Okay, so despite what their fans will tell ya (and nowadays there are a bunch of them amongst the rock-snob community of which I'm a proud member), the Kinks are most definitely not a member of the first rank in the whole 'Best Rock Band of All Time' debate. In fact, they aren't even in the first rank of Brit Invasion bands, and there's no amount of hand-wringing and dolphin-flogging these folks can do to make me ever conceive that Colonel and the Klinks should belong next to the Who, Stones, or Beatles in the whole rock rank debate. Listen, sure they've got some great albums (well, a couple of great ones, four at the very most), a small bunch of good ones, and about twenty years packed full of mediocre, fair-to-middling, not-something-to-letter-bomb-home-about, easily forgettable half-efforts that do little but kill the enthusiasm created by the whole 'big' '66-'72 period. To anyone who says, 'Well, shit! The Stones haven't done anything great since the first Nixon administration, either. I hear you enjoy getting drunk off expired beer and take every opportunity to use solvents in poorly ventilated areas, so why should I listen to you?' Well, god damn it to Cleveland, because that's dead wrong, that's why. Sure, Exile on Main Street is the last truly classic, unequivocal A+ album the Stolling Bones put out, but I think their mid- to late-70's output is pretty darn good, and that they didn't lose it completely outside of their horrendous '83-'89 'Bad Mick Haircut' period, and made a commendable return to decency in 1994. As far as I'm concerned, the Kinks went to 'okay' in 1970, dropped to 'barely tolerable' during their big-pants, backup singer 'Mr. Flash'-obsessed rock opera period, returned to bare acceptability in the late 70's, and dropped off the radar completely in the early 80's. Dude, when I say 'off the radar', I mean barely able to write songs. It's a truly sickening thing how much baldfaced stealing, rewriting, and flat-out plagarism this band engaged itself in during their post-'79 period. They make AC/DC look like Kurt Weill in comparison. And quite unlike the Stones, their forays into stylistic experiments like heavy metal and disco sound hammy and about convincing as an unshaven Brian Dennehy in a three-sizes-too-small sequined cocktail dress and 6" pumps. This stuff is not even good enough to make you say 'boy, they aren't quite as good as they used to be' this is so bad it inspires me to contemplate whether Ray actually had a brain tumor at the time. This wasn't a short-lived, temporary slump, either. They piffled out in the Seventies and only caught fire for one quick song every half dozen albums until they broke up in the early 90's. When the best you can get is 'generally okay' for this period of time, you've got major problems and the Kinks did have major problems. This was a band that had limited instrumental talent, one inconsistent vocalist that degraded into a sort of refined whine and another that couldn't carry a tune if it had Samsonite stamped on it, were a band that seemed uncomfortable with staying a pure rock band but didn't have the minerals to convincingly break into something bigger, loaded many of their albums with filler and preachiness, and were so sloppy a live act they made the Faces look like the Bolshoi ballet.
Outside of a strong connection to the roots of punk rock in their first few years, this band was about as interesting musically as a cup of weak tea and a stale crumpet. The mediocrity was tempered by pure energy at times, but I think the Kinks reputation as a 'rock band' is a bit overstated. I'm fully aware of the greatness of 'You Really Got Me' and its various rewrites as collected on the positively rapturous first Kinks Greatest Hits album, and am quite convinced that the solos they burned through on the Little Green Amp during this period rank among rock's best ever, but their first three album releases are otherwise pretty fucking weak as they fumble about trying to learn to write songs that don't sound like what a constipated Blind Lemon Jefferson grunted out during his morning trip to the crapper. They did fewer covers than their competition, which I guess should get a round of polite applause or something, but if it's up to me I'd rather hear the Animals run through the blues lexicon than the faux blues train-wrecks the Kinks wrote. During their golden years it was easier and easier to ignore their musical shortcomings because of all the head-spinningly great melodies and lyrics, but since then it's easy to see how they miss having a decent lead guitarist or a stronger rhythm section. These guys go through bass players like Tony Montana goes through handkerchiefs, which explains half of this problem pretty clearly, but other than becoming a Marshall stack wanking, lookit-me-I-took-some-lessons lead ham circa 1980, Dave Davies has never shown any growth in becoming interesting as a lead player whatsoever, and drummer Mick Avory is usually barely passable even as a four-floor, no-fill, no-frill pounder, much less as anything more than that. And Ray's voice? It started to get worse after he hit the sauce in the late 60's, and never really stopped. What was a charming growl in the mid-Sixties and a pinnacle of Britishism in the late-Sickies sunk to a dull, wearied whine, a guy with too much money and too little incentive to really care anymore.
Ray Davies is often held up as the songwriter for the common man, getting misty-eyed for lost generations and praising what amounts to a British form of 'family values'. On the opposite, he also spent lots of time providing barbs for the pretentious, the unjust, and the unfeeling. The Kinks always seemed to keep their feet on the ground and in fact came up with a few very strong character sketches ('Sunny Afternoon', the Arthur album), and avoided some of the worst excesses of their contemporaries. The Kinks never really had a psychedelic period, never jammed for long stretches without end ('Austrailia' notwithstanding), and never got lost in the idiotic nonsense lyrical impressionism of some of their loftier peers (they did, however, get righteously stuck in the muck of the early-70's 'concept album' for several dreadful years, proving they weren't completely immune to bombast). Still, while they spent a lot of time making music that should have been great considering what talent they were able to show, dammit, they were simple to the point of being near-retarded. How else can you describe their heavy metal period? I tells ya, there's an undiagnosed had injury back there somewhere. Maybe one of the times Dave punched his brother on stage. Or vice versa. These weren't the Waltons, dig?
Right about now, the Kink fans'll think I'm being horribly unfair and generalizing recklessly. Well, of course I am. But there's truth in them thar paragraphs, and there's truth here too there are a few Kinks albums that nobody bought, you never hear anything from on the radio, and you're probably completely unfamiliar with. And you need to buy these albums right frigging now. Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, and Kink Kronikles should be owned by anyone with a reasonably functioning ocular nerve, and anyone who cares at all about rock music needs Face to Face and Something Else too. If you dig those, pick up the spottier early 70's records. Just to make sure you stop before you pick up anything called Preservation Act 1, or you'll be writing me out of your will for sure, and I've got $50,000 in unpaid football gambling debts riding on you getting offed in the next year or so. And anyway, the saga of the Kinks is long as mah long dong Clarence Anita, with nearly as many twists and turns (though, strangely, not as many veins and capillaries), and much of it is shrouded in the mysteries of the year 1978, when women were women and men wore gay-cruisin' facial hair without irony and draped themselves in easily flammable synthetic fibres.
- Pye 1964
Okay, dig...the first Kinks albums are darn near no good at all. Darn near, but containing some small concentration of goodness nonetheless. Enough that this thing is almost not a waste of thirty-two minutes, but it is anyway so go balance your checkbook or reorder your fantasy football team or whatever. The thing is, the Kinks were liable to bite off more than they could deep throat back in '64,They don't do exclusively covers, like the Stones, Yardbirds, or Animals, and they weren't good enough songwriters to rival the Beatles. These aren't even the 'hits plus' kind of ripoff albums the Motown guys were always putting out at the time...the only hits on here are the songs later to be stolen by late-70's arena-rock bands, the Pretenders' (and Ray Davies' future butch girlfriend Chrissie Hynde's) 'Stop Your Sobbing' and Van Halen's 'You Really Got Me'. Sure, you're no doubt saying right now, is it not better to hear the childish quacking of Ray Delay-vies. presenting us with his very first original stumblings through a borrowed chord progression rather than, say, the 364th version of 'Walk the Dog' attempted by a British Invasion band in 1964? Umm...wait...yeah? No, wait...'Charlemagne'? '12 molar Hydrofluoric Acid in aqueous solution?' The 'Reverse Cowgirl'?
No, I really don't like their originals much at all. Other than the two big hits, right. Sure. 'You Really Got Me'...juh-juh-juh-juh-juh. Ur-rock classic. Little Richard boiled down to spit and vinegar. Dave Davies shouting 'fuck you!' before the solo (it's almost inaudible, but Ray sez its there in his Storytellers album because they kept bugging him as he fumbled his way through the solo, so I'll take the man's word for it). Jimmy Page uncredited here and elsewhere. Classic song. Yadda yadda I'd fuck the crap out of Julia Louis Dreyfuss for three weeks straight...and not just when she had the cool hair, either. Yup..I'd take the schoolteacher hair JLD. The pasty, slightly pudgy JLD. On a platter with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Mmm. Yadda. Yes, I've just yadda'd sex. Yadda yadda yadda. Yadadda.
If you are taking bets on how bad this album gets or something, producer and manager Shel Talmy's skiffly 'Bald Headed Woman' and 'I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain' are simply horrendous. The definite low points. These are the kind of songs a hopelessly gay British-invasion manager locked-in-a-bus-for days-on-end-with-four-strapping-teenage-lads would write, which I guess explains the 'bald head' theme. Gawd...these songs are teeerible. Ray's other originals ('Just Can't Go to Sleep', 'So Mystifying', 'I Took My Baby Home', and 'Revenge', which was done with Jimmy Page, by the way) are much better in comparison, but they're still primarily horsepatoot.
Despite what I claimed just three bloated, rambling paragraphs ago, this album does have covers. Big bouncy bunches of 'em. But its just that the Kinks clank their way through them with such little care that you'd swear they were just second-rate originals. The reason is that these guys are complete dipshits when it comes to R&B. They turn every riff that's supposed to be bluesy and slow into the theme to Rawhide, all jumpy and with the beat all turned around so it lurches instead of swings. I guess punk guys may have gotten a lot of influence from how cruddily these guys cover Chuck Berry (listen to 'Too Much Monkey Business' for the most rushed, train-wrecked version of a Chuck classic ever by a major rock band. Listen to the solo if you want to laugh so hard you have to change your britches.), but I say the best punk rock swings anyway (Stooges, Wire), so for me it's worthless. Shit. Hole! Courtney Love! I know 'Got Love If You Want It' from the Yardbirds, but this version bears so little resemblance to the Clapton-era version it took me awhile to figure out it was the same song until I actually concentrated on the vocals. Ray and Dave (god knows who's singing what on here) also put on so many 'growly' Big Black Blues Man voices they end up sounding like Steve Marriott with his head caught in an elevator door.
Anyway, they'd pretty much repeat this same album two more times, improving the formula ever-so-slightly each time around. My thought is that the Kinks really weren't into albums too much. As their bonus tracks and US-only albums show, they put a lot of effort into hiding some pretty good tracks on the backs of singles where few people would look for them. Due to a mixup in the delivery room, most of my albums don't have any of those bonus tracks, but what I'm saying is that if you happen to decide you need to buy these albums (head trauma) you should (go to the hospital and have a doctor tell you why your taste in records has gone so completely to shit) for all means buy the ones with the bonus tracks on 'em. Or just buy a nice, thick mid-60's-era greatest hits CD and spend the $40 you saved on a nice pair of slacks. Or a midget blowjob. Is that still what they're going for these days?
Saved by 'You Really Got Me', which would also make a fine title for this album if appended with the phrase 'and a Plethora of Cruddy B-Sides'
Capn's Final Word: David learned to 'reinvent' himself here...that's the only way recording studio people kept letting him make shitty singles over and over. I bet he wore disguises, too.
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Davies now writes damn near this whole album, and his songs range from sheer the sheer greatness of taking your one and only hit and Xeroxing it and somehow convincing the world (including your humble Capn) that it's yet another marvelous song. I'm talking 'bout 'All Day and All Of The Night', which I happen to have sung to my baby daughter Katia the first time I held her. She simply squinted and wondered what had become of her warm, wet sleeping bag. Anyway, the usual rule gets followed a second time again, where the singles ('Tired Of Waiting For You'. 'Something Better Beginning', 'All Day') are the sweet, sweet nectar of a benevolent God, the remaining originals are the detritus of a doomed physical world awaiting redemption, and the covers are, well, hamster caca that forces comparisons to the Herman's Hermits. Let's get those two ugly covers out of the way first, since there's only two of them among the original album tracks. Such obvious filler...First off, there's probably one of the earliest covers of Martha and the Vandals' 'There's Goop All Over the Phone (and Pleasant All Over the Bill)'...no wait.
'Dancin' In the Street', which as I've mentioned every time I come across it, is probably the most over-covered song in rock 'n' roll history outside of 'Summertime Blues' and 'Eat My Fuc'. The Kinks version is probably one of the very worst, next to the Grateful Dead's dippy disco version on Terrapin Station and that one with the video where Mick Jagger and David Bowie look like they've been attacked by a 1984 Cuban drug kingpin version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The one where they look like they're going to start French-kissing and licking Aqua Net out of each other's hair at any minute. The fun one. Anyway, again the Kinks have about as much swing as a three-week old donut, and sound like they're about as liable to be found dancing in the street as feeding $1000 bills to a goat. Dave contorts his already warty voice into a falsely-gruff croak on the dull trad-blues cover of Jack Dupree's 'Naggin' Woman', one so ugly it makes the lead vocals on 'I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight', themselves more full of posturing than the average episode of Def Comedy Jam, sound good.
The album starts off quite badly, actually, probably contributing greatly to my viewpoint that it's not that much better than the debut. Instead of kicking off with one of their hits, it's got 'Look For Me Baby', just another histrionic unswinging R&B failure. Ray bravely (and stupidly) tests the limits of his half-octave vocal range while at the same time double tracking, meaning that when he hits a berk-note, he's not only not in tune with the music, he's not in tune with himself. The doubling trick is repeated throughout, making the vocals much uglier than they already are. I'd rather hear one Ray or one Dave sound thin and squawky than hear two (or more) of them attempt to grapple with the finer points of the musical scale. Dave takes the opposite approach and attacks his vocals with ferocity on the jive-talkin' 'Got My Feet On the Ground', fast and loaded with attitude, but not particularly strong musically, just two or three lousy chords strummed over and over. Then we hear Ray get all moody on 'Nothin' In This World Can Stop Me From Making This Song Title Thirteen Words Long', no doubt choosing a mood first selected by one of the Beatles on Beatles For Sale. Which is fine, but the song's mood can't sustain it when Ray's once again forgotten to insert a hook anywhere. Then we get 'Naggin' Woman' and 'Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight' and I wonder whether maybe I have some gutters to clean or something. Anything to get away from the chore of listening to the first half of this record.
'Tired Of Waiting For You' is the first serious glimmer of greatness on this record, and lemme tell you, it's not a moment too soon. Along with the inimitable chorus, gloriously balanced between desperation, desire, and sheer loathing, the interplay between the two guitars (one arpeggiating and the other riffing on a sort of slide pattern) and the busy drumwork is what makes this song work. The shifts in mood between the dismissive ('It's your life'), the angry (dig the last chorus where Ray hits 'SO TIRED' it sounds like he's not even sure he's going to wait any longer) and the vulnerable ('I was a lonely soul'..) are pretty recognizable for anyone who's ever wondered if their lover is playing them like a Dutch fiddle, and argued with themselves over what they're going to do about it. A great, great song, and a nice change from the much more easily digested garage rock of 'You Really Got Me'.
After another tune that sounds like Ray pandering to the charts at the behest of Shel Talmy, we get two more Beatles rips, one being yet another folksy, acoustic ballad thanks to Dylan-by-way-of-Beatles For Sale ('So Long') and the other being Dave's hoppin' 'I Feel Fine' ripoff 'Come On Now' (1:50 of incestuous Britpop greatness). I suppose tearing pages from your main competition wasn't completely unheard of in 1965, but the fact that the Kinks are so clear about where they're stealing their songs from (the riff to 'Come On Now' varying from 'Fine' by, like, half an eighth note or something) leads me to believe that either they were being positioned among the Merseybeat crowd by their management. How that could happen when it was obvious that the Kinks had their own sound, proven a second brilliant time by the touching, self-delusionatory optimism of 'Something Better Beginning', that could rival even the Beatles themselves? There's too much time spent on Kinda Kinks trying to genre-ize the Kinks into sounding something like whatever was hot on the charts at the time, so when they'd go out on their tours and play their 10 minutes between Mickey Most and Marianne Faithfull, they could play a couple of rushed hits, a half minute of Motown, 48 seconds of an R&B ballad, 36 seconds of blues, 3 seconds of trying to keep their weak-ass little Vox amplifiers from blowing up, and then another hit and be off the stage again before you can say 'circus freak parade'. Promoters, radio, and management, didn't really give the Kinks the right circumstances to develop themselves for another year or so. Other bands had better support (George Martin as a creative catalyst for the Beatles, also whom, like the Stones and others, had two equally good songwriters instead of just one) and since all improvements had to be made through Ray's pen alone (they sure weren't developing much as musicians, other than not having to rely on Jimmy Page to play their guitars anymore), his inconsistency was probable based on a lack of confidence in himself.
The bonus tracks on this CD constitute an entire second album, one that beats the britches right off the real Kinda Kinks. Of course, damn near all of these songs qualify as Greatest Hits, so you'll be catching them on the compilation you should be buying anyway. But still, why couldn't such great tracks as the boogaloogling 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy' (the first time the band uses their inability to swing to their sock-hopping advantage, rather than ignoring it and wishing it didn't exist) or the thematic sequel to 'Tired of Waiting For You', 'Set Me Free', a crunchy, ballsy sort of ballad with some primo examples of how to use crescendos. 'I Need You' is not much more than the less-successful third rewrite of 'You Really Got Me', but I'd have been overjoyed if this crispy creme hard rocker had been chosen to pick up the languid first side of Kinda Kinks. Critics like to point to 'See My Friends' due to its quasi-Eastern influence on the sliding vocal hook (apparently written following Ray travels to India in 1965) and near-psychedelic sound, but I think the spiky straight-world-falling-apart tune 'Well Respected Man' is just as revolutionary, if not more so. And not just because it has the line 'and his arm-sweat smells the best', which makes me giggle like I'd just seen Charlene Theron's panties. There's also some dull crud ('Don't You Fret' is ugly as sin), but it's really not any worse than the dull crud on Kinda Kinks I tried to convince myself to like.
By the way, my copy of this album (provided with great thanks by fellow reviewer and certifiable Englishman Adrian Denning) is an oddball one with 12 tracks, beginning with 'Look For Me Baby' and ending with 'Something Better Beginning' (Got a Hollywood ending, eh?) and about sixteen gazillion bonus tracks, and no 'All Day'. I only mentioned it earlier because the All Music Guide told me to, as if they know their arse from a garden shovel or something. I don't, which probably explains why I keep digging 9-month old chrysanthemum bulbs out of my rectum whenever I go on what I like to call 'fact-finding missions'. Not All-Music Guide. They never make mistakes. Ever hear of that Elvis Presley album, 50,000,000 Hack Reviewers With an Axe to Grind Can't Be Wrong? Here, I'll hum a bit for you...'La la la, we get paid...la la la...say any inconsistent crap we want to say....la la la...read press releases all day...la la la...no payola here at all...la la la Britney Spears's Britney album gets the same grade as Let It Be and Quadrophenia...la la la *guitar solo**fade out*!'
Capn's Final Word: Ray just ain't himself yet. He's trying to be everyone people want him to be, but that just isn't him.
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- Rhino 1988
Who woulda thought that the American record company goons would have actually been able to assemble better Kinks records than the Kinks themselves? Remember when I said I'd have made a damn fine album out of the bonus tracks on Kinda Kinks? Well, here ya go, Don Ho, these two groaningly unfunny pun-titled records prove my point exactly. This is a 17-song mashed potato of the two releases listed in the title, leaving off some of the lamer stuff, including a cover of 'Long Tall Sally' that I'm sure ain't no damn good based on the continuing failure of the Kinks to cover anything well. Here this is exemplified by the only cover included, a freakishly sanitized version of 'Louie Louie'. Now this is a song that would probably seem to be perfect for the three-chord Monties to crash and burn, but is distracted and weak as performed here. Also left off are 'All Day and All Of The Night', which you should probably have somewhere else anyway, and a few others, but this leaves the resulting CD a strong example of the ability of the early Kinks to make their own sound, separate from and in spite of the commercial urgings of Shel Talmy. As I said, 16 of the 17 are originals, and they show Ray getting more and more comfortable with himself. The first section is given over to what I'd call more 'generic' British Invasion '65 stuff, you know, that speedy R&B boogie stuff that kids would call 'rave ups' when the band would shift from playing merely blindingly fast (gotta get that set over quick before the Fire Marshall shuts down the hall) to a speed approaching the beating of hummingbird wings or how quickly monkeys masturbate, where the boys in the audience would wiggle so fast their pressed white shirts would come untucked from their pressed brown trousers and the girls would scream and hop around until rivulets of girl pee would begin to form,.rolling down the aisles, gathering tributaries and other rivers until forming a veritable Lake Michigan of estrogen and YooHoo in the front row. The second half has a few more of those 'mini revolutions' that would end up spicing up Kink Kontroversy, 'Well-Respected Man', the stupendous ambiguously-gay-baiting 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', featuring some of the hugest guitar sound to come out of a twinky Sixties amp speaker (that's either a 12 string, a bunch of well-hidden overdubs, or just another bit of Dave Magic making that enormous, warm-bath guitar noise), the brilliant proto-psychedelic boogie 'Sitting On My Sofa' (perfect for wiggling next to a tall blonde in a minidress on the dancefloor of the Matrix in 1966), and one of the most underrated Kinks songs ever, 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else', which has more punk spirit than an entire army of 'You Really Got Me's. This is a brooding mix of self-loathing and wild swipes at the straight world, no doubt coming as a result of Ray's feelings of alienation from the 'rock' community in Britain, partially because he never was much of a social butterfly anyway, and partially because he was married with a kid by 1965, and felt too much responsibility to his family to leave them to go party 'like everybody else'. Believe me, I know what that feels like...you're blessed with the love and sweetness of a family, but the constant feeling of obligation is hard to diminish. See, Ray was sort of a 'trad values' kind of guy, for whom the dishonest and selfish actions of many of his cohorts were unconscionable, even if from time to time he envied them. Huh...I guess Ray was finally starting to explore his true talent, which was expressing emotions and opinions that didn't quite fit into the fashionable artifice of rock music, but strike very true to people who live real lives. To be honest, I don't know what it feels to be 'like a Rolling Stone', or to be a 'Ramblin' Man', no matter how attractive people can make those lifestyles seem. But I do know what it feels like to wish to be set free from a dying relationship (one where you don't necessarily have the courage to do it for yourself), and I do know what it feels like to not feel like everybody else (to be the only person with a family in my office full of yuppies is pretty hard, lemme tell you), and not necessarily wanting to be that way, either. The fact that Ray was an accomplished rocker making these kinds of strides, instead of a touchy-feely folkie or something means quite a lot to me. It means he recognizes and sees through the game, the 'act' that a lot of rock is based around. Sometimes you need the escapism of a cock-rockin' modern pirate, raping and pillaging through the straight world, and sometimes its good to know someone realizes it's all really a joke, and hear a human heart beating behind the power chords. Ray would soon explore this side of himself even more brilliantly, until he finally became cynical enough to put up some masks of his own. But that's a story for 20 pages down.
