal pop-rock. In fact, considering all The Kinks' albums have had a concept of some sort, this is their first non-concept album since 1966's The Kink Kontroversy. According to legend, after RCA kicked them out of their label, their new label, Artista, would not let them record concept albums! It was just as well, because the band wouldn't let him do that anymore either. So here exists Sleepwalker---an album full of songs and nothing more. Cool.
Along with that new mentality, Ray Davies was left to do little else but concentrate on the songs. Sure, he still liked writing lyrics, and people who like those surely will be satisfied with some of the trinkets he left here. But the most importantly, many of these melodies are golden! The result is this is easily the best Kinks album since Everybody Loves Show-Biz. If that's not cause to celebrate, then nothing is. They open the album with “Life on the Road.” It's a melodic song that begins as a ballad, but it slowly metamorphoses into something of a rock anthem. Rock anthems were going to become a big part of the Kinks' style into the '80s, and this is the first inkling of that. They follow it up with two more straight rock 'n' roll tunes. “Mr. Big Man” is an enjoyable, though not particularly memorable. “Sleepwalker” does have a nice riff, though. While these straight rock songs are quite good, they sometimes leave a little to be desired. They're nothing of the richness this band once emulated through everything they did.
“Brother” is a gem, though. It's a ballad that's a lot like the old times, and it's the sort of song you would want Ray to concentrate more exclusively on. Enjoy it while it lasts, I guess. “Sleepless Night” is one of the better anthem rock tunes if that's only because they let an electric organ solo side-by-side with an electric guitar. I might not be not wholly impressed with their hard-rock abilities (especially when I'm fully aware that their real strength is in tuneful ballads), but “Sleepless Night” is fantastic! They manage to even up the ante with “Stormy Sky,” which is as melodic as it is exciting. As long as they were going down this hard rock route anyway, I'm thrilled they found time to come up with at least one *great* one.
The bonus tracks supply a number of gems that are perhaps more valuable than anything that appeared in the originally released LP. It gives me comfort they could afford to keep such awesome material out of their album! They did that quite a lot in the old days, too! “The Prince of Punks” is the greatest song they wrote since “Celluloid Heroes.” It's about a typical punk star who doesn't believe what he says. The musicianship is creative, and it features unorthodox song development and a vibrant melody. Surprisingly “On the Outside” isn't too far behind. It's a great ballad with a melody that's up there with the best Ray's ever done. Yes, it's that good. I hate to keep bringing this point up, but despite its priceless highlights Sleepwalker is a far cry from matching their best works from the '60s. But this is still a fun work, so let's forget everything else and enjoy The Kinks in their Silver Age!
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Album Score: 8
Still riding high in their Silver Age, The Kinks follow up their return-to-form Sleepwalker with ... er ... not something so overwhelming. While I'm relieved this isn't another bloated concept album, I can't say Misfits is a whole lot worse than them. Whatever the case, Ray's songwriting has definitely been better.
The songwriting quality isn't even the primary concern I have with this. This is one of the most poorly produced albums I've ever heard from anyone. The recording quality is clear as a bell, but the arrangements and instrumentals are demo-quality at best. “Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy,” even though it is my pick for the best song of the album, is a good example of a nice idea gone wrong. It begins with a formidable melody and mood, and they rightfully wanted to pick up a dramatic edge as it sailed toward the end ... but instead of giving it a truly outstanding feeling they decide to just layer on sounds. I love the melody and the lyrics, which is why I continued to like it, but it should have been much better. A lost opportunity. Funny, this lacking production means this is the first time that I recall ever welcoming the prospect of remixes on the bonus tracks! “Rock 'N' Roll” fantasy was one of the chosen ones, and it is much nicer hearing it with a build-up that doesn't sound so damn clumsy.
“Misfits,” the opener, is something of a fan favorite... oftentimes seen as one of The Kinks' overlooked gems. Honestly, I don't get that impression. Really, it just an ordinary ballad. The melody certainly could have been nicer, and it's missing their usual charm and charisma. “Hay Fever” used to impress me greatly, but now my opinion has reversed somewhat. It's just an ordinary riff rocker, and I've heard better coming from bands I think far less of than The Kinks. Give Davies credit for trying on the underpants of reggae with “Black Messiah,” but let's ask him to put them back in the dirty hamper if all he's willing to do with it is write something cutesy and generic. Even worse is it has no redeeming melodic value. Geez! Making matters worse is the lyrics. Yes, I even have a beef with his lyrics. Davies was no stranger to making political statements with his music, but they were usually clever and witty. This is the first time I remember that he made broad generic sweeps with such a simplistic message as “We should all get along.” What happened?
“In a Foreign Land” is nice, but it's still marred by a less-than-adequate production. The structure is somewhat complex and the melody is OK, but at best its flow can be described as “clunky.” “Permanent Waves” had a nice dark rumbly guitar tone to start it out, but it turned out to be one of the album's bigger and most horrendous messes. How many out-of-place sounds were they going to try to pile on that one? The album closer “Get Up” isn't a whole lot worse, but at least it had an appealing melody ... and despite its sloppiness I was able, well enough, to get caught up in its spirit. Say what you want about Ray Davies' songwriting, but the worst of this lot was written by brother Dave. Sorry dude, but “Trust Your Heart” is possibly the worst Kinks song ever. It's aimless, hokey, sloppy and just difficult to listen to. Sorry, dude.
I know that I'm being harsh, but sometimes I have to be. If another band came up with this album, I would have been nicer to it (but I like to think I would have given it the same score). But when The Kinks sound so uncharacteristically sloppy and had a number of potentially great moments, they must suffer the consequences! BEHOLD MY WRATH!! Besides, there's good news. There's an entry hidden deep within the bonus tracks, “Father Christmas,” that blows everything else out of the water. It's by far represents their greatest guitar-pop effort on this disc with a fantastic melody to boot. What's more, the lyrics rank among the band's wittiest ever, and it's a complete blast to hear through and through. Even though Misfits was a disappointment, this proves The Kinks must have been there all along. Apparently, they were just too lazy to care much about this release.