Anyway, I probably shouldn't have spent so long reviewing the far lamer Kinda Kinks and left this review sketchier than a side character in a George Lucas movie, but there ya go. There's some bad and boring stuff here, too (a lot of the songs you've never heard of are simply okay), but the amount of greatness far outweighs it. If you can, spend the time to seek these tunes out.
Capn's Final Word: It's all about the single. Of course, ya could just buy a compilation like a normal person.
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- Pye 1965
Of the three British 'Kink-bla-bla' albums sequenced by the band and Shel Talmy in 1964 and 1965, this is by far the best, but compared to the B-side/ EP gems collected on Kinks-Size/Kinkdom, there's still too much compromising going on with this record to say the Kinks were really pulling it together. Granted, they finally break their cover version curse with a blazing version of 'Milk Cow Blues' that...at last...sounds like it has some balls. Ray and Dave whip the Betty White out of their guitars, and Ray uses his own nasally-gross voice to belt out the lyrics rather than trying to make it sound like someone else's. Someone black. Someone with soul. See, Ray ain't got no soul, not in the Ray Charles sense of the word, anyway (he is not, as you say, 'soulless', however). He's a snotty, depressive British punk with a jerky brother and a strained home life. And dammit, he sounds best when he's singing his songs as that guy. He's getting better at his ballads, too, and Kontroversy is loaded with 'em. Is that what's Kontroversial about it? That there's finally no references to 'You Really Got Me' and he's gotten good enough not to sound like he's ripping off the Beatles every other tune? That's a nice sort of controversy to be in, isn't it? Not like turning on your TV set and seeing that talentless, toothless wretch of a PR-exercise Ashlee Simpson and her gutless band of fifteen-year-old Old Navy models every time you turn around. They say she got booed by 70,000 people at the Orange Bowl this week. What they don't tell you is how many millions of people out in TV land got physically sick at hearing her sanitized Disney Morissette act like I did.
Anyhow, this ain't a review page for Ashlee fucking Simpson (and God help me if it was...I'd be popping so many blood vessels I'd look like Boris Yeltsin after a bachelor party). This is a damn Kinks page, so let's start reviewing nipple clamps and genital electroshock machines already! Get your bored housewives and your masochistic millionaire businessmen over here and let's begin!
Really, Kontroversy is pretty strong. I sorta have a hard time calling it a classic, though, because too much of it sounds similar in its draggy, exhausted feel. Sure, this was, what, their fourth album of new material since their debut (at least)? I guess they had a right to be feeling draggy and exhausted. Try to listen to 'You Can't Win' or 'Gotta Get the First Plane Home' and not see a bunch of haggard looking Kinks hashing their way through the zillionth recording session after the zillionth theatre gig after the zillionth night sleeping on an unheated bus. Damn near impossible, I say. The rocking generally seems forced here, partially because of overwork (it's hard to play fast on little sleep and bad food), and partially because their draw really isn't hard rock anymore. The last of the 'You Really Got Me's marked the end of that for quite awhile. They're generally moving in more touchy-feely directions, (and have been, steadily, since the debut), but some of it simply bonks around in an acceptably catchy, competent nowhereville rather than showing the true brilliance Ray is capable of.
In other words, I feel this album approaches 'crafty greatness' rather than sheer brilliance. He's learned what his band does and doesn't do well (well, almost...the snory boogie 'It's Too Late' wouldn't be any good by anybody, much less this somnambulistic bunch). He's learned his way around a chord sequence, and he knows a lot of little tricks, but often the songs don't really feel like there's much inspiration backing them. I'm really thinking 'When I See That Girl Of Mine' or 'I'm On An Island' here...songs that cry out for that next little push from Ray, and not getting it. Call it a 7 on a 10 scale for a LOT of this record. For the ballads, 'I Am Free' is melodic and all, but its tempo is way too lope-y, 'Ring the Bells' is darn, darn pretty though, especially when I think back to all the generic teeny-land ballads on Kinda.
Tired-sounding or not (listen to those barely-there vocals), 'Til The End Of The Day' is an undeniably great youthful pop song that seems to intimate much more than it actually says (maybe I'm just buying too much into the 'you and I are free, we do what we please, yeah), and Ray outdoes himself on the background harmonies and tempo changes here. Same thing goes for Van Halen's 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone', yet another cry for help ('will this depression last for long'), but set to one of the young band's sharpest hooks. As for that chunky rhythm guitar, it'd come in shorter and shorter supply as the band would begin its more overtly 'pop' period the next year, so if you like albums with guitars in the grooves in addition to pictures of guitars on the cover, then maybe this oughta find its way in your shopping basket next to your dipillatory cream and wart remover, huh?
I have to be honest here. These early Kinks albums, including the relatively great Kinks-Size/Kinkdom, haven't been a barrel of Monkees for me to review. There's something about them I'm generally not too hot on. Maybe it's that they're either trying damn hard to sound like people they aren't (Beatles, Motown), and aren't really good enough to know yet who they are. Like that makes any sense. Anyway, I spent a LONG time listening to these four over, and over, and over trying to finally get enough of a handle on them for a decent set of reviews (I think I probably blew that pretty terribly, huh?), even stopping and starting several times because I just couldn't figure it out. I simply do not love them. The singles, yeah. Some of the best singles I've ever heard. It's just that these four can easily be substituted for by a well-chosen greatest hits CD and no pain will ever be felt. Perhaps I just don't buy Ray singing what end up being pretty mundane love songs, and while he sings about other things on Kontroversy, they are simply too worn-down to make it really work. Anyway you look at it (you secretly agree, you think I'm an ignorant fool for preferring the Animals, you yawn at how dull these reviews have been), I really don't think I'll feel like listening to any of these albums again anytime soon. Let's just leave it that I'm very happy to be leaving behind these mid-Sixties Kinks albums, never to look back again. Let's get to an album with a title with no fucking K's in it, alright?
Capn's Final Word: Like married sex, once they realise what they can do, and how to do it, they're to tired to do it right.
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Face to Face
- Pye 1966.
Twee...but also nice 'n' fine, Face to Face is where them Kinks begin to shed their Kink-[Fill In Musty Pun On Kink Name Here]-era exploitied-tourin' band-exhaustion blues and once again become a decent band of bratty British guys with large spaces between their front teeth who wear purple velvet jackets for a living. Face to Face is the first of the really strong Kinks albums, and going onward from that big stupid 'confessional' at the end of Kontroversy when I said I liked their first three records about at much as being forced to watch a Richard Gere movie marathon, this one is the first I like much at all. Granted, I didn't necessarily care for it the first time around, but the same thing would be true of Something Else, too. This is also where they acquiesce and begin embracing their inner Britishness, more or less dropping their blues and R&B-influenced stylistics completely, and embracing a land of Well Respected Men About Town who spend their time drinking tea and, umm...playing harpsichord, apparently. Through the next few years, the Kinks inability to adjust (lower?) themselves to producing psychedelic mishmash rock for the kids with the green cash, plus a crippling ban on touring in the US (apparently Ray punched a musician's union representative. Either that, or something equally as reckless in its disregard for the Mafia) left them commercially bereft, but for 1966, this album is spot on. There was a period there sometime after Kontroversy and before Something Else when the Kinks were monumentally influential in the British Invasion scene. Just about every rock band worth their 1.5 cents/record put out a pop-fractured, chimey rock album loaded with sly social commentary in 1966, and most of them had harpsichords somewhere or another. Anyway, I'm sayin' that this (and, to a lesser degree, Something Else) is also the last time the Kinks were ever on the cutting edge. After this the band spent twenty five years either ignoring trends (late 60's - early 70's), blandly chasing them (late 70's), or simply taking a big sharp knife and fork and chowing down on their back catalogue for ideas (the rest).
In case you've got some Rain Man-esque list of 'big missed opportunities in the rock world', take note that apparently this album was originally meant to include a bunch more of the sound effects and spoken word announcements than it would end up with (there's a telephone ringing at the beginning of 'Party Line', some crashing surf on 'Holiday In Waikiki', and a couple of other places), because, of all things, the record company thought it'd be too uncommercial. Eh? Zongo? Zoinks! Too uncommercial?!? This is like saying using a mouse will never catch on because people like using the command prompt too much. A year later, everybody and their friend Steve was falling all over themselves to put out an album with all that gimmicky crap on it once Sergeant Pepper's came out and began infecting everyone's brain. To think the Kinks could've been the first of the big Brit Invasion bands with a 'concept album', something that would assuredly have had all the twinky rock writers all up in a huff, but was cheated out of it is so...darned....Kinks. That's the thing with this band. They're underdogs. They sing about 'little men', never hung out at the Roxy getting drumk with Ringo, had all manner of legal and other problems, and never got the same respect as their bigger brothers at all. The fact that they were so 'hard luck' and ended up nearly forgotten by the 80's make them a perfect 'find' for a rock enthusiast (or, even worse, for a 'rock critic'). To say the Beatles is your favorite band has no cache, no cool amongst the thumb-twiddling crowd. It's like saying your favorite baseball team is the Yankees. To say the Kinks, now that is cool. Everyone's heard of 'em, but most of them realize they've heard almost nothing of their music. People like losers, and the Kinks are one of the classic 'loser' bands who had a (fairly) rough go at first but are now treated very kindly by history.
Anyway, the album. So quite a bit of it is great, and even the tunes that I would call fillerish or overdone sound tight and sharp. Listen to 'Session Man' for a good example. This is a nasty and un-called for attack on the folks who made Kinks possible, which is kind of like someone writing a song about how dumb the janitor has to be to go around emptying people's trash all night. But musically, it's big and heaving, the hard guitars meshing with the harpsichord to form a very strong true rock sound rather than using instrumentation to mask or apologize for the loud rock kids' music. Mostly, I'd say the success of these songs has more to do with the success of how Ray handles the subject matter than anything else. Musically, this stuff is great, jangly three-chord Kinks rock with just a hint of folkiness for a pseudo-Byrds chime that shows up on most of the songs (as opposed to the crunchy distortion of the Little Green Amp era of the year before, anyway). Much of the time, Ray is talking about some mundane shit, from the lack of privacy/voyeuristic quality of a 'Party Line' (he bitches about people listening on his line, but he's obsessed with figuring out who HE's listening to) to your older sister moving away (yup, 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home' ain't about a girlfriend), or a terminal bachelor ('Dandy'). And that's just the first three songs. He's not talking about universal minds or any of that shit, is he? From here on out, this is pretty much par for the course for ol' Ray...he takes some reasonably interesting character or situation, sets it up, and then comes to some 'conclusion about it. It's not particularly poetic, and the fact that his music seems to revolve around the same half-dozen strummed chords all the time makes it fairly limiting as the formula gets used over and over. He chooses his target and pretty much sums up a song in one question - 'Isn't Hawaii overcommercialized?' ('Holiday In Waikiki', to which I'd respond 'Isn't it also true of ripping off Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell' in this way?) 'Aren't rich people shallow and foolish?' ('Most Exclusive Residence For Sale', 'House In The Country' - Ray was really big on houses, wasn't he? Maybe he shoulda quit and become a realtor when his talent ran out on him in 1972. He coulda called it Shangri-La Realty.)
In other places, Ray goes autobiographical about his continuing rough patch first hinted at on Kontroversy, and when he's speaking of himself he seems pretty sincere and engaged about what he's doing. I think these are the real great tunes on Face to Face. You can have your social commentary for all I care. 'Rainy Day In June' genuinely sounds hopeless ('everybody felt the rain'), and 'Too Much On My Mind' genuinely confused. Somehow, Ray combines the two sides of his songwriting only once, on the bleary 'Sunny Afternoon', a black comedy which sets the scene of a man who's sitting drinking a beer, no doubt unshaven in his bathrobe and on a beat-up old plastic Chaise Lounge, not paying attention to the repo men marching past carrying off various delinquent couches and television sets, his wife and girlfriend having left him after episodes of 'drunkenness and cruelty'. Considering this song is usually misinterpreted as a sort of pseudo-Beach Boys bit of happy crappy joy joy, the actual thought that's gone into conveying this mental picture is astonishing.
Anyhow, there's a crapload of songs on this album, and a couple of true stinkers. To go through them in a rushed sentence because this review is nearing three pages in length already without a single coherent thought to sully it - I think 'Fancy' is nothing more than a weak followup to 'See My Friends', and 'Dandy' is just gross, and 'You're Lookin' Fine' has, like somewhere between three and five words in the whole damn thing. Face to Face is still a very strong bunch of folk-rocky, dance-hally, and generally bittersweet tunes, and one that sets up the Kinks not only for the next, and best-ever, phase of their career. Think of it as their first proper 'album' in the 'self-contained underwater boogie apparatus' sense of the word.
Capn's Final Word: So I miss some of the snotty punk kid business, but these songs are too good not to notice.
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Live at Kelvin Hall
- Pye 1967
I swear I can not only hear some pubescent boys screaming along with those armies of little horn-rimmed hormball teenyboppers in the audience, but I think I can also discern some pockets being picked, some virginities being prematurely stolen away, and even, faintly, behind the guy having a heart attack during 'Come On Now', the sound of someone's innocence being lost. Forever. But hey, enough about what it was like to wade knee-deep through the spit and piss and hormones of a mid-60's rock 'n' roll audience, and onto the music. Or, at least, what's left of it after you dig yourself out from under the six million tons of screaming and carrying-on that was so unwisely chosen as the most important item in the Kelvin Hall mix. I wouldn't get at all as excited as Mary Jane and her 20,000 friends do...these songs sound exactly goddamn like what the band plays on the records, except for: A) the horrendous mix, B) some notes crunched so badly it makes L'il Jon sound like Judy Garland, C) the horrendous mix, D) 'Happy Birthday', E) 'The Batman Theme Jam', F) the hordes of zit faces sing along on 'Sunny Afternoon', and G) the horrendous mix. This mix is so fucking shit milkshake it makes the usual comparison pieces - Got Live If You Want It, Live at Shea Stadium, and Beach Boys Live sound like models of modern live sound reproduction in comparison. The lead and backup vocals are unnaturally up-front, so much so they sound obviously overdubbed. Now, considering how much David Copperfield sleight-of-hand was used on all the other live albums of the time, I really don't have much of a problem with that. In fact, the vocals are the best thing about the album...you get to hear 'Sunny Afternoon' or 'Well-Respected Man' again, and that's not bad for anybody who isn't the pointy-eared pig blood-guzzling lead singer of some gay-ass Norwegian black metal outfit. But try to bend your ear to hear the guitars and you'll probably end up bashing headlong into Ray's clunky rhythm guitar, a blocky, chunky beast subject to frequent dropouts and 'issues' with Mick Avory's near-inaduible timekeeping. Dave's lead is simply not there, and the bass comes and goes more times than Biz Markie at the Golden Corral sundae bar. Considering that those screams completely take over the album every fifteen seconds or so, forever slaughtering any budding groove that might've sprung up since the last orgasmic eruption of girl, and the goddamn instruments seem to pop up and down from inaudibility at completely random (and inappropriate) times, sometimes this album is just a chore to listen to. Yeah, there's a point or two that tells me the Kinks were at least darned enthusiastic about what they were doing ('Come On Now'), and had enough rock 'n' roll spirit just to bash it out with two fingers and an asshole and not worry one Tina Yothers about polish or professionalism, but Kelvin Hall is nothing more than yet another one of those hostile historic documents of what things were like before decent PA's, half-competent sound mixing, and free love to burn off some of that stupid pent-up Sixties frustration.
As a note, my version of this record has both a mono and stereo version of each album. The stereo is cleaner but more muffled, and sounds like the band is playing live on Waikiki Beach in front of a crashing surf complete with seagulls. The mono version is rawer and more 'rock 'n' roll', and those seagulls quickly become girls that would later become your mother (or...ugh! grandmother!). I reviewed the mono version above, but the stereo version wouldn't score much higher.
Capn's Final Word: The screeching isn't just coming from Ray's guitar. Five Live Yardbirds can rest easy.
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- Pye 1967.
Not really much else. Nothing new anyway. Essentially the same album as Face to Face again, except replacing the buzzed-up British groove of that album with slower bathwater tempos and a dull, tired vibe, just like on Kontroversy but instead of banging on the guitar, Ray spends a helluva lot of time banging at the piano. Ray's deepening sense of depression has gotten so great he can't whip it and beat it back underneath his skin anymore, he just lets it plop out and flop all over the studio booth like a one-legged dog, out for all to see. This is an album that, for all its melodicism and professionalism, is as grey as its blecchy cover art. Thing is, it's still darn good, and if you compare it to all the 1966-7 era Between the Buttons and Revolvers and Four Small Faces and Quick Ones and Sell Outs, it's good to hear something a bit more honestly, genuinely dysfunctional instead of just a bunch of winky-winky nudge-nudge giggling up a ruffled sleeve about how much fucking dope they've been scoring and how much authority they've been giving wedgies to lately. Ray seems to be in full realization that he is, in fact, not like anyone else, and is finding himself more and more isolated from the rock 'n' roll inner core. His character studies make a return, but instead of snotty barbs at poofy rich jackasses, he (and Dave) immerse themselves in all manner of poxy losers. Everyone populating the world of Something Else is either depressed, obsolete, envious, or reclusive. Sad clowns, failures, and social retards populate this miniature Happy Valley USA, just a real fun bunch to go to Six Flags with.
It's hard to argue that Something Else is not a good album, but it sure is a bummer to make it through. The envy-loaded opener 'David Watts' boogies pretty well in a pseudo-'Let's Spend The Night Together' piano groove, but from here the tempos eaaaassseee into a slovenly lope and things either sound soppy drunk and sodden ('Harry Rag', 'Tin Soldier Man', both of which remind me of something a drunken dockworker might sing 10 minutes to close at his favorite skuzzy pub) or damn near to pulling a Freddy Krueger on the ol' wrist veins.
Luckily, the final song is the best on the album and one of the best of the band's entire career, 'Waterloo Sunset'. The song sounds like what would've happened if Brian Wilson had produced Pet Sounds with only the four Kinks as players (though I doubt Brian would've let that ugly-butt slappy guitar echo stay on the tape). Funnly enough, no one ever mentions that 'Waterloo Sunset' is written from the point of view of someone too shy to actually go out and meet someone at Waterloo Station themselves - he's just sitting by the window, his life revolving around the little joy of seeing Whoozit and Whatzit meet each other with a great big sloppy kiss every day in the middle of the dirty rush of London. Boy, Ray is really a pick-me-up, isn't he? Still the song is beautiful simply because the narrator doesn't care that he's nothing more than a spectator in his own life. Waterloo sunset's fine, eh?
Having a nice outlook on a shitty life sure is better than the endless darkness that inhabits much of the rest. There's the ponderous crooner 'End Of The Season', or Dave's overcooked 'Death Of A Clown' ('the fortuneteller lies dead on the floor/no one needs fortunes anymore' - I mean, come on! If that doesn't put a jump in your spark plug and a smile on your face, maybe you don't deserve any ice cream tonight, Mr. Grumpy!!), or maybe the maudlin bored-housewife weeper 'Two Sisters'. Too many of the tracks use the same old chords, the same old drumbeats, and the same old vocal melodies they've been tramping through for four albums already (and 'Situation Vacant' steals its little organ fill from Dylan), and missteps like Dave's icky, cock-rocking 'Love Me Till The Sun Shines' let sections of the album down. Still, there's that extra-sticky lovemuffin 'popcraft' in evidence here, oozing from the pores of this album. Me? I wish they'd have given it a few more sticky hooks, but then again I'm the guy who digs ABBA, right?