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Low Budget (1979)
Album Score: 10
The Kinks have simultaneously threw in the towel and turned into awesome sons of bitches. The only thing that could possibly improve this album is stronger melodies. But you know what? These songs are good and catchy as it stands, and that's reason enough to celebrate at this stage of the Kinks' discography. Ray completely stopped trying to be original and wrote some of the most generic songs he could muster up. This album contains quite a surprising variety of musical styles, and that's part of its charm. There's the riff rock of “Attitude” and “Catch Me Now I'm Falling.” There's a nod to jerky new wave music in “Pressure” and “National Health.” The most generic moment here is easily the blues-rock “Gallon of Gas,” but even that is not without its charm.
But let's talk about the album's most famous song: the disco semi-hit “(I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.” Not only is it popular, but it's also clearly the best song here. It seems like Ray entered a discotheque for three minutes, soaked up whatever song they were playing, and wrote his impressions of it in this song. It's generally under-produced especially for disco, but that's to its benefit. As a rule, disco sounds more interesting when it's stripped down. It has a catchy melody, a foot-tapping rhythm and a lot of personality. It's sad, but I know a few people who know only The Kinks for that *song*. Sure, it's a great song, but why not let that inspire you to explore more of their discography? ... They must have something against the '60s. Pity.
Give The Kinks a lot of credit for “Low Budget,” is a dumb, guitar heavy rocker, and it makes them sound like the new and improved Kiss. I have a theory about it that he heard that a far-sighted Kiss fan accidentally bought a Kinks album due to the similarity in their names. To prevent future disappointment, Ray decided to write a trashy song like theirs! ... Of course, The Kinks wrote a catchier and more interesting melody than Kiss ever did... but that's to be expected.
Of course, this is far from being a perfect Kinks album, and I don't listen to this as often as I could. But when I do, it's nonetheless a wholly enjoyable experience. If nothing else, this is a massive improvement over Misfits, which I noted immediately from the first notes of the riff-rock romp “Attitude.” Furthermore, this impression never let up till the conclusion (with the minor exception of the rather uninspired rocker “Misery”). One massive improvement over Misfits was the obviously improved production, but I think the biggest improvement of them all was the increased personality. Ray's wit is present throughout this whole thing, and he's not trying to preach to us or try to stuff our throats with another overblown concept. This is The Kinks writing silly songs! And I like silly songs! I suppose this album is slightly inferior to 1977's Sleepwalker whose songs were sweeter and not so repetitive. But Low Budget is undeniably the Kinks' most memorable album during the Artista years.
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Give the People What They Want (1982)
Album Score: 9
Opinions of This Kinks album are mixed. Many call it one of their worst albums, and others call it one of the best of their 1977-1984 Artista era. I'm somewhere in the middle. While I think much of this music is dumb and not to Ray Davies' usual standard, I found the experienced to be fitfully entertaining. Continuing from the vein started in Low Budget, Ray fills this album with unoriginal riffs and melodies. He's also favoring the sound of heavy metal over the quirky novelty stuff he was doing in Low Budget, and he proves that he really shouldn't try to compose heavy metal. While I reiterate that these songs are fitfully entertaining, they lack any real punch or drive. A few times, the guitars seem muffled in the background probably because Ray wanted us to clearly understand his lyrics. Even though that was a bad idea, it wasn't detrimental since the guitars don't pack much of a punch anyway...
I like most of these songs, though. “Around the Dial” opens the album nicely with a catchy hard-rocker, and he brings in some sound-effects for good measure. It's a snappy little song that you'll probably find entertaining for its running length but promptly forget the second it's done playing. “Give the People What They Want” is a dumber and less engaging heavy rocker. The guitars are a little better, but I can't say the songwriting quality is miles better than Kiss. (That's right, Ray was still concerned about that farsighted Kiss fan that I talked about in my review for Low Budget.) I have to admit that it's a fun song, but it's nothing more than that. “Destroyer” is a pretty good song, but I liked it better when it was called “All Day and All of the Night.” Ray rips himself off there, and he has no remorse about it. It's has the same riff, same vocal melody ... the only thing different, of course, is the slick '80s production standards. I'd still say it's quirky enough to be worth hearing, though. It's not a bad experience at all. “Back to Front” is OK, but really sloppy. The song structure seems unstable and they seemingly brought in the heavy guitars because they had no idea what else to do. Meh.
To my surprise, the weakest song of the album is actually a ballad by the name of “Killer's Eyes.” Those harmonies really rub me the wrong way ... those four chords that repeat are utterly awful and the song goes absolutely nowhere. These guys really forgot how to write the sort of song that tends to linger on in your brain days after you last heard it ... but once I've gotten this far in their discography, I guess I'm not surprised at it. “Predictable” is a nice ballad with a light touch of reggae, but I'm afraid that it ultimately lives up to its song title. “Art Lover” is another OK song even though it's about the creepy escapades of a middle-aged man obsessed with the form of a teenager. Brrr...
But wait! I haven't talked about the songs here that I actually love! There are two of them. “Yo-Yo” is quite easily the best of the lot with a complex and engaging melody. The bouncy bass guitar was mixed perfectly and added to its excellent atmosphere. And lastly, I liked Ray's vocal performance, which sometimes sounds like he was bending it to sound like a yo-yo, and other times it was about as passionate as it gets. That's a very fun song! The other song I have a bit of affection for is “Add it Up.” This seems almost like a half-hearted nod to synth-pop the way they handle these bouncy snyths. In fact, I wish that they explored a bit more along those lines! But I suppose Ray was too busy fighting the death-tentacles of the washed-up rock star, so ... he couldn't afford to have too much ambition in these years.
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State of Confusion (1983)
Album Score: 11
On again, off again, on again, off again. That was the pattern of these mid-career Kinks albums. Give the People What They Want was quite clearly an off-again release, which means that State of Confusion must completely rule! ...And what do you know? It does!! Here, Ray revives his idea from Low Budget to write directly for the radio. That doesn't only result in a small handful of minor radio hits, but a bunch of fantastic melodies that you can keep with you for the rest of your life! ... It could be my kinky affinity for '80s pop music, but I do feel this was a distinctly great improvement from even Low Budget. Oh, joy!
“Come Dancing” is the song that everyone remembers who was around in the early '80s and liked contemporary pop music. Very similar to the idea and tone of Paul McCartney's “Ballroom Dancing,” it was a Top 10 hit single in the United States, one of their most successful singles. Also it was released right at the beginning of the MTV era, and they made a cool music video for it. More importantly than that, the melody is catchy and, as you'd hope from the title, it's difficult to keep your foot from tapping! It's a little cheesy, but its nostalgic lyrics will hit home for most listeners. Even better than that is “Heart of Gold,” which is easily one of the best melodies Ray ever wrote. Some fans might resent me for saying that since it's written in the '80s pop-rock format, but you'd have to be either deaf or a complete snob to think that's a bad song. Plus, it's another great pick for those looking for music that you can dance to.
Ray even tries lite adult contemporary for the first time with “Don't Forget to Dance” and manages to hit a home run. That's a beautiful song with a mesmerizing atmosphere and yet another splendiferous melody. I love it! I have a particular affection for the non-hit “Cliches of the World (B Movie)” with its thick atmosphere and that cheekily melodramatic monologue Ray delivers in the middle. It shows that not only was he writing great melodies again, but he was having great fun with it. The title track, which opens the album, is also a lot of fun. It's a fitting opener with its catchy melody and loud atmosphere.
However, as you can tell, I didn't score this album nearly as high as the best of their back-catalogue ... and I shouldn't. There's just too much weak stuff. “Labor of Love” is a heavy though entirely uninspired song with a terribly bland and predictable melody. It's the sort of thing that was so woefully present in their previous work. “Bernadette” provides a disappointing conclusion, another heavy rocker with a so-so melody. At least Dave Davies fans will get to hear their man try give his best rollicking performance ever! There aren't many Dave fans, but I know they're out there. Luckily, there are only two of these lowlights, but they did keep the album score from achieving a potential 12. Oh well. It was kinda close.
Maybe they should have replaced those with some of the material in the bonus tracks! Hearing those, it's just more proof that Ray was on top of his game in 1983. “Noise” is probably the best of them, and it gives us a taste of what Give the People What They Want should have sounded like. It's a funny, gruff heavy metal rocker with, to my surprise, a twist of Arabic music. “Long Distance” is a pleasurable if unremarkable mid-tempo rocker with a good melody, and “Once a Thief” is another fun, upbeat ditty.
The fact that this album is so good makes me lament the fact that Ray was apparently hiding inside his shell all those years when he really should have been writing music like this. Of course, with all his work in the late '60s, his reputation as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century is forevermore solidified. But we can consider his work in State of Confusion as another example of how good he can get when he's willing to put in the needed effort.
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Word of Mouth (1984)
Album Score: 6
How quickly can one band go from being Princes of the Pops to Peasants of the Poo? The answer is one year. It boggles the mind how a band that had just come off the heels of such a successful and tuneful album can follow that up with something as dreadful as Word of Mouth. I would say that you'd have to hear it to believe it, but I would never want to suggest such a cruel thing. This isn't even mediocre like those Preservation albums or even Misfits. This is *bad*. I mean, it's so bad that it gives Michael Bolton a good name. It's worse than the Pokemon movies. It's worse than Ann Coulter....... This is so bad that it makes their debut album look *good*!
Come to think of it, the debut album was a little worse than this. And I'll have to re-think that Ann Coulter statement. But anyway, nothing can excuse The Kinks for releasing this depressingly dull album that's so painfully difficult to listen to. Not only are the melodies blander than ever, but this makes that horrible production from Misfits look like a work of art. Yuck.
By far the majority of these songs are half-hearted stabs at hard rock. It's the same sort of thing they did in Give the People What They Want except it's a complete mess this time. (And I didn't even like that album!!) To be fair, there are some vaguely entertaining moments, so if you decide to suffer through this, there might be a little bit to quench your needy thirst. Rumor has it the band was undergoing some real troubles at the time, which would explain why everything seems half-finished. They left the Artista label soon after, so I suppose they just assumed released it instead of shelving it for a year or so. Drummer Mick Avory also quit in the middle of the sessions, which explains why the drumming sucks so badly now. That was a lot of excuses without pointing a finger at the leader. Well, this ain't the United States government, so I'll go ahead and do it: Ray, shame!
The album starts with the very minor hit “Do it Again.” I think it's a wholly lackluster exercise, but there's a bit of fun to be had with it. The guitars are crunchy, and it has a fine melody. Nothing close to the best of the previous album, but it's OK. The instrumentation is very sloppy, but compared to everything else, it sounds pretty good. That's the best song of the album. The second track, “Word of Mouth" has some of the worst-sounding guitars that I ever heard, which sounds cheap and tinny. As if that was ever to be topped, the drumming there is also some of the worst I ever heard. Nobody in the studio seemed like they were cooperating with each other! Making it worse, they ripped off another Rolling Stones riff, but somehow they weren't able to make anything lively out of it. Geez. Steal with grace, willya? “Good Day” has an OK pop groove, but it's one of those songs with the nagging tendency to wear out its welcome once it's halfway over. Dave's “Living on a Thin Line” has its moments, but it steals too much from dull '80s pop trends, and it's not fun. What cheesy '80s pop music without the fun? ...COME ON!
“Massive Reductions” is the sort of Flashdance clone that I've criticized many '80s bands for attempting to emulate. But surprisingly, those pounding drums seem to work, and it ends up constituting the album's second-best work. That's kind of an empty honor, and it shows if you've ever listened to the song. You probably won't survive the album long enough to reach “Missing Persons,” and that's a good thing because that song is really depressing. It's a ballad, which used to be Ray's greatest strength, but here it's an embarrassing flop and contains probably Ray's worst vocal performance of his career. I can't even stand to think about it.