Capn's Final Word: Ray begins his conscious split from the moneygoround here, but his clothes at least still fit the style. Pop genius, but a tad too drab.
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Are The Village Green
Preservation Society -
Proof that not
everyone was injecting Yellow Submarines into their eyeballs and licking the mud
off each others' flabby, pasty white-middle-class hippie thighs in 1968, In
fact, the Kinks were talking about getting old, steam-powered trains, and how
sexy cousin Bessie looks in her shapeless heel-length black wool skirt, bent
over the butter churn out in the middle of the barnyard next to the enormous
pile of horse apples. This freaky nostalgia trip is the first of the essential
Kinky records, not quite as good as Arthur and a bit too draggy at the end to be
absolutely perfect, but good enough that if you're a fan of rock music and
haven't heard it...well, most people haven't, but you're still an incomplete
person until you have. TKATVGPS used to be considered a frumpy, dated,
and terminally uncool Kinks record, but has by The Year of Our Lard 2005 into a
bona-fide classic of down-home folk rock (of the rockin' kind, not the kind of
country corn-poke the Byrds were making by this time), still closely related to
the sounds of Face or Som'in Else, but more real, less show-offy
and with striking, supernova melodies on almost every song. They begin to get a
little repetitive with themselves towards the end (there's 'Village Green' to go
along with the highly superior 'We Are the Village Green Preservation Society',
and 'People Take Pictures of Each Other' to go along with the superior 'Picture
Book') but there's still more great songs on this album than we've seen from the
Kinks yet. Ray's still only really comfortable with his chosen handful of chords
and song formulas, and he's far from being the stylistic adventurer he was back
on Face, but when you're putting an album of such maturity and grace (eew!
I just realized how much like a Special Hallmark Television Production),
all that's really important is that he's written a brave group of songs that
sound wonderful when performed by the Kinks plus (there's plenty of organs and
pianos to augment the guitar/bass/drums, but not in a 'hey lookit me! I'm Dave
Davies and I'm playing a fucking organ! Isn't that weird?' fashion.
The first side is the superior
one, the part where the album's concept of nostalgic longing for long-dead
innocence and integrity is represented the strongest. The title track states
the Kinks' mission - they're preserving the good old wooden stuff (custard pie,
Fu Manchu, virginity, to pick three at absolute random) from creeping extinction
at the hands of callous, inhuman modernism (office blocks, skyscrapers, etc.) in
a simple, brilliant, upbeat pop-rock song that the Kinks were just built
for. Well, maybe they weren't built for Beach Boys vocal harmonies, but this and
'Waterloo Sunset' go a long way towards arguing that maybe they were. The
thing is, even in 1969 a lot of this stuff was already gone, and though
Ray mostly lists material items that represent goodness, he seems more upset at
the loss of humanity that the destruction of a village green (aka a town square,
for the Americans out there) represents. Ray's nostaligia is not just for the
big things, either...the wonderful 'I Remember Walter' pines for the memories of
youthful exuberant friendship, realizing that while his buddy Walter is still
alive, he's probably been changed so much by adulthood he can't even relate to
his old memories anymore. He goes on with the joyous 'Picture Book' (now
featured at your local television set as the background for an ad for junk
dealer Hewlitt Packard, along with the Cure's 'Pictures of You', neither of
which deserve this treatment. Why not Def Leppard's 'Photograph'? Or, Yes!
GODDAMN!! Better yet!! J. Geils Band's 'Centerfold'...now there's an ad I
wouldn't mind seeing!), speaking of how people preserve their memories in
photographs, and 'to prove they loved each other'. One thing to note is that,
for once, Ray doesn't sound particularly critical of any of his subjects
this time around. He's moved from farcical character assassinations of
different misfits and clowns like 'Well Respected Man' to over-dramatic (but
beautiful) portrayals of depression like 'Waterloo Sunset', and now he's finally
arrived at a point where he makes looking at pictures sound, well, like a good,
human experience. He doesn't say, 'Boy, you idiots with your cameras, you're so
banal' like he might've a few years before, but he does feel the devastating
power of realizing you're not as happy as you once were in your pictures.
Getting older and getting cynical aren't necessarily happy processes, and Ray
seems to have approached his middle-agedness with a rapidity and self-conscious
greacelessness usually reserved for pedophiles signing up to teach swim lessons.
We'll soon find out that Ray knew the extent of what was happening - after about
1970 he began to have fewer and fewer good new ideas, and indeed began to become
lazily nostalgic in his own way - by recycling old concepts, songs, and even
riffs. Of course the man was afraid of losing his young and innocent days - he
was already doing it! Anyway, the rest of Side 1 (yes,
even the gloriously atheistic 'Big Sky', which some people hate but is one of my
very favorites) is simply bonkers with great tunes. 'Johnny Thunder' ain't about
much (rebel without a clue), but it rocks hard with its Who acoustics and even
more Who-y 'Ba ba ba ba ba ba!' chants. 'Steam Powered Trains' plays a boogie
bluesman pastiche to machismo of the old days (in the form of a train locked in
a museum), and ranks as one of the Kinks' better attempts at black music. The
racing coda is awesome, as if the Soul Train itself is dreaming of one last
blast to Funkytown. 'Sitting By the Riverside' is a cute but inconsequential
pastoral softshoe, continued thematically by the gentle folk-rocker 'Animal
Farm' (nothing to do with Orwell, thank God. Just cats and goats and sunshine)
and 'Village Green'. It's around here that you're
either completely held under the haystack spell of Ray Davies' country-life
fantasies or you're bored as hell and want another 'Steam Powered Trains' to
shake the endless acoustic mid-tempo rockers up a little bit. It really isn't to
be, though he at least changes himself up enough to sing about something other
than how fucking sublime walking outside in the grass is, man. Except
it's 'Starstruck', which I think is nasty and patronizing to his obsessed female
hanger-on. This sounds a whole helluva lot more like something that would belong
on Lola, anyhow. Bring back the hayseeds, Ray, I've had enough of what
you think about the women who you associate with. Village Green ends with
only one more classic ('All Of My Friends Were There'), but at least keeps it
interesting stylistically - 'Phenomenal Cat' is, what, a minuet? Something for
girls in enormous hoped skirts and powdered wigs to twirl daintily to (quietly,
mind), and is absolutely and positively opposed by the spiders 'n' witches
horror show of 'Wicked Annabella'. This one's not particularly loud, either, but
unsettling as hell compared to the sunniness of the rest of this well-mannered
album. 'People Take Pictures' is jaunty again, but since we haven't had a sunny,
jumpy tune since all the way back to 'Village Green', and even that's
bittersweet. Okay, so is 'Pictures', but that's only because you realize most of
the people in the pictures he's talking about are probably dead and gone. So it
goes. This record review has now taken
more time to write than three whole spins through the record itself, but I have
to mention 'All Of My Friends Were There', Ray relating a bout of stage fright
unfortunately occurring in front of a bunch of people he knew, as one of the
Kinks most beautiful and intelligent songs of Ray's career. As the music shifts
from a jouncy half-polka during the 'performance' segments, dissolving to a
gorgeous, Beatlesque descending-note ballad during the 'aftermath' choruses. It
seems interesting to me that Ray makes such a case that 'no one cared' about his
return to form the next show, making it much easier for him not to care either.
Considering how flip Ray seemed to be about his career years later, perhaps this
is a confession that, at some time, something within him 'broke' when his
friends were no longer there to provide him with a lifeline back to his real
self. When that happened he ceased to 'care' and merely became professional. Or,
as those of us who've heard all of the endless Preservation set might
say, a 'tonedeaf whiner'. Capn's Final Word: The Kinks
become great by being themselves, just not as punky. Make the old age seem just
as wacky as the new age.
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Kimble Your Rating: A+ Glenn
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A john doyle, kildare ireland.
Your Rating: A+ Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall
of the British Empire)
- Pye 1969 Ahh, yesssss.....the
connnnnncept album. Ray's score for a never-finished TV movie is one of
the few I really understand and one of a very small number I
totally respect. It'sd loosely based around the life of Ray's brother-in-law (I
think, anyhow. It's been several years since I read X-Ray, but it was
good enough to read again) and how it relates to how the British Empire (and
British Culture, as personified by the Victorian age) decayed faster than
British Teeth and left us with such late-Twentieth Century highlights as
brutally violent union suppression, Northern Ireland, and the Spice Girls . We
are introduced into the Britain of 100 years ago ('Victoria') and follow young
Arthur (yes, like that old dude with the bitch in the lake, but make him a
boring, oafish, 100% un-romantic accountant with no swords), seeming through a
stint in the fascist British school system, which feeds kids straight into the
Queen's army ('Yes Sir, No Sir') before shipping them off to war ('Some Mother's
Son'). Upon returning, he spends a few young years in romantic irresponsibility
('Driving'), but soon finding he wants nothing more than a nice, sensible
helping of domestic bliss ('Brainwashed'). He ends up having to move to
Australia to really find it ('Australia'), but quickly has the realization that
his home life and job becomes a prison in itself ('Shangri La'). There's a bit
of a detour from Arthur as there's another war ('Mr. Churchill Said'), but we
soon return to find our protagonist piddling out his days with materialism,
self-delusion ('She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina'), and pitiful nostalgia
('Young and Innocent Days'), while his kids leave him far behind as they go
racing off into their own lives ('Nothing to Say'). Now, that might all seem
unnecessarily cruel to ol' Arthur, but Ray makes sure to say that 'maybe he was
right and the world was wrong' on the last song. It's a bit too little too late
after an album of saying the man 'looks like a real human being but doesn't have
a mind of his own'. Perhaps it's all supposed to be a big parable for England
itself, from the fascistic chauvinism and lack of critical thinking that marked
the late Victorian age, through the horror of the first World War and the joys
of having come out on top, but then into an irreversible slide (slowed but not
stopped by the heroism of the Second World War) marked by, well, materialism,
self-delusion, pitiful nostalgia, and a generation gap wider than Churchill's
canine-like jowels. Whatever...either way 'Australia' doesn't really play too
well with the other kids on the playground. I like it as a song, as it's main
influence came from the advertisements Ray would see for Australia as a sort of
'pasty white paradise' for Britons to immigrate to. According to my British
pals, every Briton that got sick of England and moved there (or to the
Falklands, or Hong Kong, or whatever) sooner or later begins to pine for the
perpetual rain and soggy food of the homeland and wants to make a return. I
dunno 'bout that (I'm semi-proudly 'Merican, and a Certified Isolated
Midwesterner at that) but I do know that the half-assed jam that ends up the
song is just goofy enough (it sounds like Santana on PCP) to justify its
despicably un-Kinkish length of almost six and a half minutes. Whatever...it
fits in with the rest of the album like Woody Allen at a Jay-Z concert, so we'll
just call it an aberration and move on to describing the album as a whole.
Arthur, even with the
sometimes hypercritical nature of Ray's lyrics, is simply an album of wonderous
moments. With this album, the Kinks construct a sort of alternate reality that
sounds completely and totally unconnected to what else was happening in 1969.
Far from being in any way influenced by acid rock, or by superdistorted
proto-metal, or by limp singer-songwriterism, Arthur is refreshingly compact and
lucid in a sea of modal jams rivaled in longevity only by the waiting line at
the Woodstock port-a-potties. This album's closest useful relative is Tommy,
but while Tommy was psychedelic, spiritual, and frankly, flakier than a
box of instant potatoes (and so proudly a 'rock opera' to boot), Arthur
seems almost genius in its understatement, clarity, and good taste. Ray isn't
necessarily very accommodating to Arthur's choices of a 'straight' existence,
but he sympathizes with it and makes our hero a likable, living character who,
in the end, has just had a sad life. He's, you know, Human. Not like Tommy, who
was a cartoonish, soulless prop generated half from old comic books, half from
every religious tradition on the face of the Earth, and half from Pete
Townshend's repressed gay fantasies. Musically, this album has few
peers in terms of melodic, memorable, and (again) tasteful advancement of the
miniature plotlines. They rock harder than they have since Kink Kontroversy,
producing a couple of real trophies of glorious crunch ('Brainwashed', 'Mr.
Churchill Says'), an irresponsibly catchy, ecstatic surf-rock classic
('Victoria'), a miniature pop opera in several movements ('Shangri La'),
gorgeous ballads ('Young and Innocent Days', the soul-wrenching 'Some Mother's
Son'), and a couple of tunes so happy they buoy their respective sides from
being overburdened by heavy manners ('Driving' and 'She Bought a Hat'). It's
so well balanced that no only does 'Australia' stick out like a broken leg,
it's actually a real shame when the album ends. Though I've heard this one a
thousand and a half times, I actually feel I want to listen to it again once it
comes around to the end again. I considered going song-by-song
here, but since I'm already reaching nearly two pages and have much more to say,
I'll drop that idea like Mariah Carey from a $100 million record contract.
Instead, I'll simply express sadness that the Kinks never again got even
close to the consistent greatness they show here, Arthur marking the
peak of the band's musical growth cycle that stretched back to Kinks.
Even more brilliantly, they sound easily recognizable as the Kinks here, even to
someone who has only heard 'You Really Got Me' and 'Waterloo Sunset'. They just
got to be as good as they could possibly be. Mick Avory plays his drums with
near-perfection, going nuts when called for and simply carrying the beat the
rest of the time, and the guitars, pianos, and voices form a cohesive, organic
unit that just sounds....fucking good, if you care to know. Plus, there's
still enough rough edges left over to leave it sounding like the real Kinks and
not some bionic Kinkernators, either. To end up, I'd just like to tip
my hat to one of the more unsung songs on Arthur, and that's the anti-war
ballad 'Some Mother's Son'. This song presents what I feel to be one of the
most powerful pictures of the horrors of war I've ever heard, written, sung, or
spoken. Ray's point is that people die in war, and everyone who does is
'some mother's son', whatever side they're on. All dead soldiers look the same.
Moreover, the idea that mothers only remember their dead sons as they looked
before they go off to experience the horrors of war is somehow comforting to
me. Who wants to I'm no General Patton or anything, but I'm not sure how smart
it is for someone to 'glance up at the sun' and 'dream of games you play while
you are young' while sitting in a trench, but still...this is one powerful song,
and I get goosebumps every time I hear it. Capn's Final Word: The Kinks
at the top of their powers, conquering a concept that sounds ponderous but ends
up making a lot of sense. Putting a strong melody or two on each song does, too.
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email@example.com Your Rating: A+ Lola Vs. Powerman and the
- Pye 1970
Still waiting on Part II of this Ray Davies anti-music
industry rant-o-matic, most famous for featuring the band's last major hit (the
number one 'Lola'), which vaulted the Kinks back from their four-year chart
exile, winning hearts and minds who like to chant idiotic things ('La la la
la!') while hearing songs about sex with transvestites. Of course, anyone who
knows Ray knows that he couldn't go down so easily just giving us a 'record
album' filled with 'unreleated songs' about 'nothing', he has to go and
conceptualize everything into whatever is straightjacketing his anus at the
time. This time around, apparently after had such great chart success with
Village Green and Arthur (heh), he decides to give a 'scathing
account' of a young kid's induction into the world of Big Rock 'n' Roll so
unshocking that it wouldn't cause most people to bat an eye in a sandstorm.
What? People get ripped off in rock 'n' roll? It's really all about money? It
crushes your creativity and makes you into a slave?The FUCK you say, Ray! Well,
gawwww-leeee, I thought all those promoters and business managers were pure
white saints, honest as Abe. The most
interesting thing about Lola is the title song itself. Again, most people miss
the point of the song in the grand scheme of the album, wondering what the hell
a dolt's love affair with that person who 'looks like a woman but talks like Ed
Asner and has more stubble than the Unabomber') has to do with the music
industry and whatever. Here, have a look, I'll clue you in. See, before 'Lola',
all the songs are about our protagonist wanting to break out of his hometown
('The Contenders'), wanting to write a song and get it published ('Denmark
Street') and feeling bummed out about being unemployed ('Get Back In Line').
After 'Lola', everything's about Number One hits and 'Top Of the Pops' and all
the money that's getting run around all over the joint. See, 'Lola' is the guy's
hit! And I think it's more than a little bit fitting that the 'Lola' single
itself was a bernanza bongo bongo woing woing hit and sprang the Kinks loose
around the moneygoround again. It's only fitting to have a song that goes to a
fictional Number One reach the real Number One, isn't it? And man,
it's one catchy song, all major chords and big-'la-la's' and a delightfully
clueless protagonist ('now I ain't dumb'...sez you) and that cool
guitar tone that Ray and Dave have been slinging out since Village Green.
of Lola isn't nearly as memorable as all that, but it's at least a
workmanlike, halfway enjoyable bunch of tracks that show craftiness if not real
inspiration. 'The Contenders' boogies with a rare Kinks bluesiness and some
great piano banging by John Losling, and seems to end extremely quickly. Dave
begins to claw his way back from B-side exile with nice Ron Wood-y vocals on
'The Strangers' and the gloriously dirty-distorted rocker 'Rats', which sounds
like '72-era Aerosmith, except Dave doesn't sound like he's just sucked in a
lungful of nitrous oxide all the time. The goony, charming rocker 'Apeman',
taking the Village Green anti-modernism to the extreme of wishing for
devo-lution shares its arrangement with 'Lola' but stops short of stealing its
hooks, but still sounds strong, and the band can still kick out the ol' jams
when necessary (the desperate 'Powerman'). Many of the remaining songs serve
mostly to advance the story, and fall into those sorts of drunken singalong-y
things that Ray likes to fall back on when his rock sense begins to fail him.
'Get Back In Line' has a nice melody, but it doesn't sound like much after
'Shangri-La' (which it closely resembles), and 'Top of the Pops' is just a dumb
'Louie Louie' copy. Same goes for the quieter 'lemme outta this world' tunes 'A
Long Way From Home' (cool duetted vocals, not enough of a melody) and 'This Time
Tomorrow' (zippy Beatlesque piano-rocker), which, to me, always seem to get
overshadowed by the better songs like a breasty slut's chunky best friend.
Lola is very listenable (lord knows I've heard it probably
three dozen times this week), and the storyline is easy to follow, if a bit
banal, and the Kinks still have that essential dashed-offedness to their sound
that's very charming. It's important to remember, however, that this is also
the album during which the Kinks stopped their 6-year stretch of (almost)
constant improvement. Lola isn't bad, but it sure isn't as good as
Arthur or VG, and from here it starts to get clearer and clearer
those days aren't coming back. They'd spend the next year or two coasting off
the fumes of their late-60's peak, retaining enough of a clip to keep putting
out more good-but-unremarkable albums like this one before losing all forward
movement altogether with their rotten egg schlock opera period beginning in
1973. Capn's Final Word: 'Take
this job and shove it' gets Ray a promotion, commercially. The rest is
listenable, unrefined hackwork, but its decent.
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Any Short Comments?: Hey! This album is really great, in fact, it's my favorite. I can see why you'd value Arthur higher, but for my money not even the Beatles can put out this consistant and great of a set of songs. For me, the simplicity only makes it - the Kinks are best when they don't overstretch their boundaries.
Any Short Comments?: This is a beautiful and wistful album, that jumps from one rock solid melody to the next, as Ray Davies ponders themes of loss, regret, and memory, all the while using ye olde England as a backdrop. Standout tracks include 'Big Sky', 'Animal Farm' and 'Do You Remember Walter'. A damn fine listen.
Any Short Comments?: il get to the point [which unfortunately i usually dont...] THIS IS CLASS PERSONIFIED.if you have a soul,then nourish it with this li'l baby. call it a+ or call it 11/10,either way this is magnificent.
Any Short Comments?: Arthur, the album, didn▓t do very well at the time of its release, and very much like Arthur, struggled to be heard. It is a testament to the breadth and depth of Ray Davies▓ vision that time has only amplified the power that lies between the grooves of this extraordinary album. It needs to be amplified, because the power in these songs is sometimes very quiet indeed. ⌠Young and Innocent Days■ sums it up best, as the Kinks long for ⌠the way I used to look at life, soft white dreams with sugar-coated outside■. In reality, sugar coated delights are hidden all over this album, but beneath the sugar is some real food for thought. A freakin' classic.
Are The Village Green
Preservation Society -
Proof that not everyone was injecting Yellow Submarines into their eyeballs and licking the mud off each others' flabby, pasty white-middle-class hippie thighs in 1968, In fact, the Kinks were talking about getting old, steam-powered trains, and how sexy cousin Bessie looks in her shapeless heel-length black wool skirt, bent over the butter churn out in the middle of the barnyard next to the enormous pile of horse apples. This freaky nostalgia trip is the first of the essential Kinky records, not quite as good as Arthur and a bit too draggy at the end to be absolutely perfect, but good enough that if you're a fan of rock music and haven't heard it...well, most people haven't, but you're still an incomplete person until you have. TKATVGPS used to be considered a frumpy, dated, and terminally uncool Kinks record, but has by The Year of Our Lard 2005 into a bona-fide classic of down-home folk rock (of the rockin' kind, not the kind of country corn-poke the Byrds were making by this time), still closely related to the sounds of Face or Som'in Else, but more real, less show-offy and with striking, supernova melodies on almost every song. They begin to get a little repetitive with themselves towards the end (there's 'Village Green' to go along with the highly superior 'We Are the Village Green Preservation Society', and 'People Take Pictures of Each Other' to go along with the superior 'Picture Book') but there's still more great songs on this album than we've seen from the Kinks yet. Ray's still only really comfortable with his chosen handful of chords and song formulas, and he's far from being the stylistic adventurer he was back on Face, but when you're putting an album of such maturity and grace (eew! I just realized how much like a Special Hallmark Television Production), all that's really important is that he's written a brave group of songs that sound wonderful when performed by the Kinks plus (there's plenty of organs and pianos to augment the guitar/bass/drums, but not in a 'hey lookit me! I'm Dave Davies and I'm playing a fucking organ! Isn't that weird?' fashion.
The first side is the superior one, the part where the album's concept of nostalgic longing for long-dead innocence and integrity is represented the strongest. The title track states the Kinks' mission - they're preserving the good old wooden stuff (custard pie, Fu Manchu, virginity, to pick three at absolute random) from creeping extinction at the hands of callous, inhuman modernism (office blocks, skyscrapers, etc.) in a simple, brilliant, upbeat pop-rock song that the Kinks were just built for. Well, maybe they weren't built for Beach Boys vocal harmonies, but this and 'Waterloo Sunset' go a long way towards arguing that maybe they were. The thing is, even in 1969 a lot of this stuff was already gone, and though Ray mostly lists material items that represent goodness, he seems more upset at the loss of humanity that the destruction of a village green (aka a town square, for the Americans out there) represents. Ray's nostaligia is not just for the big things, either...the wonderful 'I Remember Walter' pines for the memories of youthful exuberant friendship, realizing that while his buddy Walter is still alive, he's probably been changed so much by adulthood he can't even relate to his old memories anymore. He goes on with the joyous 'Picture Book' (now featured at your local television set as the background for an ad for junk dealer Hewlitt Packard, along with the Cure's 'Pictures of You', neither of which deserve this treatment. Why not Def Leppard's 'Photograph'? Or, Yes! GODDAMN!! Better yet!! J. Geils Band's 'Centerfold'...now there's an ad I wouldn't mind seeing!), speaking of how people preserve their memories in photographs, and 'to prove they loved each other'. One thing to note is that, for once, Ray doesn't sound particularly critical of any of his subjects this time around. He's moved from farcical character assassinations of different misfits and clowns like 'Well Respected Man' to over-dramatic (but beautiful) portrayals of depression like 'Waterloo Sunset', and now he's finally arrived at a point where he makes looking at pictures sound, well, like a good, human experience. He doesn't say, 'Boy, you idiots with your cameras, you're so banal' like he might've a few years before, but he does feel the devastating power of realizing you're not as happy as you once were in your pictures. Getting older and getting cynical aren't necessarily happy processes, and Ray seems to have approached his middle-agedness with a rapidity and self-conscious greacelessness usually reserved for pedophiles signing up to teach swim lessons. We'll soon find out that Ray knew the extent of what was happening - after about 1970 he began to have fewer and fewer good new ideas, and indeed began to become lazily nostalgic in his own way - by recycling old concepts, songs, and even riffs. Of course the man was afraid of losing his young and innocent days - he was already doing it!
Anyway, the rest of Side 1 (yes, even the gloriously atheistic 'Big Sky', which some people hate but is one of my very favorites) is simply bonkers with great tunes. 'Johnny Thunder' ain't about much (rebel without a clue), but it rocks hard with its Who acoustics and even more Who-y 'Ba ba ba ba ba ba!' chants. 'Steam Powered Trains' plays a boogie bluesman pastiche to machismo of the old days (in the form of a train locked in a museum), and ranks as one of the Kinks' better attempts at black music. The racing coda is awesome, as if the Soul Train itself is dreaming of one last blast to Funkytown. 'Sitting By the Riverside' is a cute but inconsequential pastoral softshoe, continued thematically by the gentle folk-rocker 'Animal Farm' (nothing to do with Orwell, thank God. Just cats and goats and sunshine) and 'Village Green'.
It's around here that you're either completely held under the haystack spell of Ray Davies' country-life fantasies or you're bored as hell and want another 'Steam Powered Trains' to shake the endless acoustic mid-tempo rockers up a little bit. It really isn't to be, though he at least changes himself up enough to sing about something other than how fucking sublime walking outside in the grass is, man. Except it's 'Starstruck', which I think is nasty and patronizing to his obsessed female hanger-on. This sounds a whole helluva lot more like something that would belong on Lola, anyhow. Bring back the hayseeds, Ray, I've had enough of what you think about the women who you associate with. Village Green ends with only one more classic ('All Of My Friends Were There'), but at least keeps it interesting stylistically - 'Phenomenal Cat' is, what, a minuet? Something for girls in enormous hoped skirts and powdered wigs to twirl daintily to (quietly, mind), and is absolutely and positively opposed by the spiders 'n' witches horror show of 'Wicked Annabella'. This one's not particularly loud, either, but unsettling as hell compared to the sunniness of the rest of this well-mannered album. 'People Take Pictures' is jaunty again, but since we haven't had a sunny, jumpy tune since all the way back to 'Village Green', and even that's bittersweet. Okay, so is 'Pictures', but that's only because you realize most of the people in the pictures he's talking about are probably dead and gone. So it goes.
This record review has now taken more time to write than three whole spins through the record itself, but I have to mention 'All Of My Friends Were There', Ray relating a bout of stage fright unfortunately occurring in front of a bunch of people he knew, as one of the Kinks most beautiful and intelligent songs of Ray's career. As the music shifts from a jouncy half-polka during the 'performance' segments, dissolving to a gorgeous, Beatlesque descending-note ballad during the 'aftermath' choruses. It seems interesting to me that Ray makes such a case that 'no one cared' about his return to form the next show, making it much easier for him not to care either. Considering how flip Ray seemed to be about his career years later, perhaps this is a confession that, at some time, something within him 'broke' when his friends were no longer there to provide him with a lifeline back to his real self. When that happened he ceased to 'care' and merely became professional. Or, as those of us who've heard all of the endless Preservation set might say, a 'tonedeaf whiner'.
Capn's Final Word: The Kinks become great by being themselves, just not as punky. Make the old age seem just as wacky as the new age.
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Kimble Your Rating: A+
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A
john doyle, kildare ireland.
Your Rating: A+
Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall
of the British Empire)
- Pye 1969
Ahh, yesssss.....the connnnnncept album. Ray's score for a never-finished TV movie is one of the few I really understand and one of a very small number I totally respect. It'sd loosely based around the life of Ray's brother-in-law (I think, anyhow. It's been several years since I read X-Ray, but it was good enough to read again) and how it relates to how the British Empire (and British Culture, as personified by the Victorian age) decayed faster than British Teeth and left us with such late-Twentieth Century highlights as brutally violent union suppression, Northern Ireland, and the Spice Girls . We are introduced into the Britain of 100 years ago ('Victoria') and follow young Arthur (yes, like that old dude with the bitch in the lake, but make him a boring, oafish, 100% un-romantic accountant with no swords), seeming through a stint in the fascist British school system, which feeds kids straight into the Queen's army ('Yes Sir, No Sir') before shipping them off to war ('Some Mother's Son'). Upon returning, he spends a few young years in romantic irresponsibility ('Driving'), but soon finding he wants nothing more than a nice, sensible helping of domestic bliss ('Brainwashed'). He ends up having to move to Australia to really find it ('Australia'), but quickly has the realization that his home life and job becomes a prison in itself ('Shangri La'). There's a bit of a detour from Arthur as there's another war ('Mr. Churchill Said'), but we soon return to find our protagonist piddling out his days with materialism, self-delusion ('She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina'), and pitiful nostalgia ('Young and Innocent Days'), while his kids leave him far behind as they go racing off into their own lives ('Nothing to Say'). Now, that might all seem unnecessarily cruel to ol' Arthur, but Ray makes sure to say that 'maybe he was right and the world was wrong' on the last song. It's a bit too little too late after an album of saying the man 'looks like a real human being but doesn't have a mind of his own'. Perhaps it's all supposed to be a big parable for England itself, from the fascistic chauvinism and lack of critical thinking that marked the late Victorian age, through the horror of the first World War and the joys of having come out on top, but then into an irreversible slide (slowed but not stopped by the heroism of the Second World War) marked by, well, materialism, self-delusion, pitiful nostalgia, and a generation gap wider than Churchill's canine-like jowels. Whatever...either way 'Australia' doesn't really play too well with the other kids on the playground. I like it as a song, as it's main influence came from the advertisements Ray would see for Australia as a sort of 'pasty white paradise' for Britons to immigrate to. According to my British pals, every Briton that got sick of England and moved there (or to the Falklands, or Hong Kong, or whatever) sooner or later begins to pine for the perpetual rain and soggy food of the homeland and wants to make a return. I dunno 'bout that (I'm semi-proudly 'Merican, and a Certified Isolated Midwesterner at that) but I do know that the half-assed jam that ends up the song is just goofy enough (it sounds like Santana on PCP) to justify its despicably un-Kinkish length of almost six and a half minutes. Whatever...it fits in with the rest of the album like Woody Allen at a Jay-Z concert, so we'll just call it an aberration and move on to describing the album as a whole.
Arthur, even with the sometimes hypercritical nature of Ray's lyrics, is simply an album of wonderous moments. With this album, the Kinks construct a sort of alternate reality that sounds completely and totally unconnected to what else was happening in 1969. Far from being in any way influenced by acid rock, or by superdistorted proto-metal, or by limp singer-songwriterism, Arthur is refreshingly compact and lucid in a sea of modal jams rivaled in longevity only by the waiting line at the Woodstock port-a-potties. This album's closest useful relative is Tommy, but while Tommy was psychedelic, spiritual, and frankly, flakier than a box of instant potatoes (and so proudly a 'rock opera' to boot), Arthur seems almost genius in its understatement, clarity, and good taste. Ray isn't necessarily very accommodating to Arthur's choices of a 'straight' existence, but he sympathizes with it and makes our hero a likable, living character who, in the end, has just had a sad life. He's, you know, Human. Not like Tommy, who was a cartoonish, soulless prop generated half from old comic books, half from every religious tradition on the face of the Earth, and half from Pete Townshend's repressed gay fantasies.
Musically, this album has few peers in terms of melodic, memorable, and (again) tasteful advancement of the miniature plotlines. They rock harder than they have since Kink Kontroversy, producing a couple of real trophies of glorious crunch ('Brainwashed', 'Mr. Churchill Says'), an irresponsibly catchy, ecstatic surf-rock classic ('Victoria'), a miniature pop opera in several movements ('Shangri La'), gorgeous ballads ('Young and Innocent Days', the soul-wrenching 'Some Mother's Son'), and a couple of tunes so happy they buoy their respective sides from being overburdened by heavy manners ('Driving' and 'She Bought a Hat'). It's so well balanced that no only does 'Australia' stick out like a broken leg, it's actually a real shame when the album ends. Though I've heard this one a thousand and a half times, I actually feel I want to listen to it again once it comes around to the end again.
I considered going song-by-song here, but since I'm already reaching nearly two pages and have much more to say, I'll drop that idea like Mariah Carey from a $100 million record contract. Instead, I'll simply express sadness that the Kinks never again got even close to the consistent greatness they show here, Arthur marking the peak of the band's musical growth cycle that stretched back to Kinks. Even more brilliantly, they sound easily recognizable as the Kinks here, even to someone who has only heard 'You Really Got Me' and 'Waterloo Sunset'. They just got to be as good as they could possibly be. Mick Avory plays his drums with near-perfection, going nuts when called for and simply carrying the beat the rest of the time, and the guitars, pianos, and voices form a cohesive, organic unit that just sounds....fucking good, if you care to know. Plus, there's still enough rough edges left over to leave it sounding like the real Kinks and not some bionic Kinkernators, either.
To end up, I'd just like to tip my hat to one of the more unsung songs on Arthur, and that's the anti-war ballad 'Some Mother's Son'. This song presents what I feel to be one of the most powerful pictures of the horrors of war I've ever heard, written, sung, or spoken. Ray's point is that people die in war, and everyone who does is 'some mother's son', whatever side they're on. All dead soldiers look the same. Moreover, the idea that mothers only remember their dead sons as they looked before they go off to experience the horrors of war is somehow comforting to me. Who wants to I'm no General Patton or anything, but I'm not sure how smart it is for someone to 'glance up at the sun' and 'dream of games you play while you are young' while sitting in a trench, but still...this is one powerful song, and I get goosebumps every time I hear it.
Capn's Final Word: The Kinks at the top of their powers, conquering a concept that sounds ponderous but ends up making a lot of sense. Putting a strong melody or two on each song does, too.
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email@example.com Your Rating: A+
Lola Vs. Powerman and the
- Pye 1970
Still waiting on Part II of this Ray Davies anti-music industry rant-o-matic, most famous for featuring the band's last major hit (the number one 'Lola'), which vaulted the Kinks back from their four-year chart exile, winning hearts and minds who like to chant idiotic things ('La la la la!') while hearing songs about sex with transvestites. Of course, anyone who knows Ray knows that he couldn't go down so easily just giving us a 'record album' filled with 'unreleated songs' about 'nothing', he has to go and conceptualize everything into whatever is straightjacketing his anus at the time. This time around, apparently after had such great chart success with Village Green and Arthur (heh), he decides to give a 'scathing account' of a young kid's induction into the world of Big Rock 'n' Roll so unshocking that it wouldn't cause most people to bat an eye in a sandstorm. What? People get ripped off in rock 'n' roll? It's really all about money? It crushes your creativity and makes you into a slave?The FUCK you say, Ray! Well, gawwww-leeee, I thought all those promoters and business managers were pure white saints, honest as Abe.
The most interesting thing about Lola is the title song itself. Again, most people miss the point of the song in the grand scheme of the album, wondering what the hell a dolt's love affair with that person who 'looks like a woman but talks like Ed Asner and has more stubble than the Unabomber') has to do with the music industry and whatever. Here, have a look, I'll clue you in. See, before 'Lola', all the songs are about our protagonist wanting to break out of his hometown ('The Contenders'), wanting to write a song and get it published ('Denmark Street') and feeling bummed out about being unemployed ('Get Back In Line'). After 'Lola', everything's about Number One hits and 'Top Of the Pops' and all the money that's getting run around all over the joint. See, 'Lola' is the guy's hit! And I think it's more than a little bit fitting that the 'Lola' single itself was a bernanza bongo bongo woing woing hit and sprang the Kinks loose around the moneygoround again. It's only fitting to have a song that goes to a fictional Number One reach the real Number One, isn't it? And man, it's one catchy song, all major chords and big-'la-la's' and a delightfully clueless protagonist ('now I ain't dumb'...sez you) and that cool guitar tone that Ray and Dave have been slinging out since Village Green.
The rest of Lola isn't nearly as memorable as all that, but it's at least a workmanlike, halfway enjoyable bunch of tracks that show craftiness if not real inspiration. 'The Contenders' boogies with a rare Kinks bluesiness and some great piano banging by John Losling, and seems to end extremely quickly. Dave begins to claw his way back from B-side exile with nice Ron Wood-y vocals on 'The Strangers' and the gloriously dirty-distorted rocker 'Rats', which sounds like '72-era Aerosmith, except Dave doesn't sound like he's just sucked in a lungful of nitrous oxide all the time. The goony, charming rocker 'Apeman', taking the Village Green anti-modernism to the extreme of wishing for devo-lution shares its arrangement with 'Lola' but stops short of stealing its hooks, but still sounds strong, and the band can still kick out the ol' jams when necessary (the desperate 'Powerman'). Many of the remaining songs serve mostly to advance the story, and fall into those sorts of drunken singalong-y things that Ray likes to fall back on when his rock sense begins to fail him. 'Get Back In Line' has a nice melody, but it doesn't sound like much after 'Shangri-La' (which it closely resembles), and 'Top of the Pops' is just a dumb 'Louie Louie' copy. Same goes for the quieter 'lemme outta this world' tunes 'A Long Way From Home' (cool duetted vocals, not enough of a melody) and 'This Time Tomorrow' (zippy Beatlesque piano-rocker), which, to me, always seem to get overshadowed by the better songs like a breasty slut's chunky best friend.
Lola is very listenable (lord knows I've heard it probably three dozen times this week), and the storyline is easy to follow, if a bit banal, and the Kinks still have that essential dashed-offedness to their sound that's very charming. It's important to remember, however, that this is also the album during which the Kinks stopped their 6-year stretch of (almost) constant improvement. Lola isn't bad, but it sure isn't as good as Arthur or VG, and from here it starts to get clearer and clearer those days aren't coming back. They'd spend the next year or two coasting off the fumes of their late-60's peak, retaining enough of a clip to keep putting out more good-but-unremarkable albums like this one before losing all forward movement altogether with their rotten egg schlock opera period beginning in 1973.
Capn's Final Word: 'Take this job and shove it' gets Ray a promotion, commercially. The rest is listenable, unrefined hackwork, but its decent.
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Soundtrack from the Film
- Pye 1971
Soundtrack albums are usually the stomping ground of the schlocky orchestral instrumental and the even schlockier sappy ballad, and while Ray Davies avoided the landmines with a deft dexterity on Arthur (which may as well not have been a soundtrack at all), on Percy he seems to have a knack for falling into each and every pitfall he possibly can. Apparently, Percy is a man who, thanks to modern science, has a real-life detachable penis (thus explaining the Adam-with-two-sided-tape-on-his-willy fig-leaf cover art), or a penis transplant, or penis enhancement, or something having to do with making his Tom Jones bigger than it otherwise was. Well, since Ray is fiercely British and Brits have notoriously small 'self-images', he was somewhat against the whole idea of a man screwing with what God gave him to screw with, as enunciated on the opening ballad 'God's Children'. This song sez things like 'we gotta get back to the way God made us' and how modern science has no right to make people into machines. Apparently he's seen Tetsuo: Iron Man too. So maybe the producers of Percy might've taken a few minutes to listen to Village Green before giving the reigns of their soundtrack album to a confessed Luddite like Ray Davies. Maybe. Saved 'em a few bucks. (God knows if it was actually ever aired, though, so maybe they just fucked up all around).
Anyway, the song blows anyway - a bunch of lame-ass whining over piano chords too sappy for Elton John at his most pliant. What's worse is that it seems that Ray has now begun to take the easy way out on a lot of his lyrics. While before he might've said things with a modicum of vagueness or a unique viewpoint, now he frequently sounds as if he's merely 'playing' himself, following a lazy lyrical formula and sticking like a suckerfish to a rapidly narrowing philosophy of the world that lacks all the charm of his former punkish roasts or misfit celebrations. Now, more often than not, he merely recites his slogans and vignettes as if the act of saying something, and getting all puffed up about at while you're doing it, equals actually, you know...saying something.
The rest of Percy doesn't much justify its purchase, either. This might sound heartless, but 'The Way Love Used to Be' is so sappy it makes 'God's Children' sound like Biohazard. Luckily it's only two dinky minutes long, but Ray still finds time to slather some over-buttered strings on there so it sounds like the theme music to On Golden Pond (with That Chick Who Used to Be Hot, Became a Commie, and finally Retired a Bloodless Capitalist Pig and her kick-ass dad, plus that human Magic Fingers bed Katherine Hepburn). The instrumentals, a version of 'Lola' that has some neat guitar crunch but absolutely no point, the main melody of Running 'Round Town' steals Lola's same chord progression (again), and 'Completely' is just some mistake-ridden, bluesy warm-up licks masquerading as a real track.. The ones with words aren't too much better for their presence...'Animals In The Zoo' is a ripoff of 'Apeman' thematically and Bo Diddley musically. It continues, with a few tracks achieving passability, 'Moments' is nice and Dylan-y, the Who-ish breakdown on 'Whip Lady' is delightfully angry, and 'Dreams' makes it sound like the Kinks are commiserating with the Beach Boys as formerly influential Sixties pop stars left off the early 70's cool bus, forced to ride in the short one with the Jo Jo Gunnes and Wizzards of the world, the one that smells like old shoes and tapioca pudding. You know the one. The one no one bought concert tickets to.
Also, just as an ending, 'Just Friends' sounds like Brian Ferry doing a straight cover of Judy Garland as performed by the Mantovani strings. Simply deeee-spicable, friends and creditors. Like taking a swig of root beer and realizing you've been given someone's Cope cup.
Capn's Final Word: This ain't no Kinks album. It's a soundtrack, and Ray seems to have been replaced with a mechanical version of his old self. The tool.