From what I gathered from other reviewers about this album, I'm one of the few who hates Word of Mouth this much. Rolling Stone Magazine gave it four stars, which is the same rating they awarded to Arthur. Maybe I'm in the minority here. I'll go ahead and reiterate that, despite my melodramatic opening paragraph, I don't think most of this material is so much offensive as it is boring and poorly planned. Naturally, I wouldn't recommend anyone even sampling this! There's no value in it. But if you'd rather not take my word for it, consult Rolling Stone. See if I care.
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Think Visual (1986)
Album Score: 9
Thank goodness they weren't going to let Word of Mouth be the status quo! Think Visual is a mildly enjoyable Kinks album with production that actually sounds competent, and overall much better compositional ideas. The problem is that much of it sounds flat, and it doesn't come close to recapturing their wonderful old essence. On the other hand, nobody was expecting them to --- they were just hoping. And I'm sure this flat album is mildly enjoyable enough to please some fans. Others who couldn't care less for The Kinks obviously should look elsewhere for their Saturday evening entertainment.
The first thing I want to talk about is the production. It's verrrrrry good. They had just switched labels, to MCA, who were probably afraid they would churn out another awful-sounding album like Word of Mouth. Ray did his best to make sure the thing was polished through and through. He did a very nice job at it, and the album feels fully baked. There isn't a sloppy bit here. It's even surprisingly tasteful for a 1986 album ... the snare drums aren't obnoxiously loud, and the keyboards are only used as needed. (They're all over the thing, but they're generally helpful.) This is one slick album.
I like many of these songs while loving very few of them. My favorite bit is called “The Video Shop,” a delightful sounding pop ditty that features a fun, goofy groove that tastes lightly of reggae. The melody is catchy, and it takes a few interesting melodic turns. At one point it even turns into a trumpet-filled fanfare ... any song that does that successfully would earn my affection! “How Are You?” has a harder groove, featuring some well-mixed harder guitars and rather tense synthesizers in the background. The chorus is rather lovely, and the overall experience of listening to it is rather endearing.
“Working at the Factory” is a fitting opener that's apparently about musicians who churn out hit songs as if they were working at a factory. (I guess Ray was afraid he was going to turn into one of those.) The melody is catchy enough to make it entertaining to sit through, but I wouldn't call it especially memorable. Probably the biggest surprise of the album is “When You Were a Child,” a composition of Dave's. I'm willing to accept that the most appealing aspects of the songs were accidental, because I'm having difficulty pinpointing what makes it so likable. The chord progressions are very odd... but they have something to do with it. Anyway, I like that song enough to even call it the second best thing on the album. Whether I'm overrating that or not shall be up to you, but I'm sticking with it!
Another credit to the album is the fact that nothing on here totally flops in my book. Just that most of this stuff is flat and mediocre. (In fact, a few of the tracks I mentioned above, I would classify as “flat.”) “Lost and Found” is a pleasant enough ballad, but it's way too repetitive, and it doesn't do anything interesting or creative. “Welcome to Sleazy Town” definitely has its moments. He had the makings of a minor gem here, but he just needed to work on the melody some more. “Rock 'N' Roll Cities” is a dumb rocker and little more, and it's another composition from Dave. I get the feeling that the guy hadn't much of an idea what to do with harmonies, but just like “When You Were a Child” it has its likable charm. “Think Visual” has a number of nice ideas, at one point turning into a music hall song just like their vintage days! But that only happens twice and for about five seconds each. I find the rest of that song to be nothing special. “Natural Gift” copies '80s pop standards too closely, and it's without a hooky melody. The prize for the stalest song of the album, however, goes to “Killing Time.” That one's so standard and uneventful that I can't think of anything to say about it.
While this isn't a perfect album by any means, it's a definite improvement over Word of Mouth (an album that I seemed to hate more than most reviewers). This is a decidedly for-fans-only release, though. It's adequate but rarely inspired.
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UK Jive (1989)
Album Score: 7
Here's an album that I'm sure we all wish didn't exist. It doesn't help that I'm writing this review and, in effect, actually promoting the album ... but that's my *job*, you know! ... Granted, nobody's making me do this job except for the evil elves who dwell inside my skull. But they're not going to quit whacking my brain with their whips until I write this review, so the sooner I get it over with the better.
I guess the album's dubious honor is that it's better than Word of Mouth. But when you sit back and actually compare the two albums, the only reason for that is the production standards are much better. As sloppy and painful as Word of Mouth was, it actually had better melodies in it. U.K. Jive is filled with such bland garbage that it'll do everything in its power to soil the holy name of The Kinks. Nothing in the world is going to make me forget how much I love classics like Arthur and Muswell Hillbillies, but there's just going to be a *little bit* of resentment toward their band name for making me sit through this. Now do you see why it's best to pretend this album doesn't exist? ... Don't even get this album because of how *bad* I'm telling you it is. It's not so much *bad* as it is *bland*, and this sort of blandness is really grating on my nerves. So forgive me if I get too melodramatic.
It starts with a lengthy, six-minute exercise called “Aggravation.” This entire album is aggravating and so is that song with drums that are too loud and wussy-fake guitars. Fortunately, Ray came up with a few textures to play around with even though none of the melodies are too compelling. If that's the only song you've heard from the album, it'll *shock* you to note that's among album's best. ...Oh, the bland and boring horrors that follow! “How Do I Get Close” is nothing more than a stale rocker that I'd accuse of Kiss. Earlier that decade, I claimed that a few of their Kissian rockers gave that group a run for their money ... but now I fear that Kiss was giving The Kinks a run for their money. A nightmarish scenario if there ever was one.