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- Pye 1971
Before continuing their rotten free-fall into concept album hell with the Preservation series and the rest of their weak ilk, the Kinks grant us two last reprises with their rootsy, sloppily chaming and drunken early 70's duo of Muswell Hillbillies and Everyone's In Showbiz, also marking their last two kiss-offs to reality before descending into the immature hell of Ray's fever dreams. They're sorta akin to Kink-y versions of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street in that they sound like they were done completely live and in an intoxicated haze of unchallenging 'roots' music performed in lieu of something more daring, but don't get me wrong here...these sure as hell ain't as good as the Stones' heat-wave carburetor grease masterpiece. For one thing, 'roots' mean two different things to the different bands - to the Stones it means gospel, country blues, and R&B, songs about God and picking yourself up from the gutter and freeing the Sweet Black Angel, and the Stones didn't sound like they were merely going through the motions, either...they sounded as if they were clinging on their very last string before flying apart in a dark cloud of excess and acute schizophrenia disease (and that assessment turned out to be not far from the truth). The Kinks were merely teetering on the edge of complete mediocrity, taking one last look around before taking the plunge. Besides, Dixieland, country-folk, and pub tunes don't pack nearly the same punch for me as blues and gospel do (not to mention that the Stones are miles beyond the Kinks as players). The Kinks sound like they're just too lazy to play anything but more of their Ethanol Circus sideshow music, but do it sloppily and loosely enough to make it sound a bit more fittingly grungey than it did on albums like Face to Face, where the same stuff (with better lyrics) was presented a bit too well-mannered and velvet to convince the scruffy fans. That's certainly not the problem here, where Ray seems to have taken his anti-modern stance to the extreme of actually reconfiguring his band to make them sound better fit for the 1920's than the 1970's. To listen to '20th Century Man', you might think Ray's on the edge of changing his name to Brother Jebediah and joining a clan of Mennonites out in the Kansas hills. Sheeit, they even hire a backing jazz band to expand their 'repotoire' into Dixieland and other forms of music not popular for 100 years now. Heh. I bet new Kinks contract-holders RCA took one look at Muswell Hillbillies when it came out and swallowed their bowler hats. 'Lola' this is not.
Luckily for us, the ol' truck might be rusty and rattle like Skeletor in an earthquake, but Muswell Hillbillies is an easy ride nonetheless. It's full of good humor and a lighter tone than the Kinks have ever taken before, whether singing hoary warnings about 'Alcohol' or exhorting us to 'Fer Chrissakes, Have A Cuppa Tea'. Ray's as paranoid as ever, but he's funny paranoid rather than whiny paranoid. His band's ability to make everything sound effortlessly dashed off (and considering how unchallenging most of this music is, that's probably exactly how it was) is suitably charming, and can drag me through some gnarly low points like 'Holloway Jail' and 'Here Come The Men In Grey', so forgettable I'm still surprised when I look at them on the album sleeve. 'What? There's a song called 'Holiday' on here? When the fuck did that happen? Maybe my Immaculate Collection CD mated with it sometime back a few months ago and now we have a little bit of chromosomal blundering going on. What'd explain why my Sade Diamond Life record has a song called 'Meat Hook Sodomy' on it now.
If hick-y music is good enough for you the way it's good enough for me, then Muswell should be just fine to slip on and drown yourself in beers and deep-fried Mars bars to while screaming bloody murder at the game of footy on the telly up there. Be forewarned that the only true 'rock' song here is '20th Century Man', which is not probably one of the better ones, and that 'Oklahoma U.S.A.' is just as sloppy-weepy as 'God's Children' was, but somehow almost brings me to tears anyway, possibly because I went to college there and any British person who makes themselves feel better by fantasizing that they live there (along with Doris Day and Erroll Flynn) instead of the Home Islands has to be one sad individual indeed. Lemme tell you, Oklahoma is packed full of some of the nicest people you'll ever meet (near-retarded in their politeness, which is 100% genuine, by the way), but the longer I was there, the more I began to think it was just one big Biosphere experiment to see if hominids could live on the Moon. Except the Moon has better access to porn. The naivety of 'Oklahoma USA' is absolutely moving, like a young kid asking what happens when you kill all the missles and win the game Missile Command.
Capn's Final Word: Ray taking his 'back to the past' movement to a boozy, goony new level of unseriousness, but a raucous good time is had anyhow.
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Doak Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Love your writing. I would disagree with you that everything was downhill after Lola. Muswell Hillbillies deserves a serious listen. I would rate it higher than Lola and Arthur but not in the same league with VGPS. In my book, the last great Kinks album. In turns funny, sad, maudlin and intoxicating.
Everybody's In Showbiz
- RCA 1972
Anyone remember Showbiz Pizza? That ripoff of Chuck E. Cheese's cardboard-pizza, three-second supermarket parking lot rides and creepy, creaky animatronics schtick that was virtually guaranteed to have your hotwaired 5-year old puking up the three gallons of Mountain Dew he consumed in the last hour on the console of the Bop-a-Mole before the night was over? It's damn near impossible for me to hear the word 'Showbiz' and not think of the time the rich kid in my kindergarten, Ryan Weineger, with whom I'd shared maybe two words previously, invited me there for a birthday party with a bunch of kids I didn't know and plied my friendship with unlimited numbers of free tokens. He might've just been being nice (rich kids' parents tend to overdo it when they're doing that), and I never figured out what that weird little kid was all about, but I accepted gladly regardless. I must've played Gorf a thousand fucking times that day, even though I had little grasp of the point of the game and the fine motor skills of Teddy Kennedy at an open-bar Harvard alumni ball. One of the cherished memories of my childhood, especially considering it was harder to get one lousy quarter out of my Dad for Pac Man than it is getting a free sample out of Fort Knox. Oh, and fuck that fucking sadist in the Gorilla suit behind the gift counter for not giving me the benefit of an extra three measly Skee Ball tickets that would have allowed me to get the fake plastic wristwatch instead of the two fake plastic spider rings that hurt my fingers anyway. Fucking dirty damn ape.
You'd think by looking at the vomit-inducing Day Glo cover of Everybody's In Showbiz that Ray had finally broken down and given us his Glam Rock album, but you'd be wrong on both counts. It ain't glam, and the last time I checked with my Rock bible, this ain't any of the other stuff either. Nope, this is still more of that piano-driven Guinness redneck-fusion that filled up the enjoyable Muswell Hillbillies, except with even more horns than before, except jokes are never as funny the second time you hear them. Some songs are virtual sisters to counterparts on Muswell, like how 'Unreal Reality' cops 'Acute Scizophrenia Paranoia Blues' (never one of the highlights of that album anyway) and the protagonist of 'Celluloid Heroes' repeats the wish of the one on 'Oklahoma USA' in wishing her life was a 'non-stop Hollywood movie show', and some songs seem like they exist for no good reason than Ray hadn't yet written a song about them yet ('Motorway', a straight-up country tune about highway fatigue). The rest of the songs aren't quite absolute parallels, but they sound absolutely and uncomfortably familiar anyway due to their paint-by-numbers chord sequences and well-worn lyrical subject matter about life on the road. Some of the tunes are nice, and I get a giddy feeling out of 'Look On the Sunny Side' that's probably not healthy, but a lot of this bores the crap outta my crap-place. Tour rock? Guh...let's go through the motions anyway, since Ray and the boys did, too. Yes, there's the one about the highway, and then there's the one about the hotel room ('Sitting In My...', which is actually pretty good as it revisits the feel of some of Ray's old autobiographical alienation classics like 'Waterloo Sunset'), and the one about general tour loathing ('Here Comes Yet Another Day'). Again, having written reviews for over three years now, having to cover yet another album that whines about how terrible and alienating being on tour is ranks somewhere between an Old El Paso Picante Sauce enema and sitting through an episode of that kids' show with Britney Spears' little ho-in-training sister as activities I'd like not to have to repeat again, but here it is. The Kinks are predictably less macho about their 'life of a rock 'n' roller' stories than, say, Led Zeppelin, but all this talk about the monotony and boredom of the road sure doesn't bode well for the live half of this double-album set, does it?
Right. The Kinks continue their streak of uninteresting live albums with the second disc of Everybody's in Showbiz. They bring their horny toad jazz backing section and take most of their material from Muswell Hillbillies but seem to do an awful job of choosing the right ones ('Skin and Bones', 'Acute Schizophrenia', and that damn 'Holiday' song, which I still can't remember a single note of, even under pain of death and dismemberment as a 'respected' album reviewer who should really be able to, you know, just know these kinds of things), and similarly fail miserably at their selections from the Lola album - 'Top of the Pops' but no 'Apeman' takes balls, but to include only a small snippet of an audience-chanted 'Lola' as a fadeout track just takes complete disregard for your audience. That said, 'Muswell Hillbilly' is damn good, as is 'Alcohol' and a charging 'Brainwashed', and they perform the bonus track 'Til the End of the Day' identically to the way it was on Kelvin Hall. How many other Sixties bands could play a song exactly 100% the same way in 1971 as they did in 1965, anyway? Somewhere between zero and two, I'd be willing to wager. There's something to be said for that, I think.
The final result of Everybody's In Showbiz, despite being twice as long as Muswell Hillbillies, is somewhat diminished by the sheer lack of originiality in the studio record. I suppose you could count 'Celluloid Heroes' as one of the band's better post-peak tracks as these things go, as it mistily envisions how different dead (and near-dead) stars would react to your walking callously over their star on the Hollywood Boulevard. It sounds, once again, damn much like an Elton John song, especially in response to 'Candle In the Wind' of the same year, except Ray's voice sounds mocking and put-on compared with Elton's earnest baritione, and I'd doubt that '72-era Elton would let his song drag on to this degree. Ah well, I can be sentimental, too, so I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, the studio songs mostly lack any hint of freshness, and the live album is forgettable, but I'd say there's not much to really hate here. They simply didn't put a helluva lot of effort into it. That wouldn't be the problem with their next several albums, not story-wise anyway, and that would be the problem, precisely. The more thought the Kinks put into their 70's albums, the worse they got. Like tampons and microwave ovens, it's funny how these things work.
Capn's Final Word: A cruddy live album and what sound like a bunch of Muswell outtakes, which sounded like outtakes in the first place. Still, it could be stupendously worse.
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Preservation Act 1
- RCA 1973
I bet a lot of you just couldn't keep your pants on, waiting for how I'd lay into the unquestioned nadir of Mr. Ray Davies as a rock 'n' roll act, his colossally misguided two-volume rock opera that seemed to not only repeat everything he'd already said, it repeated it in the most idiotic, convoluted, tuneless way possible. It's as if Ray has completely separated himself mentally from the idea of the Kinks as a band (I heard once the original bass player, Pete Quaife, left in 1970, Ray's idea of his group as a unit went down the poop chute faster than a Taco Bueno Deluxe Combo Burrito), rather relating to them as a group of session musicians there only to cater to every niggling little rock-opera bullshit whim that popped into that triangular head of his. Having a look at the bodaciously huge collection of scruffy 'family' members there on the cover, thus comprising the 'cast' of this shitbomb, one has little wonder that this album and its next two follow-ups sound like they sprang from the forehead of Charlie Manson himself.
The idea behind Preservation, not that I profess to understand it in any way myself, is that a certain currently-evil Mr. Flash wishes to profanate the holy Village Green (groan), and is opposed by a certain currently-good Mr. Black, a champion of the 'little people' and warrior against the greed of the capitalist Flash. There are also comeos by Johnny Thunder (yeah, that one from VG), Lady Genevieve, and the Tramp, but they don't do anything interesting, either. Now, though I have no proof of this, I suspect a certain Messrs. Blonde, Pink, and Blue will show up at some point and a veritable orgy of bloodbathing will ensue, complete with lots of impossible-to-achieve slow-motion rolling dives set to an endless parade of great, catchy, semi-obscure 70's-vintage Top 40 tunes not including anything on this album. And I hear an ear gets cut off. Don't worry, dude. I can get you an ear. I can get you an ear before 3:00 this afternoon...WITH large drips of green earwax, too!
You'll want to remove a part of your body, too, (possibly though gnawing) before Preservation, Act 1 drags its sorry ass through 47 minutes of tuneless dicksnot passing for Ray's 'story'. Except, whoops! There's no story on this one! See, Ray was still trying to figure out what the fuck was going to happen with these cartoonish mental constructs of his when RCA began to threaten broken fingers and missing guitar-playing brothers if he didn't cough up a new R'n'R record for the 1973 Christmas shopping season, so Ray rushed out this patch job, consisting mostly of 'introductions' to the characters who would then, you know, be given a plot next year. Right. That's kinda like releasing two super-bloody karate movies starring a tall, blonde former makeup cover model, and having the first one advance the story not a single Ving Rhames.
Anyway, it's the Kinks we're talking about, and not Jackie Brown (still, believe me, the best of the Tarantulino movies, though Pulp Fiction is entertaining. I always like assrape scenes, which is why I've got The Wiggles' Rock 'n' Roll Singin' and Dancin' Boy's Skinnydippin' Sleepover Camp on a constant loop in my living room.) The problem with this damn album is that Ray's just as uninterested in making his album sound decent musically as he was on the last few albums, except this one is all deadly serious and oxygen-deprived, as if letting anyone crack a smile during the recording of this 'epic' might disspell the 'magic' of the story. Except, like I said, there's no story. BERRRK! Thanks for playing! I have less than zero interest in viewing the lyric sheet of this porcine fornicating device , so don't blame me for not going around and quoting lazy crap like 'Cricket' or shedding more light on Mr. Flash's dastardly deeds on 'Demolition'.
One thing here, I want to make clear...looking at the track listing and seeing songs with titles like 'Demolition' might lead you to believe there's some hard-ass cracker rockin', or a title like 'Sitting In the Midday Sun' might bring up memories of 'Sunny Afternoon', but don't be fooled...this album has NONE OF THAT. Holy crap, I'll say it again...THIS ALBUM DOES NOT ROCK. THIS ALBUM DOES NOT HAVE GOOD BALLADS ON IT. So 'Midday Sun' has the same vocal harmonies as 'Waterloo Sunset'. You know what? Go fucking buy Something Else then, and get the real thing. They all cost the same. You're not somehow getting a better deal because you're buying the shittier album (believe me, it usually works in the opposite direction), so why not save yourself the pain of having to sit and wonder why your Kinks have started sounding like Blood, Sweat, and Tears with half their fingers chopped off. Gawd, Ray even goes for those terribly obvious 'stage' treatments like joining the scene at daybreak, set by the godforsaken Broadway massed-chorus line moaning instrumental 'Morning Song' and the 'big' anthemic ballad 'Daylight' to tell us of the daily lives of his beloved Village Greenians. Except we wouldn't have known they were supposed to have been Village Greenians had Ray not tacked on the 'instant libretto' opening track 'Preservation', which pretty much summarizes the entire album all at once so you can go off to do something more pleasant, like scrape that sticky orange stuff up from the Linoleum behind your crapper. The album then takes an inexcusable and inexplicable detour for the next several songs (yes, all shitty shit shit too, and Ray quotes 'Lola' with bald-faced premeditation on 'There's a Change In the Weather'). Ray's point seems to be 'old = good, new = bad', never fleshed out much more than the fact that he likes his actors dead, his rebels aging, his TV loud, and his gays FUH-LAMING!! The rest of the album consists of Mr. Flash going 'Narr!! Narr!! I'll GET YOU my PRETTIES!' and the townspeople going 'We represent the lollypop guild! The lollypop guild!' And I have a headache and want to lay down, even though I know Ray's stolen the melody from 'Where Are They Now' lock, schlock, and barrel from Village Green (the album, not the town), but my mind is so polluted I can't even spare the brain capacity to figure out from which song. Dangling red herrings and just-vague-enough lyrical couplets abound, so the Kink Faithful can pour over the lyrics and X-Ray to figure out just WHO Johnny Thunder was supposed to be or WHAT the vicar was doing or WHY anyone would want to listen to this thing, but to me those people are just folks with nasty orange stuff stuck to the Linoleum behind their crappers.
Capn's Final Word: Goddamn it, whatever. Ray came back with another volume, twice as long and therefore just as awful, the next year. I can't be forced to make sense of Ray Davies if he doesn't even have the wherewithal to make sense of himself.
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Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: I don't really understand why everyone tears this album to shreds. To my ears, and granted I'm an enormous Kinks fan, it's totally warm and inviting, with a few genuine classics (Sweet Lady Genevieve, Where are they Now). Ray's melodicism hasn't left him at all, nor has his charming vocals and character studies - every internet reviewer I read hates this record, but at one point I actually considered both acts of Preservation my favorite Kinks project. Don't be turned off due to all the negative comments made here and other places; if you love Ray Davies' sensibility, you'll definately find enough material on this record to warrant it's purchase.
Preservation Act 2
- RCA 1974
Ray Davies never was further out on a rickety limb in a hurricaine wearing a razorblade suitjacket than he was when he was busily cranking out the unlovable mismash called Preservation, hereby completed with the release of its two-disc second set. While the first Preservation had about as much plot advancement as a Tuesday episode of Days of Our Lives, the second is crammed full to seams bursting with the stuff. Our ol pal Flash is about ready to pull a Donald Trump on the peaceful environs of the ol' Village Green and the little folks who inhabit the town are hopping around, madder than a short-sheeted Yao Ming. Part Two, in case you care, sees the dominance of the capitalist Mr. Flash (who's now some sort of a world leader instead of just a real estate developer) threatened by a people's revolution led by the socialist Mr. Black. Black wins and sticks ol' Flash into the pokey, and wouldn't ya know it...as soon as he touches his foot into office he begins to exert his own iron-handed rule by restricting gaydom and self-expression to 'stop the decline of public morals in the Village Green'. Flash has a change of heart about his wicked Wal-Mart-y ways and atones for his sins before being ceremoniously whacked by Black, whose tyranny grows as he shuts down TV stations, jacks up the price of gas, and kicks off his cultural revolution. Huh. That's it? Over an hour and a half of blathering and that's IT? That power corrupts equally, either through greed for money (Flash) or greed for power (Black)? And only 'the people' remain unsullied by it all? Even though they followed Black in the first place? Jeez, now I know what they mean by 'talkin' a lot and sayin' nothin'. The Who said it a thousand times better with two minutes of ARP synthesizer, a scream, and 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss' than the Kinks do on this entire wordy screed, which is musically, lyrically, and philosophically inept. Sure, there's references to hoary old stuff like 'the sins of the government increases the apathy of the people' ('Nobody Gives a Damn') or 'Seeing yourself as you really are just before dying' ('Flash's Dream'), but it's all done way too superficially to make much of an impression. Ray seems like he wants us to be impressed simply because he's made a Rock Opera and is Saying Something, but it's not much of an opera and he's not saying anything much.
Of course, much of it wouldn't make a rat's turd of sense if not for Ray's frequent 'Announcement's from a sort of newscaster, giving us play-by-play of.the plot advancements. Without them, I'd be more lost than Anne Heche on sunshine acid in the middle of Kazakhstan because the plot advancement does NOT happen during the songs. They're the exclusive territory of Ray's characters talking to each other (and themselves) about how they feel about this or that, and it's all completely ridiculous. The plot moves in big jumps, then crawls for three songs, then there's another 'happening' and so on and so on for several dozen songs. It's not like we even get much if a deep commitment to any of the characters, since only 'the people' are presented positively. The amount of time spent on Mr. Flash's character is ridiculously high (the man's a greedy jerk, okay!), and lots of characters introduced on Act 1 are completely forgotten by the time Act 2 rolled around. Anyway, I've seen better storytelling on the back of a box of Cocoa Crispies, and anyone who enters into Preservation waiting to have their mind blown by a whale of an imaginative story is going to find themselves longing with a misty tear in their eye for 'Karn Evil 9'.
Musically, there's more thievery going down here than the last half of Casino. I hear direct quotes from Jefferson Airplane's 'Volunteers' ('Shepherds of the Nation'), Funkadelic's 'Maggot Brain' (that voice-of-God on 'Flash's Dream'), plus ripping off the idea of 'Shepherds of the Nation' from Tommy's 'We're Not Gonna Take It' wholesale. What's not stolen outright seems borrowed, like 'Second Hand Car Spiv' from Zappa or the drunken tragicomedy feel of 'Mirror of Love' from Muswell Hillbillies. I think most of the 'music' here seems to exist in a lifeless vacuum, serving only to support Ray's dialog, and it's performed with a distinct lack of interest from the band. Not that I blame them, considering I'm sure they felt they'd become like props to ol egomaniac Ray and his obnoxious background singer bitches. How Ray chose these spaniel-voiced idiots says more to me about his marital fidelity than his musical taste, because if there are is a more tattoo-voiced, plain-vanilla, white-trashy bit of Nashville scum than whoever sings the gag-inducing 'Scrapheap City', I'd like to personally drag them off to a convent to force on them a vow of silence myself. It seems the main qualification for playing in this band is A) the ability to sing Ray's 'lyrics' with a straight face and B) to wear short skirts and fuck-me heels.
Granted, I think the 'Introduction to Solution' has a couple of cool moments (the way Ray sings 'I'm just sta-a-a-ndin' here!'), and 'When a Solution Comes' morphs from a neato, druggy Pink Floyd/John Lennon vibe to near-Roxy Music dramatism on the bridge, being the best track here by a mile. There's also a fairly okay live bonus track of a Dave-sung blues-rock song called 'Slum Kids', showing that the Big Kinks Band maybe wasn't completely without its merits on a live stage. Generally, and this is the best thing I can say about it, this album has less of a 'useless' feeling than the first volume did, and while none of the songs are really any good at all, there's fewer that make me have to lay down on the floor and take deep breaths to prevent the loss of my lunch to the carpet as the last time. Still, Gawd, this is a long-ass, pointless bastard of a horn-cluttered Broadway mess, and the last time I enjoyed a record like that, I was a gay track-lighting salesman with a low heart rate and serious ear canal constriction. I say leave a 10-foot berth while passing it in the record store.
Capn's Final Word: Still no more than one or two decent songs on a two-album set, and the story's comprehensible only to Davies. Or is it comprehensible, but only worthwhile to Davies?