“UK Jive” is a really sad attempt at making an upbeat dance song. I really don't know how he could have even thought something like that would be enjoyable. The melody is bland, of course, and those thunderous drums are absolutely grating. “What Are We Doing?” is an ironic song title to appear on this album's track listing, which makes me at least imagine that Ray, being the intelligent man that he is, was a little bit self aware through this process. Of course, that song's crap, too. No surprise.
The one track that's actually not crap is called “War is Over.” Why, it looks to have a melody that's slightly interesting and a trilly synthesizer in the background that gives us these hope-filled reminders that they had glorious Brit-pop roots, and I used to treasure listening to their albums! ... Maybe Ray wasn't self-conscious through the whole experience, and “War is Over” was his Dr. Jekyll having one brief, lucid moment. If you listen to this album (and I hope you don't), grab onto this moment as if you were holding onto dear life. It's like the lifesaver you grasp onto after the ship goes down the moments before you freeze to death because you're offshore of Greenland.
Dave, who was surprisingly threatening to outshine his brother in Think Visual, reverts back to his disgusting heavy metal ambitions. This time, he delivers “Dear Margaret,” which is such a very poor and messy effort. I really don't know what he was thinking. Geez. Their career and good name were really going in a tailspin. MCA knew that and promptly dropped them from their label after only two albums. Sad.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 6
When put on and listened to Phobia for the first time, I hoped to the dear stars, that it wouldn't be as apocalypticly bad as everyone says it is. And alas, my ultra-low expectations left me surprised that I wasn't aiming to commit suicide after letting Phobia come in contact with my ear drums for an extended period of time. But on the other hand, this album is a genuine waste of time ... and at 71 minutes, it's such a lengthy one, too. This album was released in 1993 when the CD format was soaring to its heights. Apparently, Ray misread the memo and thought that he actually had to come up with material to fill the whole thing! The guy had trouble filling up 43 minutes on UK Jive, so I can only guess why he thought he could do 71 minutes with even half a degree of success. There are 16 tracks here, and many of them extend well past their welcome. This was also his first and last release on Columbia Records, and it was also their final studio album ever. Talk about a great rock 'n' roll band going out with a whimper!
If you really want to waste your time with this, I'll tell you that most of this isn't offensive. I didn't find myself cringing nearly as much as I did when I reviewed Madonna's American Life ... or even not as much as Material Girl for that matter. But this album is pretty pathetic for Ray Davies, who had previously proved time and time again that he's not some two-bit pop star. You wouldn't guess that listening to these poor ballads that sound like he was turning into an Oasis imitator. I won't identify them by name. They know who they are.
The opening song “Opening” is an inconsequential electric guitar instrumental that lasts a minute. It has no point, but I don't object to it. In that way, it's an appropriate foreboding of what's to follow. I will admit I find some joy out of “Wall of Fire,” but it's a strictly unmemorable heavy rocker. There's a six-minute song toward the end called “Hatred (A Duet),” which chronicles the famous infighting between Ray and Dave. It's a goofy thing that could explain another reason why The Kinks broke up (if constantly getting dropped by labels wasn't enough). But that song has good drive, and they're not even trying to write vocal melodies. It's almost a rap! The upbeat pub-rocker “Somebody Stole My Car” is a sort of buried highlight... although even that one's pretty mediocre.
I was through being depressed about The Kinks' career downward spiral ever since they decided to pen show tunes in the mid-'70s. The shock has worn off. But this isn't a good album at all, and it actually made me long for their mid-'70s concept albums. I had some scathing comments about those, but after listening to Phobia, maybe I shouldn't have been so cruel.
Read the track reviews:
Ray Davies Live in Seattle (July 14, 2012)
The the green stamp on the back of my hand that I had gotten from The Beach Boys concert hadn't even faded away, and I was already standing in the middle of a long and beefy line to see a different '60s icon: Ray Davies. This was the second time that I'd ventured to downtown Seattle alone to go to a concert at a trendy club. (The first time was last November when I saw The Bangles.) This particular club was so trendy, the interior decorating of the stage was made on purpose to look like an abandon warehouse. Otherwise, the venue was an old movie theater; they even sold popcorn at front.
I'm also worth noting that even though The Beach Boys and The Kinks were similar kinds of bands (that is, they're both pop-rock acts), the shows they put on were remarkably different from one another. The Beach Boys' concert was a heavily produced spectacle with 13 musicians creating lush sounds, and there were thousands of people in attendance. Ray Davies had a smaller but intense band that played a very intimate club.
To make matters even more head-bursting, Ringo Starr was playing in town on this very same night, which was a show I also wanted to go to. Unfortunately, the basic principles of space and time made that impossible, so I had to choose. (Yeah, I thought about using one of those magical hourglass things from the third Harry Potter film. But I looked into it more carefully, and apparently those things aren't real.) I think the gods of rock 'n' roll must've done this to force me to answer one of life's ultimate questions: Do I prefer The Kinks or The Beatles?
Well, actually I didn't really have to answer that question, because the choice wasn't difficult to make at all. Ringo Starr's contributions to the group was relatively unsubstantial--just a few lead vocals and “Octopus's Garden.” (And drums, too.) However, Davies was *the* primary contributor and genius behind The Kinks.
Certainly, my newly found skills of buying tickets FAST were put to excellent use. I was issued a pre-sale code in an e-mail (basically my prize for signing up to some mailing list I don't remember signing up for), and I was able to purchase a ticket the split second they went on sale. Moreover, this allowed me to purchase a VIP ticket for $20 extra, which ensured me a spot in the first three rows. This was general admission seating--so first come first serve--and there were maybe 50 of these special seats. I did, however, still arrive to the venue quite early and got pretty good selection of those first three rows. That is third row, center. Or rather slightly off-center, as there was a narrow walkway in the middle. The venue employees wanted to keep that aisle-way clear, and they definitely had their hands full there; all through the concert, people would walk up that aisle-way to the front of the stage like moths to a flame. Anyway, where I was seated was, for me, the optimal distance and perfect angle. One row closer would have been too close to such a rock 'n' roll icon. I might have risked fainting.
I did have to try to dance at this concert--not necessarily because it enhanced my experience, but because I didn't want to be that stupid idiot in the third row, center who wasn't moving. Albeit, I'm fairly certain all this amounted to was foot-tapping. I also most definitely clapped my hands whenever Davies wanted us to. (After all, how could I refuse his calling?)
I always get a little dumbstruck when I see the people from the album covers for the first time at a concert--no matter who it is--but that feeling usually subsides after a half hour or so. This time, however, the shock never did subside. It was partly because I was so damn close--as large to me as a real person. But it was also because of who he was. I mean, this man is credited for inventing hard rock! What I did through most of the show was sit/stand, staring at this man. I marveled over the fact that his real-life grin look exactly as mysterious and sardonic as it does in the pictures, and--yes--even the gap in his teeth is actual fact. The spotlights shone directly behind him, illuminating his mane-like hair to give him the look of some kind of religious figure. There was a moment when Davies definitely made eye-contact with me, and this sent a mild panic attack shimmering through my system. My eyes rapidly darted to watch the guitarist for a bit, who by the way was excellent. His name: Bill Shanley. (Man. I don't think I know how incredibly introverted I am until I go to a concert. Really, it's amazing I make it to these things at all.)
Incidentally, it was this summer exactly 10 years ago that I bought my first Kinks album. Of course I got into this stuff way later than most people there, many of whom I heard around me talking fondly of buying their '60s albums when they were brand spanking new. But I couldn't help this. I was born in 1982. The most I could have done, feasibly, was turn on the radio and danced to “Come Dancing” in 1983. I doubt this happened, though.
Anyway, Kinks fandom ran deep within this crowd. It ran so deep, I was even taken aback by it. I mean, I had no idea these people even existed. My favorite audience member was a guy dressed up like a mid-20th Century British pig farmer, wearing a buttoned up shirt and baggy pants that tucked inside these big clunky old rubber boots. However, his God-given face was his most authentic feature: it was etched deeply with smiling wrinkles and was framed with wily, curly hair that went every which way. He really quite resembled Michael Palin. The only thing I might suggest to him next time might be a sweater-vest.
Another guy I saw not only walking around outside but also sitting nearby me during the show was the biggest Ray Davies fan in the United States: Frank Lima. (Somebody I was standing in line with pointed him out to me. I wasn't aware this person existed until now.) If you want to try beating him for that title, then you should give up, because it's impossible. If you at least want to try to approach this level, then you're going to have to follow Ray Davies around the country wherever he goes and have a Facebook page devoted to him. You'll not even need to own a boatload of memorabilia, but you'll also need to create your own. He had a bumper sticker with him that I'm sure he designed himself, which read “God Save Ray Davies--He is Not Like Everybody Else.” Lima was not only into Davies, but he was also quite enthusiastic about the opening act, The 88, whose songs I saw him passionately sing along to. I'm guessing he was the only one singing, though. I remember he was clapping as one of their slower numbers was just starting up, and the lead singer--not even looking at him--said in the microphone dryly: “Thanks, Frank.”
I enjoyed the opening act, by the way. In addition to opening the show, The 88 were also Ray Davies' backing band for the second portion of his set. I didn't realize this until just now, but this band wrote and performed the theme-song for Community. I sort of wish they sang it at the show, so they would have played something I recognized! Anyway, the songs they performed in lieu of that were just as good. In fact, most of them were probably even better. Most their songs are done in the style of that theme-song, which is high-energy and melodic power-pop. They were also fun to watch live, because they have that whole showmanship thing down pat. I saw the keyboardist was hunched over the keyboard, frantically pounding on notes; I saw the bassist was hopping around as he thumped away; and I saw the lead singer (also lead guitarist) scream into his microphone with rivers of sweat dripping off his face. There was also a drummer, but he was tucked away in back and my view of him was partially obscured with a speaker, so I wasn't watching him as much. And man, that lead singer was frenzied: The spotlight shining behind his head made the droplets of spittle bursting out his mouth as he sang look like fireworks. I liked one of their songs in particular that had a catchy bass-line. I sifted through their albums on Rhapsody the night I got back from the show, but I wasn't quite able to capture what it was. As I was doing that, though, I did notice that this group has plenty of songs with catchy bass-line. As I hope we all know God blesses rock 'n' roll bands who know how to write for the bass. Unfortunately, certain members of the crowd were very rude to these guys. I heard them screaming in between songs “We want Ray!” Yes, I know rock 'n' roll isn't always a very polite form of music (and especially Ray Davies' version of rock 'n' roll), but humans really ought to be civil to one another. Especially if the people they're screaming at are busting their chops for your entertainment.
So anyway, exactly 10 years ago when I first listened to The Kinks, I worked as a delivery driver at a deli in Wichita. I can still remember putting in The Village Green Preservation Society in my car stereo for that first time, and I took to it immediately. I was still developing my taste in music back then and it was quite rare that I'd take immediately to albums I'd buy. Some ones I didn't take to were AC/DC or Led Zeppelin or The Knack. So, that Kinks album was one I listened to a whole hell of a lot that summer. I also bought Arthur then, which I'd also taken to quickly. By the end of that summer, I remember one of my favorite things to do was play “Victoria” on my car speakers, screaming along with the lyrics as I drove around the city making deliveries. Yeah, you know what I was screaming: “Vic-TOOOOOOOOOOO-ria! Vic-TOOOOOOOOOO-ria! Vict-oria! Toria!” I don't usually sing along at concerts, but I couldn't resist it when Davies performed “Victoria” at the show. No question, that was the #1 song I yearned to hear. Although when he started it, it sounded nothing like the album version; it was far more casual with gentler, strummy guitars, and it took me a few seconds or so to recognize it. Once he got to he chorus, though, the song was as electrifying as ever.