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- RCA 1975
I've had about enough of these 'original cast recordings' from the Kinks. And to hear Dave Davies tell it, he'd had about enough around this time, too. Soap Opera (the title alone making me want to punch Ray in his middlebrow, quasi-ironic ballsack) is a slightly tougher, Fifties-intensive set of Broadway musical softshoe 'n' spoken word dogvomit than the last one, but still a pile of shitdick assscrapings nonetheless. Ray's storytelling continues to be incomprehensible yet banal at the same time, this time detailing the flashy, exciting rich man Starmaker's Freaky Friday-ish switch with normal schmuck Norman, wearing suits and screwing his wife and going to work like all us other poor schmucks (well, maybe not screwing HIS wife, but I did hear ol' Norman's woman who tended to 'lay down on the job' if you 'smell' that 'other man's penis on your wife's breath', and I think you do). The Starmaker ends up not being able to handle it, becoming an alcoholic, cheating on his lame wife, and whining about life's pointlessness for 20 minutes before laying into the bitch's talents with home décor ('Ducks on the Wall') and driving her out the door. See, the idea being that Norman IS the Starmaker and vice versa, that it's all just a construct of ol' Norman's mind. It turns out he's no star, just a dull ude with a pissed off wife who can't even get drunk or cheat right. Which makes it...you know, stupid and pointless. Ray's good at stupid and pointless. Especially when he's essentially telling you his OWN life is pretty good in comparison to assholes like you and me.
Ray has an odd relationship with 'the common man' he thinks about so damn much. On one hand, he's their champion, cheerleading their lack of malice, their 'realness' on albums like Village Green or even Arthur, but he also finds them boring, greedy, and with a tendency towards pointless self-destruction, prone to harmful self-delusions and oblivious to their own slavery at the hands of the Mr. Flash's of the world. Remember 'Brainwashed'? Well, Soap Opera is that same idea, dragged out to 38 minutes of doo-wopping, no-hooking 50's rock. We get no idea of who Norman was before Starmaker takes his ass for his own, other than he was as ordinary as possible, and other than little comments on how banal normal humans are, we never learn anything about him later, either. See, this album isn't really about Norman. It's about Ray, as the Starmaker, telling us how much he'd fucking hate having to go to an office every day and come home to a wife who is so stupid as to put ducks on the wall. That's all, folks. There ain't nuthin' more...Ray's so goddamned self-absorbed he couldn't even tell he was a hair's breadth away from being jacked by his own band, sick and tired of his OWN self-delusions. Ray'd gone so far out in his own 'Star' persona that he'd lost the faith of his bandmates that he could write decent songs anymore. Don't worry about looking, because there are really none on Soap Opera. Jeff Lynne used the chords to 'Starmaker (Everybody's A Star)' to much better effect on 'Do Ya' from 1976's New World Record, and Pete Townshend did 'em better ten years prior on 'I Can't Explain'. Much of the album, including all of the 'drunken trilogy', is really dreary, mid-tempo fillerish rock, and instead of becoming an interesting facet of the Kinks sound, the horns continue to get in the way. Ray's riffs range from faceless chord bang-bang to highly un-Kinks-y overcomplication ('When Work Is Over' sounds like Chicago, which is preferable to 'Holiday Romance', which sounds like Chicago. Richard Gere. Queen Latifah. Ray putting on voices like he's Mel Blanc doing Bugs Bunny dressed up like the Monster's girlfriend. Me puking on self. Barf, barf, barf on my pants.). It's all about as engaging as a Chinese bus schedule. Jesus, Dave Davies barely even shows up on this album (a lead on 'You Can't Stop the Music' sounds to be about it), the rest is Original Cast shit, with lots of absolutely generic-stamped orchestras and talentless female backers, and about as much 'rock' as a stale angel food cake.
Nope, if Dave don't dig it, I certainly can't. I mean, if listening to Ray put us all on for his personal kicks sounds like a great idea to you, go for it. He doesn't like you and he doesn't like me. He likes his life as the Starfucker and doesn't want any of you thinking YOU might be able to break into his little world, wanting to put up fucking ducks or anything. I think the man's gone and become a vicious, melodyless bastard with enough ego to power the Pontiac Superdome. Of course, it'd help if he'd put forth any sort of effort on any front other than massaging himself, but it didn't happen. If you ever want a counter argument to Ray Davies' greatness, pull out Soap Opera and play it at high volumes. I'd dare ANYONE to defend what Ray says with this album as something 'artistic' and meaningful. You deserve your 40-hour week, your lame evening drunkenness, your uninteresting wife, your fumbled affairs, and your goddamn wallpaper. Just because you ain't Ray.
Capn's Final Word: But the rest of the Kinks aren't Ray, either, and they don't deserve this kind of treatment any longer.
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Schoolboys In Disgrace
- RCA 1975
The last of Ray's big concept blowouts, and there's definite signs that the man has begun to grow back into himself after several years being way too big for his bitchy britches. The clues are everywhere: The Kinks band is finally cut back down to the core 5 members, gloriously tossing those hideous background singers by the side of the road and leaving the horns to clutter up someone else's three major chord tunes. It's a good thing they're gone, too, because Schoolboys spends most of its time in 50's nostalgia-land, where a set of horns is about as superfluous as genetalia on a Trekkie. The idea this time around (or 'concept', or 'what Ray was thinking about on the crapper the morning of the first day of recording') is Ye Olde School Days and all the paraphernalia related therein, from school uniforms and conformity to outcast dorks ('Jack the Idiot Dunce'), to your first love ('The First Time We Fell In Love'), to forgetting your white-hot murderous hatred of everyone at the damn place and getting misty-eyed at graduation. Right. No Flash's, no Starbastards, no dimestore psychological hoody hoo, just a bunch of songs about being a kid in school. It seems the main reason for this simplification of Ray's vision is that he somehow wanted to get a picture of his bandmates all dressed up in Angus Young-y schoolboy unis and couldn't think of any better excuses for doing it.
Personally, this album bores the shit right out of my shit, in case my shit had to shit, which I suppose would smell something terrible and probably end up as a particularly heinous, boxer-staining dingleberry. Besides the fact that I got about as much fun out of being at school as Miss Manners visiting a nose-picking convention, and therefore have very few positive memories that don't somehow contain reference to screwing my hot ex-girlfriend Leigh on the couch in her mom's foyer, Ray himself seems to have almost nothing to say on the matter. Conformity's a bitch. First loves never work out. Everyone has to grow up sometime. Yawn, yawn, yawn. There's little to no plot, just a bunch of ruminations on the education system. Considering the cruelty and sadism of most British boys' schools, and the repressed, tight-assed chickenshits it tends to spit out at the end, you'd think that maybe this was some shinier ground to mine for ol' Ray. I mean, I think spending two hours listening to Roger Waters groan and howl about how awful his life was is somewhat less preferable than injecting an air-pump needle into my eyeball and seeing if I can double its size, but at least the man feels something about his school days. Ray just sounds like he's reading this crap off the back of an Archie and Jughead comic book. It's treacly and cloying, and all just a bit too neatly wrapped up at the end. Perhaps because Ray didn't have that much to 'wrap up' in the first place.
Ray-Ray might've finally allowed his band to strip off some of the mock opera bullshit that had been polluting their sound since 1972, but all he has left is competent, unexciting, unconvincing 50's-influenced arena rock. A song as generic as 'Education' could've been by just about anybody - except just about anybody would've tried to sing better than Ray does. Genericism would be the watchword for the next 8 years or so of the Kinks life, so I guess I should go ahead and get myself used to it now. Still, an album like Low Budget or Misfits contains, at the very least, two hard rockin' tunes to wiggle your stupid head around on its pedestal to. Even if they're stolen from Keith Richards. All the tunes here are stolen from Jerry Lee Lewis and the Four Seasons and whatnot, and if you'd like to make a trade I'll be happy to oblige.
Schoolboys nearly doesn't work at all. Some zippy instrumental passages like the Cars-y guitar lines to 'I'm In Disgrace' or 'the highly Lou Reed-y The Hard Way' (Dave begins his comeback on this record) or the Beach Boys vocal harmonies of 'The First Time We Fell In Love' are all that keeps this album from the deep, dank hole of Soap Opera. The good news is that they'd continue to improve from here, and wouldn't feel that it would be quite so necessary to tie everything together with a concept and a paedophillic album cover the next few times around. They don't need 'em anyway, not when you can put your egomaniacal lead singer's nappy mug on the cover instead.
Schoolboys would yield not a single hit, and the boys' RCA period would end up with a rather perfunctory post-Kronicles greatest hits called Celluloid Heroes. They'd end up on the has-been heaven of Arista Records (the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers) within a few years and would inexplicably set the charts on fire with a weird conglomeration of disco, heavy metal, and unabashed self-thievery. Never again would they be quite as hard to take as they were in their 1973-1976 doldrums, though.
Capn's Final Word: The concepts run dry of gas here, but at least the Kinks are standing alone again.
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- Arista 1977
It's been so long since Ray's done 'just another album', with no concepts, or themes, or any of that other highfalootin' ivy-league nonsense he got so enamored with there for 10 years or so, that upon first listen, Sleepwalker almost sounds like it isn't the Kinks at all. This album sounds more like an early-70's Beach Boys album than anything else (the odd connection between the Kinks and the Beach Boys, from 'Holiday In Waikiki' and the harmonies on 'Waterloo Sunset' up to the MOR soft-rock on this album and beyond, is something I probably should be talking about more than I am, but there ya go. I'm sure there is one, and it's conscious. It's there. I didn't just imagine it.), but you know what? That's fine with me. The Kinks would've killed and eaten somebody for a chart hit when they released Sleepwalker in 1977, having been several years since 'Celluloid Heroes' scraped the world consciousness back in 1972. They were also itching to prove their continued worth not only to their new record label, Arista, but also to all of those disturbing new punk rockers who'd come out of the woodwork in the last year since, you know, the Kinks sorta did that stuff first. Kinda. Playing extra loud troglodyte riffs through a busted amp is pretty punk rock, isn't it?
You sho 'nuff ain't gonna impress any punks with the soft-gut 70's rock that packs most of this album, though I'm not necessarily sure if that's a bad thing. The Kinks have rededicated themselves to melody (such an idea!) on this record, and even if that makes rockers like 'Mr. Big Man' as anemic as a supermodel with mononucleosis, I say the trade-off is mostly worth it. They still steal other artists absolutely blind, but by now that's so much a part of the Kinks sound you are actually relieved when they go back to sounding like incompetent Holland-era Beach Boys ripoffs rather than someone else. . Their favorite targets this time around seem to be John Lennon ('Mr. Big Man') and Pink Floyd (every lead guitar tone Dave plays), but I think the main idea the Kinks were going for was accessible mediocrity, a slick 70's alloy of good harmonies, lots of jazzy keyboards, and guitar tones so dentist office you'd swear you were looking through a six-year old copy of Road and Track wondering how much your co-pay's going to end up being. There's more gloppy chorusing and phasing on these guitars than should be healthy for the average male to consume in a day, and this is coming from a guy who thinks Signals-era Rush sounds really, really good. The Kinks, alas, sound mostly like studio assholes when they're not singing, but for the most part these tunes are so pleasant I just can't get my bile to boil right. Maybe I ought to listen to Soap Opera again before I dash off this review. Maybe motherfucking not.
My favorite moments are the string of Adult Contemporary ballads and slow rollers in the middle, from 'Sleepless Night' (Steely Dan meets Heart) to 'Full Moon' (Rolling Thunder Revue meets ELO). Hell, Ray even somehow manages to sound sincere on 'Full Moon', but that could be just because he's making his voice do that 'strain' thing. Maybe he doesn't actually feel like a guy losing his marbles on a full moon night. Hell, I'm not the guy who had a nervous breakdown in 1974, maybe that's exactly what he's talking about. All I'm saying is that Ray sounds more convincing on this track than he did during the entire middle part of the 1970's, and those self-referencing 'La la la la la la la!'s that sneak in are sure clever too.
Of course, one man's melodic slickness is another man's generic crap, and Ray can't seem to tell the difference from one dude to the other. A track like 'Life Goes On', 'Brother', or, especially the faux soul 'Artificial Light' are absolute and utter filler. Ray stoops to universalist calls for chumminess amongst all humanoids on 'Brother' (no, not about how much Dave pisses him off), quite a long drop from devastating tracks like 'Big Sky' from almost ten years before. And 'Prince of the Punks' is just an embarrassment - the Kinks sound so far from true punk energy they become the equivalent of Sha Na Na - poseurs who have no idea of the true nature of that they're emulating, coming across like pansies in dress-up clothes. Perhaps expecting the Kinks to be able to produce good, melodic ballads and convincing raw rock 'n' roll on the same record is just too unrealistic (how many times have they been able to pull that trick before, anyway?), and I'm just happy they were able to score any points at all.
Capn's Final Word: Mostly, Sleepwalker is a listenable little piece of unending mediocrity punctuated by about equal measures of solid melodicism and unabashed filler. It doesn't really sound that much like the Kinks, but after what the Kinks have been sounding like lately, that's probably a good thing.
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- Arista 1978
The Kinks of the late 70's and early 80's teetered back and forth on the edge of acceptability like Diana Ross during a roadside sobriety test. Apparently, Ray's really resigned himself that, since no one liked his stupid big-headed concept albums, he'd turn the other corner and become an MOR crooner fronting the slickest band since Jackson Browne was birthed fully grown from the gaping canals of Carole King and James Taylor. This Kinks 'rock' only in the sense that they play syncopated riffs over 4/4 drumbeats - in reality its all a big bunch of going through the motions. Ray's also started in with a nasty streak of faux-positivity, wherein most of his songs end on some sort of an 'up' note (this started on 'Life Goes On' on the last record, by the way) - no more sitting in a lawn chair outside your home on a sunny afternoon, watching the men take all your furniture away. On record, anyway, this band seems almost afraid to be too raw or too pessimistic as if someone's gonna come down and poke a finger in Ray's chest and say 'Hey, youse, yer killing my buzz with all your. Now why doncha get back there and write me a nice song about nasal congestion before I sends ya ta 'do some research with Jacques Cousteau', sans Breathing Apparatus - kapiche?' What bothers me most of all is that Ray seems to be backpedaling into a sort of mid-life conservatism that's completely taken over his worldview. He's gone from being a snotty punk with a razor-blade writing pen, slashing apart the pompous and the egotistical, to being a staunch defender of the good old ways, to being an unsmiling old fart who'd be best served by joining the Tory party and getting his investments in a tax shelter. There's a song called 'Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy' (yeah, like that Bad Company song, which is much much better, by the way) about a guy who's addicted to the escapism of rock music. You'd think maybe that kind of song would have a little injection of ass-kick in it, wouldn't you? I sure as hell would. Instead, Ray sounds like he's giving some sort of apology for ever rocking out, giving people the misguided idea that they should ever 'live their life in a rock 'n' roll fantasy'. What the fuck kind of message is that? What about his song 'Black Messiah'? This fucking thing ranges from half racist, both explicitly ('Don't want no Black Messiah') and implicitly (the Kinks doing reggae is offensive enough by itself) , but mostly ends up completely confused. What the hell is Ray trying to say, anyway? His friend says there's gonna be a black Messiah, and Ray pleads that he needs to be able to express his opinion, too. What? What the hell is that?
His other lyrics aren't nearly as offensive, but they sure are ridiculous. He writes a song about having 'Hay Fever', writes another about changing his hairdo ('Permanent Waves' - not the Rush album of the same name, unfortunately), and somehow finds the time to look back at his back catalog and write another song about a transvestite ('Out of the Wardrobe'). Except this ain't no 'Lola', baby, and as little effort as Ray puts forth on his lyrics, he puts even less into his melodies. This is slickness for slickness sake, and the nice little bits and pieces of flavor that spiced up Sleepwalker are nowhere to be found on Miffshits. Not even the title track is nearly as good (sounds like Bob Seger as a corpse, or maybe a lobotomized Bruce Springsteen) as what many fans like to pretend it is. They fail to rock when given the chance, as Dave wastes a nice, sizzly guitar tone on the dated political positivity and retard punk rock of 'Live Life', and 'Hay Fever' is just a stupid bit of cockcheese. Shit, man, this album is actually pretty fucking terrible now that I think about it. Since all of these songs are about 'misfits' of one sort or another (obsessives, dorks, guys who like the feel of lacey undies rubbing over their bulgine, hairless manclits), maybe this is actually more of a return to the down-times of Preservation and Soap Opera than what a lot of people like to admit. Sure, there's no narrative, but the Kinks sound similarly muted and castrated (although instead of drowning underneath too many side-players, here they're unable to swim on their own), and Ray sounds just as self-convinced and befuddled as he did on the worst moments of those albums. The man just simply has little ability to generate abstract ideas, or ideas with any sense of true originality. I don't quite hear as many out-and-out pocket-picks as I have on some other Kinks albums, but that doesn't mean Misfits doesn't have a disturbing sense of predictability and 'I've heard this somewhere before'.
Mostly, though, Misfits is unconvincing. They can't rock, they can't recreate the great ballads from Sleepwalker. Hell, they can't even do doo-wop right. I think this album is sorely lacking in life and good taste, and can't really imagine listening to it again. As mediocre as it comes.
Capn's Final Word: Ray gets stupid, and not just because he's trying to have a good time. Is he trying to have a good time, or is he just trying to come across as 'wise' again. Trash.
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- Arista 1979
One of the bigger continental shifts in Kinkdom happened with the metallization of the band in the late-70's, no doubt coming as a result of both the punk movement (which the Kinks sounded pretty ignorant of on their song 'Prince of the Punks') and the runaway poop-ship-destroying success of the Rolling Stones' 'punky' (not really) Some Girls album the year before. See, the Kinks wanted some of that luscious money action, too, and though their corners had brightened somewhat with the Top 40 appearance of Misfits' 'Rock and Roll Fantasy', they still just weren't what they had been commercial-wise. Heh. Ray takes the lame-ass bullshit MOR adult-contemporary of Misfits and tosses it right on the shit-heap and replaces it with a weird (for the Kinks), completely commercialized metal-disco hybrid sound that would once again jack up the ol' cash machines for the Kinks. Ray finally realized that one of his main strengths is not his concepts, not his melodies, but his brother Dave's iron-clad grasp on the necessity of a good, rough riff for a song to ride around the Roller-Rink on top of. So what if the riffs are either totally stolen from one of the most famous rock 'n' roll songs of all time (the shameless use of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' in 'Catch Me Now I'm Falling' or the re-use of 'All Day and All Of the Night' on the next album's 'Destroyer'), if they're still good? Okay, it makes the Kinks look cheaper than a vinyl tuxedo jacket, but isn't this supposed to be Low Budget, anyway? What, aligning ourselves with the safety-pin pierced masses, all of the sudden? I think it's a pretty great idea, myself.
Listen, for all I've said in the last dozen reviews or so, the Kinks can and do rock, it's just that for as far back as I can remember now, they haven't seemed like they've had any joy in doing it. Hearing Dave rip ham-fingered into the Chuck 'The Duck' Berry intro of the charging 'Pressure' is to hear a guy who still hasn't learned a single goddamn thing about playing the guitar since he put down the lead line to 'You Really Got Me' fourteen-odd years before. And that, in case you can't tell, is a good thing. Let it rip. Get stupid. Get wasted drunk. Lose your moron bass player right as it starts getting good again. Play everything as huge, distorted power chords if you want. Do it all night, and I'll keep listening to this album as if it were really a great rock album instead of just a pretty good one that sounds wonderful after too long spent in the junkyard.
I'm sure as hell not saying Low Budget is a classic. Maybe, just maybe, it's a classic throwaway, but this is not in any way 'high art'. He embraces the least respectable elements of the New Wave ('National Health', and finds the good fun at the core. In no possible way am I supposed to enjoy the disco monstrosity '(I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman', which neither sounds a whit like the Kinks ought to sound, or does it produce a sense of organic soulfulness ala 'Miss You'. It's cheap and synthesized and relies on cliches like that stripper bassline, but ends up being beautiful, rhinestone trash, kind of like Kiss's 'I Was Made For Loving You' without the great chorus. And hell, when the Kinks just fucking rock, like on the Southern-y title track, they sound like they're having a ball and a half. That Ray is somehow able to make one of his better points (about the economic doldrums of late-70's Britain) and Dave plays one of his best, skull-blistering leads of his entire career, both on the same song, is damned impressive to a dumb-ass headbanger like myself. Is 'Misery' really a good song? Isn't it derivative and half-stolen? Do I give a fuck? Absolutely not! I think it's a great, punky middle finger up the love canal of the hate generation! Pigfuck! Buy Patti Smith albums! London Calling is a big, smelly 80's dog turd dressed up in a snappy cardboard sleeve! Thanks, thanks, I'm the Spin Alternative Record Guide from ten years ago, come back to life to haunt you. Look for my next edition, where the Scissor Sisters album gets a ten and we decide Wire are no better than disease-riddled brain flukes!