Davies had a very jokey demeanor about him, rambling off things in between songs--and even in between stanzas of lyrics--that oftentimes were met with immense chuckles from the crowd. (Sometimes it was as if he was doing to his own songs what the kids do to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You know... those silly lines in between stanzas... “Like Pinnochio!” or “Like Monopoly!”) I also I couldn't always quite understand what he was saying, because--as all rock 'n' roll stars seem to do nowadays--he's somewhat prone to mumbling. Also making matters worse was that the volume was turned up so loudly that it not only served to muffle his speech, but it forced me to wear earplugs. (Yup, I brought earplugs with me this time. I had to rupture my eardrums twice before I learned that lesson.) I remember someone standing in the first row adjusting his earplugs, and Davies pointed at him and briefly brought his fingertips to his ears, as if to say “You're going to need those.” Indeed, we all did.
When I was able to understand his commentary, the nature of it struck me rather surreal, and so recollecting exactly the things he said after the show was very much like trying to remember details of a dream moments after waking up. However, I happened to hit a stroke of luck checking up on YouTube and discovered that someone had uploaded a few videos from that performance. Hence, my quotes here are going to be somewhat more accurate than usual. (But I won't tell you which quotes are more accurate than others!) One thing Davies said right before he started his first song that evening was: “We'll do good songs for you, and we'll do some terrible ones.” At the end of the show, he called out to the crowd with his arms extended as widely and jubilantly as can be: “God bless you, Seattle, Washington! You know I'll always love you!” And then he added: “Everything's going to be alright, I swear!” (That's strangely reassuring coming out of his mouth.)
He also mentioned something about beer at one point, which prompted a few hurried cries from members of the crowd to “Get this man a beer!” A stage hand walked up to him thirty seconds later to him a green bottle. He looked at it and said “What's this?” But he must've quickly figured it out, because he took a tiny swig of it. People then screamed at him “Alcohol,” which of course is the name of a great song from Muswell Hillbillies. Taking that as a hint and with his trademarked sly grin on his face, he quietly started to sing the first part of the lyrics (“This is the story of a sinner / He used to be a winner”). Applause and cheers erupted all over the place, of course. I think that audience probably likes Muswell Hillbillies more than any other Kinks album in existence. And then Davies addressed them: “Are there any sinners out there?” And there were lots. ...I don't think he sang the whole song, and it was obvious that it was off-the-cuff, and it seemed to take a little while for Bill Shanley to get the chords straight. One song from Muswell Hillbillies that was clearly rehearsed was “20th Century Man,” which was purely electrifying. That song actually started very casually, weaving it in after Davies reading a few sentences from his 1995 autobiography X-Ray. He has a real stylish, drunken jolly Englishman way of reading a book, which after hearing him do it, is really the only way to read a book.
There was quite a bit of call-and-response interaction between him and the crowd, which makes things all the more fun. At one point he called out to the crowd that familiar cry from Harry Belafonte: “Day-O!”, which the crowd repeated. And then he sang “Day-ay-ay-O!” which the crowd also repeated. Then with a smirk on his face, he said “You always fall for it.” He also remarked that this day, June 14 2012, happened to be what would have been Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday. To commemorate, he started to play “This Land is Your Land” on his guitar. But he said he couldn't quite remember the lyrics. This is what he sang: “This land is your land, this land is my land, fromhmhmhmhmh to thhmhmhmhm island.” However, people in the audience knew the song quite well, so they helped him out. And indeed, the audience sang far more of it than Davies did. Then Davies remarked that he rarely does covers, so I guess we'd all witnessed a rare event. (Hey, I think this must mean that Davies definitively isn't going to cover a Peter Gabriel song!)
There was sort of a trouble-maker who kept walking down the aisle to the front of the stage. By the looks of him, I'm guessing he spent the '70s as a beach bum in California. And since then, he'd never gotten around to changing his style much. He had blond hair (which was sort of patchy), shorts and sandals. A couple more modern features he added to his look were a goatee and dark-rimmed glasses. He lasted a minute or so next to the stage until a security guard would walk up to him, jab him on the shoulder, and yell something in his ear. He'd then be escorted back to his seat. However, only be a few minutes later, he'd be back up there and dancing as if nothing ever happened. Davies evidently noticed this was going on, and at one point he looked at him and said with a smirk: “You never seem to be in the right place.”
Another thing I remember him saying was “You're all individuals here tonight. Let's hear it for the individual!” And all the individuals made whooping noises. This turned into the intro for “I'm Not Like Everybody Else.” That's an interesting song selection, because you'll not find it anywhere if you've only purchased the standard Kinks albums. This is why it's vital, for the Kinks fan, to own the editions with the bonus tracks. Now why all editions can't have those extensive bonus tracks is a matter you'll have to take up with those cigar-chomping record executives. (Well they're definitely succeeding in milking more money out of me, because I'm in the midst of slowly replacing my Kinks collection with Deluxe Editions.) You'll find that song on the bonus-track edition of Face to Face. And that's not the only song he performed from those bonus tracks; there were two others. "This is Where I Belong” and “Dead End Street.” This latter was where he enticed the crowd to scream “Dead End!” just like it's done in the song. I'm thinking Davies more or less seems to pick his more audience-participation-friendly songs as his set-list.
Another interesting song choice was the one he opened with: “I Need You” from the bonus tracks of Kinda Kinks. (Thank goodness I found a set-list of the show someone posted online, because I never would have been able to recover that one.) So, this concert would certainly not qualify as a Greatest Hits show, which was great, since I will only have deeper appreciation for them in the future. I mean, I think I've already appreciated “Lola” about as much as I ever will, after hearing it on the radio 1,000,000 times. (He didn't sing “Lola” at the show, by the way! There were some people screaming at him about it when he was leaving the stage--probably the same people who were screaming at The 88. But they got no love from Sister Ray!) One song from the regular tracks of Kinda Kinks was the ballad “Nothing in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' About That Girl.” Absolutely not my favorite Kinks song by a long shot, but hearing him doing it live was great of course. Before singing it, he said the song was based on a girl he loved when he was a young man, but she left him for his best friend. When he finished the song, he added that the pain of this girl leaving him remains with him, but he no longer remembers her name.