Am I a big hypocrite for enjoying an album just because it has lots of loud guitars on it? I feel like I do that crap a lot. There's a reason why I gave all those AC/DC and Van Halen albums A's way back when - I think there's something indeliably gorgeous about a great, rocking tune, something with more worth to it than ten million tons of 'pop melodicism' has all by itself. When I hear the ballads on this album, like 'Little Bit Of Emotion', I begin to think that maybe Sleepwalker was better than I thought (and Misfits even worse) because of how deftly it handled ballads. This album is great when the amps are cranked, but the Kinks still don't seem to be able to do more than one thing at a time, so the quieter numbers are mostly shite. 'Gallon of Gas' continues to prove the Kinks' complete lack of ability in making convincing black music (here they try blues, and fail, though the idea of a drug dealer being able to sell you anything but a gallon of gas is pretty cute. And so dated it's true again. Goddamn $1.95....can you believe that shit? Makes me almost wish I hadn't bought the guzzler Jeep until I realize my alternative was a tiny Ford that rattled like a suitcase of maracas.)
Hell, do I love this album? Probably not. I wouldn't respect myself if I did. 'Catch Me Now I'm Falling' is just one of a host of embarrassing moments on this record that survive despite my overall great impression. Do I think it's one of the Kinks' best albums of the 1970's, quite possibly their best since Arthur? Oh fuckabilly hellcaster, yes, I do. And it's all because they sound like not only they're having fun, but also because it sounds like they sincerely want us to have a great time as well. They're playing Music For the Masses (no matter what the title of their next studio album might say, this is the real crowd pleaser in the Kinks catalogue). At heart, it's just a bunch of good-to-great punk-influenced late-70's rock 'n' roll songs mixed in with some failed ballads and stylistic exercises, but honestly I care not a damn bit. It's hooky as hell, much of it is good-humored and thoughtful, and that 'cheap' vibe is brilliant. I like it enough not to flinch when I say I do.
Capn's Final Word: The Kinks turn it up and smile, and forget all about how to do the quiet stuff right. Enjoy it while the amps are pegged and don't let the borrowed riffs get to you. .
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One For the Road
- Arista 1980
You'd think that right around the time of their rediscovery of the joys of a two-finger power chord would be a great time to release a double live album, what with the ur-rock joys of their long neglected 60's catalogue being quite well-fit for a '30-something punk act' and stuff. Unfortunately, that line of thinking assumes that the Kinks still enjoy playing their now 15-year old mid-60's classics, and that thinking is simply wrong. There's a fundamental difference between the brand of Marshalls-n-guitar-lessons stupid hard rock the Kinks played in 1979 and the kind they played back in the days of the Little Green Amp. Listen to the mostly faithful 'All Day and All of the Night' (skip the hideous reggae cover of 'To the End of the Day') right next to the Kelvin Hall version and see the difference - the 1966 Kinks were playing a rock song the only way they really knew how - fast, dumb, and loud enough to cover up their mistakes. The 1979 Kinks play it loud out of habit and rough out of respect for their newest pose, that of the 'wild arena punks' trying to keep up with the leather-inflected, bladder-infected snotty kiddos. It's a put-on, really, not too much different than the high-theatre dramatism of five years before, really. Just more palatable to a rockist, that's all. Personally, I think the lack of respect they show for songs like 'Victoria' or 'Til the End of the Day' is downright depressing. It's like going to see a Martin Scorsese film and finding out its just three hours of Italians cursing and beating up their wives. The Kinks shouldn't feel they need to use sledgehammers all the time.
I bet the punters packed ass-to-front in the floor of the arena back in '79 thought it was great stuff, though, especially since they dropped the disco beat on 'Superman' and played it true to its real nature - as a boring mid-tempo rock song that probably didn't deserve to be written. Listen, sometimes a bit of disco is exactly what a song needs, and sometimes turning it down and not acting quite so 'rock 'n' roll' is exactly what a live show needs. These Kinks are just as jaded and inconsistent as the Stones or the Who from the same time, except those bands find their salvation in their old material, and the Kinks sound like they'd just as soon not play anything older than Schoolboys In Disgrace.
Luckily, the lack of interest the band shows in their 60's material is made up for in their professional enthusiasm for their recent material. Obviously, Low Budget is extremely well-represented here (six songs), but also they manage to find space for songs off Misfits (the title track still reminds me of the lost 56th track off River, as sung by Nils Lofgren) and Sleepwalker, too ('Prince of the Punks', which at least sounds halfway-punky by this time, drippy synths or not), not to mention a bunch of other favorites. Of course, the shitheaded audience just wants to hear 'Lola', so Ray teases the everloving fuck out of it before finally pulling out one of the most perfunctory human-jukebox audience call-and-response performances I've heard since the last late-period Nirvana live bootleg I heard (except on that one the audience interaction was something like "TEEN SPIRIT!!!" 'You know, I don't think I want to play that song anymore, assholes.' "TEEN SPIRIT!!! AAAAAGGHHHH!!!" 'Motherfuckers.'. Really, though, their enthusiasm is saved for tracks like 'Catch Me Now I'm Falling' (so crunchy it almost makes me forget 'Jumpin' Jack Flash') and 'Pressure', which are tight enough for Kelvin Hall.
My main disappointment here is that the Kinks simply try the same trick with every song (well, not the ones they make into reggae, but those are just completely sucking ftoopid.), just jacking up their Marshalls until the damn thing squeals for mercy. So they've proven they can still kick ass...so what? I'd like to think my Kinks come in more colors than Off and Really Fucking Loud. Oh, and 'Celluloid Heroes' is weaker and more gangly than a juiceless Jason Giambi. How's the old testicles, Jase? I guess now that you've lost 50 pounds of bulk and rediscovered your neck in the last year, you can get around to spending some of that $15 million your cheating ass will make this year on finding out how badly you've screwed up your glandular system, cool guy. I suppose your just happy not to be turning into the Incredible Hulk every time your McDonald's hash browns come out a tad soggy.
Capn's Final Word: Tone deaf live album shows more interest in the newer, dumber material than the older, less ass-kicking stuff. Probably not a bad idea considering their musclebound sound.
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Give the People What They Want
- Velvel 1982
The Kinks return to their relentlessly mediocre ways with their sad 1982 followup to the genuinely fun Low Budget, a dreary and mindlessly dull hard rock album called Give the People What They Want. Jesus, talk about submissiveness. Of course, the title of this album begs the question - is this, in fact, what the people wanted in 1982? The answer is probably yes, considering the artistically bereft nature of most of the prevailing arena rock that ruled that year, but this album wasn't quite the success that Low Budget had been, so maybe Kinks fans aren't quite so easily fooled. Ray seems to have bought into the idea that the Kinks were the forefathers of hard rock, punk rock, metal rock, and pet rock and damn well better act like it, not to mention the neverending itch to one-up his talented then-girlfriend Chrissie Hynde's band the Pretenders (who was still good in '82) he's gotta keep it rocking and loud and filled with asspockets of Dave Davies bashing the living tinkerbell out of his electric twanger. Which is all well and good - if they'd been able to score off another mindlessly catchy hard-rockin' album like Low Budget, I wouldn't have any problems with this album at all. I'da given it a few knocks for unoriginality, given it a B, and been on my way to me thirteenth cup of coffee today. But just as you never seem to be able to recapture the glory of that first-beer-after-work buzz no matter how many cans you drain, the Kinks can't score on the same shot twice.
For an album with rockin' on its mind, there sure isn't very much of that goofy, loose energy that charged the last album. Dave seems to have 'matured' his guitar sound in the ensuing two years, taking it from a mighty, unhinged Marshall roar to an over-processed sissy-boy lactose intolerant superdistorted slapback paleness that simply can't get the train up the mountain. They play fast and loud, a formula that 9 times out of 10 will at least get grudging acceptance from this rock-suseptible reviewer, but the Kinks just absolutely do not have the chops or the drive to grab these songs by the throat and make them burn. The riffs range from more of those same old Chuck Berryisms (title track) to sub-Judas Priest block chord crud ('Around the Dial'), to a ripoff of 'Sweet Jane' ('Yo Yo') to a wholesale reprise of the riff to 'All Day and All of the Night' mixed with the lyrics to 'Lola' ('Destroyer'), as if stealing Keith Richard's riff wallet last time wasn't heinous enough of a crime. Jesus, Ray is so goddamn unoriginal now that there's this sense of pathetic comfort in his albums, based solely on whatever nice . Hey! This song sounds like 'Pressure'! I liked 'Pressure!' The song probably could suck an ocean liner through the Panama Canal, but since it's borrowed so liberally from a better song, you can't absolutely hate the damn thing like you should. (By the way, I'm talking about 'Around the Dial' here, since everyone always likes to mention that it's one of the better songs on here. It's not, and my theory is that everyone says that just because it's the first song on the album. Everyone's guaranteed to have heard it then! Let's hear your thoughts on 'Predictable' or 'Back to Front', you shirker!)(Don't have any fear. I'm not going to talk about either of these songs either. They both suck just as much as the rest of this quarter-effort.)
Again, the most notable song on this album is the one that's by far the most disgusting, and (surprise surprise) again, many reviewers like to mention it but few actually comment on what a despicable piece of paedophillic jerk-off material it really is. 'Art Lover' is this wretched Billy Joel-ish ballad about this dude (presumably Ray), who, despite not being 'a flasher in an overcoat' follows this young girl around, admiring her little legs and calling her a 'piece of art', and beckoning her to 'come to daddy' because he's 'an art lover'. There's enough circumstantial evidence here to understand that this girl is not yet, you know, 'able to take responsibility for her actions', and the fact that Ray makes such a point that he isn't 'a dirty old man', but still follows her around 'for hours and hours' and appreciates her 'as lovers do' makes my Chicken Enchilada Grilled Stufft Burrito do little cartwheels in my gut cavity. It's obvious he's not lusting after intellectual content here. He wants to possess this girl for his own selfishness, and it's really, really disturbing to me. There's generally a disturbing trend towards sex with minors in a lot of classic rock (especially British), but while, say, 'Stray Cat Blues' is cartoonish and 'boo' scary in its sexual predation, this one sounds like an actual molester actually justifying his obsession with this girl, as a result of 'losing what once belonged to him'. Gag me with a spoon, Ray. Keep your obsessions to trannies and steam-powered trains, wouldya?
Okay, so while most of Give the People What They Want will simply bore the living crap out of you to no good end, I've gotta say that I think 'Better Things' is a cute, Byrdsy closer, and out of all the monotonous hard rockers, at least 'Add It Up' has a little bit of menace to it. The concept here, and a truly badly formed one it is, is how the average person will accept the 'opiates of the masses' (materialism, Benny Hill, and crappy rock albums like this one) as substitutes from true freedom. Same old Ray, really. If you missed it, don't worry. He'll be discussing it again. And again. And I wouldn't be surprised if the riff to 'All Day and All of The Night' makes a re-reappearance in there somewhere as well.
Capn's Final Word: I'm beginning to suffer deja vu, except in reverse. Funny how this album is actually more of a cheap, tightwad date than Low Budget.
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Einhorn Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: A couple things about Art Lover - a) you forgot to mention that it's a pretty song if you ignore the lyrics, which is something
b) American rock'n'roll is built on the concept of sex with young girls - ever heard "Sweet Little Sixteen"? or all those old blues songs? And remember, Jerry Lee Lewis married his thirteen-year old cousin...
State of Confusion - Velvel 1983
Don't be too hard on yourself (heh, I said 'bulging erection') if you confuse this album with the one with the exact same fucking identical album cover called Give the People What They Want and turn it on expecting to hear a bunch of derivative, repetitive, and flat-tired hard rock and actually hear a bunch of derivative, repetitive, and flat-tired hard rock with some goddamn shitty 80's Korky Korg synthesizer tones pasted on top. The marathon of the Capn shaking his head in sad disgust continues as the Kinks now produce their very last album the vast population of the World as We Know It cared a fossilized Bubble Yum about. State of Confusion (aka Texas) had the last Kinks hit songs (including the criminally lightweight cheap nostalgia hookfest 'Come Dancing', which was a regular on the classic old VH-1 show Big 80's, back before VH-1 morphed from being a sad 80's musical nostalgia trip into a sad 80's TV show and action figure nostalgia network featuring the boundlessly wise commentary of that unfunny fat guy off that one WB-network show I've never seen, that irritating blonde sorority chick who got fired from The Daily Show for criminal lack of funny, and some pissed off black rappers who no one who watches VH-1 knows who the fuck are) and, umm...well, that's it. Everything else they do here they've done before (well, maybe not so much of the ass-ugly synthesizers...those are new) and will very assuredly do again. Talking about post-72 Kinks in general, they were absolutely terrible for about four years, then became slightly less terrible but deadly boring, then sprang a personality and became fun for an album or so, then became so ferociously mediocre during their last decade that listening to their albums is sort of like watching Jay Leno monologues for a month straight. Every once in awhile, Ray (like Jay) will pop out something reasonably listenable, with a riff either so passably bland or run-of-the-mill that you can't place exactly where he stole it from, but you know that sooner or later he's gonna pull out those same old jokes about Clinton's penis or how that gosh-darn wacky Terminator is the governor of California (aka 'Mongrel Idiot Place'). More often than would seem wise. So often it makes a mockery of what the Kinks (Tonight Show) used to be about - original viewpoints hitched to delicious melodies over simple chord sequences. Granted, we still get the simple chord sequences. So let's not look at this picture as a total loss, eh?
I suppose State of Confusion is one of the better late-period Kinks albums, but making that determination is like deciding which of Prince's album covers is the least embarrassing. I don't get a single inkling of joy out of hearing the sappy 'Don't Forget to Dance', but I can be a Big-Hearted Self-Styled Music Critic and say that maybe Air Supply or somebody like that would've killed for a melody like that, and 'Cliches of the World' is, well, at least fairly interesting in the fact that it prefigures Radiohead's stated desire to be abducted by aliens by 14 years. That said, I'm also sure the 1982 Who would like their 'Young Conservatives' back, thank you very much. Many of the rest of the rockers aren't quite as men-in-grey as on the last album, but that doesn't mean that they're any good either. Playing with a guitar tone as poxy as 'Labour of Love's would get you laughed out of most guitar jams, and 'State of Confusion' does a pretty lame job of channeling the Clash's 'Rock the Casbah'. Of course, I'm not too detestable a person not to fall victim to the cute hook to 'Come Dancing' (aka 'duh doot doot doot doot dotta do do doot!' or 'Ray tries out for Devo'), and his story of dancin' with his sister after she comes back all hot 'n' bothered from a date at the movie theater. Of course, coming while your dancing with your sister might be a bit of an embarrassing proposition, but not to good ol' Ray, who only needs 'a peck on the cheek' to 'have himself a ball'. Girls like them 'fast on the draw' guys, you know. It's only nat-yeew-ral.
Blandly mediocre, but haven't I said that before? Hasn't Ray said this all before? Good Christ, is the next time they do something different really not going to happen until they get bit by rabid ferrets and go apeshit with the distorto-metal on Phobia? How many albums is that, four? Gawd...four more times down the same, identical just-listenable totally uninspiring street. Just what I need as a guy who professes to do this stuff for fun.
Capn's Final Word: Has maybe one more clearly discernable good song, possibly two on a good day, but that don't butter mah bread, buster.
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Word of Mouth
- Velvel 1984
How many times is too many times, exactly? What should my tolerance be for Ray's crappy late period albums? Four iterations of essentially the same album? Five? At what point is it justified that I snap my psyche in two like a frozen Butterfinger and start slinging out F's and D-minuses out of pure frustration at the Kinks' complete inability not to release albums that sound like conscious attempts to make them candidates for the Least Interesting Band on the Planet? Just my luck, then, that I come across Word of Mouth, which is actually a terrible album. No more fighting with myself, wondering if I've missed something or underrated what people continue to insist is one of the greatest songwriters of our time. It gets stressful, you know, reviewing these albums I don't really like but have to grudgingly admit at least have a shred of something back in there connecting it with a formerly great career, even if its recycled, distilled, and repackaged for the MTV generation to regurgitate back up again in favor of A-ha and Hooters albums.
Well, Ray sure as hell isn't one of the greatest songwriters of my time, anyway. I was born in 1976, already four years since Ray put a stop to anyone ever referring to him as a 'genius' again, and probably 8 years after he deserved to be called that at all. But this is well-traveled ground in these here reviews, and I'm sure you're sick and tired of me telling you over and over how disappointing the last 20 years of the Kinks career was. To be sure, I'd like to say that the Kinks did, in fact, resist some of the worst urges of the Electrifried Eighties, as they staunchly refused to replace Mick Avory with an electronic drummer, never made an album as brittle as Dirty Work and never made an eardrum Holocaust quite as despicable as Press to Play. But saying you've never done anything as bad as Dirty Work while releasing a string of a half dozen albums no better than Undercover or Steel Wheels is sorta a funny way of showing your 'consistency' as a songwriter. So is not generating a single decent, completely new idea for the entire decade of the 1980's.
Anyway, I can breathe a sigh of desperate relief and let the rest of this stinking review write itself, because I have absolutely no doubt that Word of Mouth is simply one of the most awful moments of the Kinks career, packed with terribly conceived composites between the most plastic of plastic 80's production and misplaced, rootsy nostalgia ('Good Day'), grating, childish power-drill-into-skull heavy metal ('Word of Mouth'), sludge so sludgy it's near inaudible ('Sold Me Out'. If this song has more than two chords, I'll eat my pantyhose.), and Dave showing us why he's the Keith Moon of the vocal cords (except Keith Moon sang better) on the hyper-messy 'Guilty'. The album's single moment of true acceptability is 'Do It Again', which sounds like it was stolen from Pete Townshend's Empty Glass album, but as such has, you know, some personality and stuff. If pressed (into an iron maiden and not let out for three days, even to pee, forcing myself to pee all over my legs, which are covered in deep, festering puncture wounds anyway) I might admit that this song rocks, especially in concert, but don't get the impression that I'm overwhelmed or anything like that. The rest of the album is just unbearable. One moment they sound just as exciting as Dire Straits without the lead guitar, the next they sound like they're trying to channel Eric Carmen through a 'tearjerker' ballad with the emphasis on the second half. Plus, the whole thing has more of that now-patented bassless Kinks sound. Any bets on why these 80's Kinks albums are mixed so trebly they sound like bacon is frying right on the surface of your brain? Is it because Ray still held a grudge that John Dalton wasn't still playing bass? Well, don't be surprised if the next album doesn't have any drums in it, either, because Mick Avory was dropped from the group like an uncoordinated, 5' 11" white rookie center from walk-on day at training camp. Don't even get me started on Ray's 'sincerity' on this album - if Ray's ever gotten laid off from a factory, worked in a factory, or even looked at a factory except by accident as he's zoomed past it at 120 km/h in his Jaguar E-type through a school zone while eating stem-cell fetuses and chewing the horns off a fatally wounded Black Rhino, I'm a champion of the rights of businessmen to operate unencumbered by government regulation. Child labor laws and the minimum wage are so gauche, you know? Especially when you can just circumvent both of them by outsourcing your labor to Thai orphan slavery camps.
According to polls of myself (margin of error +/- one presidential election), the most dislikable thing about this album is the unbelievably bad job the band did in trying to continue to mix their bankrupt hard rock/loud guitars sound with their years-late attempts at modernization. I count three songs here that use the same ridiculous synth tone as was used on 'Come Dancing', except not a single one of those songs is a boppy, nostalgic throwaway in which such a cheesy synthtone might be acceptable. They're each tired-sounding mid-tempo 'rock' tossoffs, no doubt overdubbed with the aforementioned AssTone by Yamaha, Circa 1984 in a lame and cynical attempt to make them more 'commercial' and possibly save this album from the cutout bin hell it so clearly deserves. Word of Mouth is the laziest, least Kinks-y album by these guys yet, and one or two decent tunes can't overcome the brass eardums it takes to listen to the rest of this crapfest.
Capn's Final Word: Finally dropping off the mediocre fence and stating their allegiance to the worse things in life. It's nice to finally know where you stand, even when its in a large, steaming pile of yak turds.
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Think Visual - MCA 1986
Once again, let me just come right out with my positive statements about this album first - for a 1986 album, this makes a really good 1990 album. Ray's finally wised up to the painful production quality of his last, oh, four albums or so and decided to give this one a tiny little twist of the bass knob so there's some frequencies coming out of your speakers lower than those that make dogs roll around on their backs like the centerfold of Screw magazine. The drums are real, the quality is clear, the guitars no longer sound like sandpaper being slowly drug across the nerve endings in your cochlea, and Ray's still as underachieving as any 60's rock legend (if you can still call Ray a legend, that is). Think Visual isn't nearly as hateful as his worst torture implements, but it's still about as exciting as sitting next to Andy Rooney ('You know what? In the old days, an ass dildo was made out of unsanded mahogany. It weighed damn near 10 pounds and had a cold, metal handle. I had my first ass dildo for thirty five years, but lost it in 1967 when Harry Reasoner said he was going to be interviewing the Shah of Iran and wanted to borrow it for the trip. Never did get that ass dildo back. Yesterday, we went out and bought some ass dildos from a store today. Here they are. This one whistles 'Sweet Home Alabama'. This one looks like a bottle of Crystal champagne and features a 'fizzing' sensation. I don't know who would want that. There's even one that's based on former Giants Hall-of-Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor's very own genetalia. But no matter how hard we tried, we couldn't find one made out of unsanded hardwood. I finally had to resort to going to a furniture store and stealing an unfinished maple table leg right off the floor display. It wasn't quite mahogany, but it still worked. My inability to eat solid food last week was proof. I think there's something wrong when you can't buy a decent, splinter-ridden ass dildo to ram in your rectum in America nowadays.') at a tax seminar for 10 hours. Ray has the gall to name one of his songs 'Repetition', and says some nice words about 'starting over' and 'getting back where we started', but he ends up
THERE MUST BE SOME MIS-UN-DER-STANDING! THERE MUST BE SOME KINDA MISTAKE!!!