Even though the show was laden with many obscure tracks, I still got to hear a healthy dose of his hits--or otherwise widely recognized tunes. “Waterloo Sunset” was one of them, which is one of the finest ballads ever written. Maybe even in the Top 10 of all time. I read that he didn't perform it in Vancouver a day earlier, so I felt lucky he chose to bless the city Seattle with it. And what more can I say? Of course the classic studio version is far more enriching, and Davies didn't even come close to recreating it, but there's something magical about hearing something like that directly from the horse's mouth. Another one of his more well-known songs that he performed that evening was “Sunny Afternoon.” As I stood in that long 'n' beefy line waiting to get into the venue, there was a fairly keyed-up man nearby me who kept on singing that song to himself. I thought about grabbing him by the shirt collar and screaming at him in the face: “You're ruining it!” But of course I didn't. And how could anyone ruin a song like that anyway? As Davies was singing, I figured this guy--where-ever he was in the crowd--must've been in total bliss. Another personal favorite from that evening was “Celluloid Heroes,” which I somehow managed to mouth along with despite not having listened to it for awhile. I remember Davies wanted the crowd to sing along with the chorus for “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” but it seemed like everyone around me was singing along with the whole thing. I could do the chorus OK, but not being able to do the verses whilst surrounded by others who could made me feel awkward. At the end of the song, he did a joke: “That's dedicated followers of fashion, not medicated followers of fashion.” Was he saying that we're all on drugs? Maybe this was some kind of cult?
Most of the upbeat tones tended to appear toward the end of the show, as is typical. One of them was “Come Dancing,” which was great to hear, and the only song that evening from the '80s. Davies said someone requested him to do that song, so kudos to whoever that was. He also played, of course, the iconic “You Really Got Me,” even though it actually started out more like a slow blues. As the backing band was playing that slow blues, Davies talked to us, giving us a brief history lesson on how he'd come to write it. He said he worked out the melody on the piano. Then he sang that familiar melody in unison with a one-fingered keyboardist: “Girl! You really got me goin'! You got me so I don't know what I'm doing!” Then, he said, his brother Dave asked him where the song goes next. That's when, he said, the riff is taken higher and the lyric shifted ever so slightly to: “Yeah! You really got me goin'! You got me so I don't know what I'm doing!” (I loved that wry sense of humor!) It wasn't long after the song switched on to full gear, and of course, everyone in the crowd was on their feet. People flooded that forbidden middle aisle as well; there was nothing security could do about it. This merry mayhem continued on through the follow-up song: “All Day and All of the Night.”
As you might have noticed, the show concentrated very heavily on his '60s material. (You mean there was nothing from his eight bazillion rock operas?) There was only one song from any of his solo albums, and he'd acknowledged the fans' lack of appreciation for those: “I know you guys don't like my solo career stuff, but we're going perform one for you.” The song was “In a Moment,” which is from his Working Man's Cafe album. Despite it being a solo song, it was received very warmly, and even I, a hobbyist music reviewer from the Web, liked it.
When he came back for the encore, he sang “Low Budget,” which was no doubt a fun choice. Not the greatest song he'd ever written, but definitely a high-energy, audience-participation-friendly one to exit out on. ...I didn't yet mention that even though Davies was 68 years old, he could still bust a move on stage. His moves usually came about as surprises; they were very brief but very intricate dances that were done with the fluid dexterity of a cat. He danced around as he performed, “Low Budget,” all over the stage. I remember a particular moment when he lifted up his shirt tail and stuck out his backside at the audience when “pants” were mentioned in the lyrics. He'd also mentioned that he bought his shoes at Wal-mart, and they hurt him a bit. (Modified lyrics, no doubt.) For the chorus, he leaning over the edge of the stage and pointed his microphone to get people to join in. Oh man, that microphone wasn't three feet in front of my face.
I tend to lose track of time at concerts, and I wasn't sure how long I'd actually been there. Checking up on some Davies fan forums after the show, he apparently played for only an hour and fifteen minutes. He was slated to perform a half hour longer, but one of the theater staff mucked up a sound-check (or something), which forced the show to start a half hour late. That's a shame, but what are you going to do? To he honest, I probably wouldn't have noticed a whole lot if the show ran a half-hour longer. Other than I might have been able to write a few more paragraphs about this experience. And isn't this concert review long enough?
I do have a question, though, for you MASSIVE Ray Davies fans who might be reading this: What's the deal with the paper plates? Before the show started, I noticed someone sitting nearby me had a bunch of paper plates with the names of Kinks songs written on them. I thought they were song requests that they'd hold up to him as he performed. I then sort of forgot about them. However, as Davies started to sing “You Really Got Me,” these paper plates were suddenly hurled at him, going every which way. Davies reached out his hand halfheartedly into the air, I suppose, to see if one would somehow land inside his palm. When none did so, he seemed to shrug it off and returned to strumming his guitar.
One guy got Davies to autograph an LP right after he finished “Low Budget.” As he was doing that, I saw a girl rush to the front of the stage with a marker and the CD jacket from UK Jive. It turned out, she was out of luck: he was as good as gone. ...Might that album be definitive proof that I am not a true Ray Davies fan? I listened to part of that album again, and I still have a hard time taking to it. Or perhaps this shows I'm a Davies fan with somewhat more discerning taste? After all, the musician that I am a fan of more than anyone else is (obviously) David Bowie, and yet I still think “Ricochet” is terrible. ...Speaking of Bowie, another song that Davies performed was “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” which was supposedly immortalized in Pin-Ups. Bowie thought he was doing the Kinks' legacy a favor by covering that song. But as it turns out, well into the 21st Century even, Davies was doing a pretty good job of keeping that legacy alive himself.
To close, this concert was without a doubt one of the best times I've ever had. There are so very few pop stars touring around these days with a back catalog like his, so if you ever have a chance to go see him, jump at it. He seems like he's going to keep going until he's 100, but don't let that fact make you put it off any longer.
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