Sorry, just heard 'Sleazy Town' come on and I couldn't resist once again rubbing Ray's nose in the song he so shamelessy ripped off to make yet another filler tune on yet another Kinks album that only his hardcore fans care a good goddamn about. I wonder what it's like to be a hardcore Kinks fan. Is it like being a Deadhead that can't realize that the band spent more nights sucking its way through 'Hell in a Bucket' and the n-zillionth performance of 'New Minglewood Blues' than lighting the universe ablaze with a 'Other One'>'Dark Star'>'Space'>'Other One'>'Wharf Rat'>'Morning Dew' for the ages? How much disbelief do you have to suspend to be able to convince yourself 'Video Shop' is not one of the worst songs ever conceived in the Western world? Or that Ray has any understanding whatsoever of what it is to work in an actual factory instead of writing songs about it? Or that all these recycled riffs are really just some cosmic twist of fate, a 'misunderstanding' (heh), a coincidence of such humongous degree that Ray is able to generate the exact same riffs as some of his most talented (and not-so-talented) colleagues, and that he therefore ought to be held in higher regard than the people from which he steals because, obviously, he's able to write riffs just as well as they can. Except the evidence to the contrary is that most of his riffs are non-entities, two- and three-chord mayonnaise sandwiches that neither rock nor roll. Everyone always lays the critical stinkbomb on AC/DC that they not only recycle riffs, but also entire albums. Well, that's certainly true, and I don't think even AC/DC would deny it (though some of their stone-age fans would). There's only so many snappy double-entendres for fucking you can make in the A blues key. But AC/DC is stupid, fun music for stupid, fun people. Ray Davies and the Kinks are always trying to make some 'point' (even in their best days, their insistence on always having a 'message' was pretty annoying. Relief from this tendency was one of the reasons that Low Budget was so much fun.) and have a disturbing tendency to make themselves seem quite serious about what they're doing. The loss of Ray Davies' sense of humor back in the early 70's (around the same time he lost his ability to discern good from bad) was one of the more tragic losses in rock music. So when I hear an album like Think Visual, by no means a good record, is held up as something worthwhile by people as usually hard-nosed as Wilson and Allroy are, I have to wonder if A) I'm missing something (I seriously fucking doubt it) or B) people are so corrupted by what Davies did almost 40 years ago that they also can't discern that Ray's been coasting like a beer truck down the west slope of the Andes since the Nixon administration.
Allroy, by the way, also makes the outrageous claim that Word of Mouth has 'some strong tunes' (it has one okay one, and maybe one other that's just fair), and has the pure balls to call 'Living On A Thin Line' 'one of his best ballads ever'. No, sir. 'Waterloo Sunset' is one of Ray's best ballads ever. Maybe 'This Time Tomorrow'. 'Some Mother's Son', definitely. 'Thin Line' is a sad piece of trash drowning in its own sea of digitized slapback echo vomit and overbearing death-of-England lyrics, possibly one step above Momentary Lapse of Reason-era Pink Floyd, but probably not as good as what Asia or Alan Parsons Project were able to come up with the same year. You simply cannot confuse competence (of which Ray has had a pretty weak grasp) and brilliance. 'Thin Line' is competent professionalism, nothing more. Allroy also gives Mouth the same grade as Visual, which I think may just be signs of undiagnosed head trauma. As I seem to remember, Allroy's a paleontologist, a good one no doubt, but paleontologists are not usually subject to rigorous tests of their judgment in conducting their normal lives. This isolation makes his continued functionality with the alleged head trauma understandable. Wilson, on the other hand, is a physician or something else health-releated, with lives held in his hands. To my great relief, he's not the one giving these insane grades to latter-day Kinks albums. Lives could be at stake if he were. Dinosaurs are, luckily, already dead. There's not too much Allroy can do to screw them up when he's preoccupied with busily inventing new reasons why Ray Davies should not be considered a talentless has-been.
Anyway, while the sound may be better, the lame old tricks are still being pulled as hard as ever, and a couple more decent tracks towards the end don't cover up for Ray Davies' continued artistic lapse, by now dating to more than half his life.
Capn's Final Word: But doncha know? You gotta get with the program and call it a good record, because mediocrity is the new greatness! They played all these notes themselves, remember! Except for the ones played by someone else!
Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment FormGlenn firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: B Any Short Comments?: Yes, our resident critic IS missing something. There are at least three excellent tracks here, "Natural Gift," "How Are You?" and "When You Were a Child." Oddly, he fails to mention those songs. I used to play "When You Were a Child" for my friends back in high school (1987) and they used to walk around SINGING it very LOUDLY, and commenting on what a good song it was. Were THEY missing something? Maybe they were missing their brains. Another friend asked to borrow the CD in 1988 and I was lucky to get it back. I guess he was missing something too. Yet another friend used to tell me how the lines, "Get your attitude straight..." from the song "Think Visual" would get stuck in his head and he'd keep singing it all day at work. I KNOW that guy was missing something. Maybe our minds were just SO clouded from growing up in the 80's, and inhaling all the big-hair aerosol fumes that we couldn't tell good from bad anymore, just like Ray Davies. Maybe! ...Or maybe not.
email@example.com Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: The bass line of "How Are You" is lifted directly from "Tired of Waiting for You"! Tell the people! I guess it's a reasonably okay song, along with "Killing Time" which I like for reasons I'm not certain of, so that's why the C+.
I guess this is probably the nadir of Ray's cannibalization. Well, apart from "Destroyer". Though I think someone compared "Rock 'n' Roll Cities" to Def Leppard and they were probably right.
The Road - MCA 1988
The Kinks' live albums, now coming every 8 years whether we need them or not, are only as good as the material directly preceding them. See, the Kinks made a habit throughout their career of playing primarily their most-recent tunes in concert, say from the last three albums or so, giving up a smattering of human-jukebox greatest hits, and leaving the rest to rot. So if you like a particular era of Kinks music, getting the succeeding live album might make a sort of weird sense if you like live albums that aren't really very good. Kelvin Hall was noisy and messy, but who doesn't like hearing 'Sunny Afternoon' played at a zillion miles an hour by a bunch of teenagers hopped up on Blackpool sluts and reds? Everybody's In Showbiz was as even sloppier than the winning Muswell Hillbillies and lost out by skipping out on some of their best '68-70 material. One for the Road was a big, semi-ugly metal contrivance, but made a good show of the Low Budget songs, which seemed to be constructed especially for playing at ear-splitting volumes in arenas the night after Peter Frampton. The Road, in addition to having one of the most boring album titles (and covers!) in live album history, relies on the barrel-of-firecrackers excitement of albums like Give the People What They Want and Word of Mouth, and imagine my excitement of hearing the Kinks band comp through the despicable predatory contrivance 'Art Lover' once again. Or hear what I thought were unreleased tunes, until I realized they were actually just filler tracks on Think Visual. finished reviewing that album less than two hours ago, people. I also fail to see the humor in starting the album with not one ('Destroyer') but with two ('Destroyer' and 'Apeman') 'teaser' tracks, the first making the audience thing they're about to hear 'All Day and All Of The Night', and the second starting with ten bars or so of 'Lola' before going into the famous 'Lola' ripoff from the album of the same name. I mean, I'm all for spicing things up, but the Kinks take manipulating their audience to levels not seen since Lenny Bruce decided he didn't want to be funny anymore. I hate to invoke someone as smarmy as David Spade here, but imagine going to see Motley Crue and not hearing 'Shout At the Devil' or 'Dr. Feelgood', but instead being forced to sit through more than half of the Generation Swine album? (okay, considering most of you probably view Motley Crue as being somewhere less appealing than a nest of cockroaches moving into your underwear drawer, this maybe isn't the best of examples). How about if Neil Young had performed 'Greendale' on his last tour, but hadn't come back in the third set to play 'Hey Hey My My' or 'Tonight's The Night'? You'd want to hang his rock opera-fractured, model-train obsessed Canadian hippie-head on a stake outside the ampitheatre as a warning to other touring groups not to get cute, wouldn't you?
Oddly enough, the audience for The Rut sounds happy as little clams to have to hear 'Cliches of the World' or 'Lost and Found' instead of 'Victoria' or even 'Pressure', but I'm not. After monkeying around with the classics on One for the Road, the band returns to their usual practice of doing little to change how the songs are played from their original studio form (snotty 'Lola' tease notwithstanding), which means their Adult Contemporary whiteface synth pads are in full effect (and high volume), and Dave never really gets to let 'er rip even once.
To save this album from complete redundancy, Ray's put on two new tracks, both excessively long for Kinks songs (both over six minutes), one a studio recording and one done live. The live 'It' is a oddly-timed rocker that actually sounds pretty cool at times before it degrades into a sort of disco 'Carouselambra' instrumental nightmare about 4:30 through. Damn near becomes prog-rock, if you wanna believe that, and even then only if you wanna believe the Kinks have the chops to play that way (hint: they don't). The painfully autobiographical 'Road' takes all of Ray's baggage and dumps it right in our laps - he's absolutely defensive about his decision to keep trudging his way around, dragging the corpse of 'The Kinks' along with him (though half the guys he refers to in the song don't play with him anymore and he never actually says the name 'Mick Avory' though the guy played drums with him for almost 15 years shows me there's some issues here yet to be worked out). He also boldly, some would say idiotically, mentions his band as a peer to Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Led Zeppelin, and Free (Free? Alright, then. I guess he forgot to mention Blodwyn Pig), but mostly he has this veiled message that he's still on the hamster wheel because of pure inertia, and that he 'never thought he'd still be here'. Of course, the clincher line is 'It's just the dedicated followers of fashion who like putting down/ All the well respected men who came dancing and are still on the road', which I suppose throws a patronizing bone to the man's loyal fans who lap up anything he decides to wank onto a Kleenex on the way to the studio.
So, anyway, I guess my 'Ray Davies Fan' mask is slipping a bit, eh? It's a wonder I ever put it on in the first place, but just because you haven't seen land in 80 days doesn't mean that the port didn't look good the last time you were there. Forget what I said - much like the rest of what I've written about in the last several days, The Road is useless. For those 'well-respected men' only, but I have just one quiz question first: who exactly respects an uncritical Kinks fan? Answer: Ray Davies' accountant.
Capn's Final Word: Again the again? If we're on The Road after having One for the Road, shouldn't we still have a buzz? There's nothin' for an 80's-hater like me here.
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UK Jive - Virgin 1995
At the risk of having to come back and actually review one of these albums again, I'll have to abstain from reviewing my copy of UK Jive because it seems like several of the songs on my bootleg copy are cut short of their total, no doubt 100% essential, superb-quality running times. Rather that have my spotless credibility shot to ribbons because I'' write a review without knowing what the last two minutes of 'Loony Balloon' fucking sound like, I'll have to say I'll get back to this one. Sometime. Once I get $1.99 scraped together to get it off half.com, anyway. For some reason no one on Soulseek is sparing the 70 MB of hard drive space for it anymore.
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firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Surprise, surprise. Another good album from the Kinks late in their career. The songs "Now and Then," and "Looney Balloon," rank alongside some of their best songs ever. "Aggravation" is a grinding rocker which acts as the PERFECT musical metaphor for road rage, with cool lyrics like: "and I don't have any answers, I just got an attitude" and "The highway's blocked, is this my end, To follow a Mercedes Benz?" What other seasoned rock vets were writing nifty songs like the above this far into their careers? Aerosmith? The Stones? Hardly. Some of the lesser tracks tend toward a "generic" Kinks sound, but they're crafted so well ("What Are We Doing?" for example) that they sort of drift by pleasantly without causing too much fuss. A really good CD which was unjustly overlooked. If you can get it used... do it, 'cause it's out of print.
Phobia - Columbia 1993
Gawd, is this how it all ends? The band that brought you 'Shangri-La' and 'Lola' finally putting a screeching halt (well, maybe not 'screeching', since that infers that they've been going somewhere for the last two decades. How about 'sputtering' halt, then?) to their studio output with an updated version of the preschool heavy metalisms of Give The People What The Want, 11 years late and, if anything, even less appealing than the first time? There is really nothing I can say about Phobia that I haven't already said about Preservation, Act 1, Preservation, Act 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys In Disgrace, Sleepwalker, Misfits, Give the People What They Want, State of Confusion, Word of Mouth, Think Visual, tHraKaTAK, those John and Yoko albums featuring babies dying, that disco Sly and the Family Stone remix album, and me eating a stack of Hormel canned tamales and taping the results exiting from my posterior over a generic house beat and selling it to MTV as the new Ashlee Simpson six-part musical song suite. They once again jack the guitar distortion up so high it makes my eyeballs tremble, though instead of a glorious AC/DC Marshall crunch, it's this shrill, low-rent tinfoil dirt-pedal squeal that Dave wrenches from his poor guitar. Ray once again whines and gargles his way through 70 minutes of unrelenting negativity and nihilism, keeping an iron boot on the neck of the drummer so he never lets the tempo approach any level of excitement. It's hard for me to decide whether I hate the living Paul Carrack out of the opening 'Wall Of Fire' because it's so damn dreary and the Kinks strain so hard to be tough, or if its just a matter of Dave and Ray's voices mixing about as well as scotch and grapefruit juice. If one of the more enduring visions of misplaced machismo I've seen in my lifetime is a 60-plus year old, pruny Paul McCartney's anemic 'clinched fist' in his godawful 'Freedom' video for the godawful 'Freedom' song (written in support of George Bush's godawful, fascistic, bloodthirsty speeches following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001), Ray Davies contorting his voice to sound like a cross between Vince Neil and Neil Young comes a close second. None of these songs is any good, but yet they've fallen victim to C-D-isease and jacked up the running times of these songs to unprecedented lengths of the upper 4-minute variety. 'Phobia', quite possibly the worst song of the bunch, sounds like hair metal also-rans Cinderella. The ballads, like 'Only A Dream' (which, ironically enough, is thematically quite similar to a Muddy Waters version of a Big Bill Broonzy song I heard this morning called 'Just a Dream (On My Mind)', except that Muddy failed miserably at making a terrible song. Good job at the sucking, Kinks!) or 'Still Searching' are early 90's Wilson Phillips adult contemporary slime that I'm frankly quite surprised came from Ray Davies at all.
The worst part about Phobia is that Ray sounds undeniably old. Short-sighted slogans like 'Hope I Die Before I Get Old Enough To Draw Social Security While Out On Tour' aside, getting old is really not that much of a problem for a lot of musicians. At least, it doesn't have to be. Listen to Willie Nelson nowadays and tell me that getting old has somehow ruined his ability to put a song across. Or listen to B. B. King, or what Muddy was doing in his Sixties with Johnny Winter and such folks. Hell, even the Who sound better nowadays than they have in decades. Growing old only becomes problematic when you don't take to it gracefully, and at the time of Phobia, Ray Davies was doing it about as gracefully as a one-legged figure skater with an inner-ear infection. He was either pandering to some hazily remembered memory of the Kinks as 'hard rock pioneers' (which was only true for about a year or so anyway back in the mid-60's) or pandering to the tasteless programmers at VH-1 to throw on a video for a Kinks ballad in between Sheryl Crow's 'All I Wanna Do' and whatever Stink had pinched off on the carpet that year. The soft, old people rock angle is easy to see - that's just pure, unabashed selling out. It's the Kinks' unjustified clingage to hard rock that baffles me. Did Dave really like playing this way this much? If so, why didn't he ever try to develop himself beyond the ever-so-interesting 'three chord 4/4 riff'? I swear, the man sounds like a 15 year old kid running through the five or six open major chords he's memorized through a shitty Crate practice amp with the distortion set to 'Bumblebee'. This is exactly what Kinks rockers, with maybe two or three exceptions, have sounded like ever since 1982. Beit hard or soft, no one took the Kinks bone, however, and Phobia sank like the dead weight it was. Justice was served, and unless you were the stocker of a cutout bin, you never had to think about Phobia again.
Okay, let's all agree that Phobia is a piece of shit that you really have no need to buy, and further agree that the same applies to any of the albums I listed in the first paragraph. Now, let's get past that for a second and just revel in the fact that Phobia was so bad that even Ray and Dave couldn't deny it. They'd been keeping the Kinks jalopy crawling on fumes for so long, and they finally reached the speed bump they couldn't coast over. They put together a quickie live-in-the-studio career retrospective to cash in on the mid-90's Unplugged fad and, at last, called it a day. Can you possibly imagine what the followup to Phobia might've sounded like? It sure as hell wouldn't be Who's Next, I can pretty much fucking guarantee. Sadly enough, we can be sure it would sound EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME. Because, with tiny variations, EVERY KINKS ALBUM SINCE THE CONCEPT YEARS SOUNDS EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME. The Kinks never were very good at playing - it was all on the back of Ray Davies to write a memorable hook or three, and take a point of view and spin it in an original, often emotional way. Lemme tell you, that hasn't happened for a long goddamn time. Phobia's just the death rattle following the long, drawn out case of rock 'n' roll cancer.
Capn's Final Word: The Kinks finally give up the ghost, most likely by driving it out with an exorcism of really stupid heavy metal riffs. This album makes Kiss look like Metallica.
Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment FormGlenn Cuzzino@aol.com Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Slandered by critics, dismissed as clangorous hard rock by others, this album actually finds the Kinks, 30 years into their careers, damn-near the height of their lyrical and musical prowess. It's alternately haunting, angry and sad throughout, with tight playing and beautiful harmonies weaving it all together. Ray Davies' frail voice cries out like a beacon of humanity in a dark, pre-apocalyptic landscape. Standout tracks include 'Scattered', 'Only a Dream' and 'Still Searching'. Probably the "darkest" album the Kinks ever made, so if you're looking for the light, fluffy, "oh-so-english-and-quirky" Kinks, then you'd best look elsewhere.
To the Bone - Guardian 1996
Huh! So the Kinks can still play their classics with flair and respect! You just have to make them decide to finally break up before they do it, and even then they can't do it on a normal stage in front of drunken fans in sweat-stained vintage Schoolboys In Disgrace Tour 1976 t-shirts with their ample guts hanging out. They have to stock a studio with pals and play on a soundstage, and then they're all good to finally, you know, play some. If this makes it sound like this is Kinks Under Glass instead of caught in the moment, you're dead on. This makes tracks like the acoustic 'Village Green Preservation Society' sound somewhat like museum pieces, but since Ray and Dave's relationship as re: Kinks was already so strained as to make Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth look like Donny and Marie Osmond, this is probably the very best they could do. And you know what? While it doesn't really light my ass ablaze with rock excitement, I certainly don't mind a few well-mannered (and extremely well sung - good job Ray!) acoustic performances of brilliant classics like a slowed-down 'Do You Remember Walter' with some accordions and stuff to add that folky, old-timey feel. Ray does 'Sunny Afternoon' by himself, and if you want more of that you can dig his highly similar solo Storytellers album he did after selling his soul for 100 grand and a bag of crisps to the VH-1 channel in 1998. Storytellers has some cool stories, but you could probably get those cheaper by just reading his entertaining and grumpy 'semi-autobiography' X-Ray, but I won't try to stop you or anything.
Surprise of surprises, they finally play 'Lola' straight (albeit acoustic) after years of teasing us with audience chants and 'the Banana Boat Song', and bring out the grindy bastard fuzz guitars for some blasts through teeth-gritters like 'Til the End Of the Day' and one of the toughest versions of 'You Really Got Me' ever put on tape, and they play their heavy electric material with verve, dexterity, and spirit instead of snot and vinegar like on One For the Road. 'Give the People What they Wanted Fifteen Years Ago' is cleaned up into a fairly decent straight-ahead rocker, and 'Do It Again' remains the complete abomination from the consistent failure that is Word of Mouth. Hell, I'd even say it's all good, except 'State of Confusion' still bites my asshair out in little clumps, and some acoustic renditions (a country blues 'Gallon of Gas'?) make little sense. Then, of course, there's the fact that most acoustic songs begin to sounds quite a bit like one another after awhile, but I still gotta say the Kinks never really sounded better on a live disc. There's also two new tracks, and they sound like they somehow broke out of UK Jive, became fugitives for five years, and finally got hauled in to perform their dirty duty on this album. Nothin' special, you know, especially after such a fine time as the rest of this album presents us, though there are some nice guitar leads on the Tom Petty-ish 'Animal'. Dave rolls on.
To clean up their image and end on a happy, musically respectable note, To the Bone is rivaled only by Black Sabbath's Reunion as an 'apologetic elegy' in rock music. Obviously the brothers knew it was the end for the Kinks, and I'd like to give 'em a hand for giving their band a nice final bow. They don't really add much to their reputation with this album (especially the new songs), but fans and neophytes alike will probably find much to enjoy on here. To think that the Kinks still had this kind of performance in them after sitting through godawful crud like The Road chafes me as much as it surprises me, but whatever. Let it be.
Capn's Final Word: The Kinks are dead, long live the Kinks. Long 'live' Kinks.
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