There's precious little on the Kinks' eponymous debut to indicate that they would go on to become one of the greatest groups in the history of rock. In fact, there's virtually nothing that betrays much in the way of talent on the album, as Kinks is simply garage rock at its most generic, rendering the material derivative, pedestrian and painfully primitive.
The balance of covers and originals is far more even than on products like the Stones' debut, and while it's admirable that the band had enough confidence in their songwriting abilities to place six of their own compositions on their first outing there's little in the way correlations between this confidence and the actual quality of most of the songs.
The original content on the album is simply forgettable, rudimentary and nondescript, pseudo-competent rehashes of other songs of their era. There's virtually no creativity or individuality on the record, as the band is mired in conformity, cranking out tracks that could be derived from any number of other garage rock products.
The originals don't mar the album, however, as the covers are equally substandard; the Kinks lacked the instrumental chops or personality of rock outfits like the Stones and the Animals, and thus were ill equipped to translate these rock staples into anything new or impressive. The band's musicianship is sorely lacking, a predicament that couldn't even be salvaged by the sporadic guest appearances of the Yardbird's and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.
Despite these defects the album does contain one classic, however; the single that transfigured this obscure, humble garage rock group into instant superstars is present on the record, and while it can't hope to save the album from the depths of mediocrity it at least cushions the blow of an unadvisable purchase.
The song I'm alluding to, of course, is the proto-hard rock anthem You Really Got Me, complete with its simple but infectious riff and its unprecedented heavy guitar tone. The song is admittedly beyond primitive, with its clichéd lyrics and one note guitar solo, but it manages to be brilliant in its simplicity, not to mention its hugely influential status as the genesis of the subsequent hard rock movement.
The bonus tracks are similarly poor, save All Day And All Of The Night which, while a thinly veiled bordering on overtly transparent remake of You Really Got Me, at least manages to recapture the rock and roll excitement of its predecessor.
It appeared that the Kinks were removed from the confines of their anonymous garage existence too quickly, not giving them the chance to refine their craft before being introduced to a massive audience. While You Really Got Me was the catalyst for their instant rise to superstardom it was largely a fluke, as the band simply happened to stumble upon a great new sound without concurrently honing their own skills to an adequate level. As a result they largely embarrass themselves on the album, with their amateurish songwriting skills and barely passable musicianship.
Worse than their instrumental chops, however, were the vocals. Ray Davies had yet to develop his vocals and thus comes across as insecure and inhibited, a far cry from the later expressiveness of his singing, but the real problem is his brother, guitarist Dave Davies, whose noxious vocals are nearly unendurable. On subsequent releases he'd greatly improve his abilities as a vocalist, but for now he inherently sabotages any track he handles vocals on, with said vocals coming across as consummately grating and aurally destructive with nary a merit to redeem them.
The Kinks simply had little of worth to offer their audience at this embryonic stage of their career. Between the lack of strong songwriting and performances there's little to distinguish them from the endless onslaught of generic garage rockers with delusions of grandeur. While they would eventually break out of this mold for the time being they were just another garage rock band, with all of the innate flaws endemic to this categorization.
While still a far cry from their peak, the Kinks show tangible progression on this album; the songs predominantly remain somewhat forgettable, but for the most they're substantially more entertaining while they're on, plus the record contains noticeably more diversity, from the moody, acoustic guitar driven Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl to the bonus track See My Friends, one of rock music's first heavily Indian inspired numbers complete with sitar emulating guitars.
The tracks on Kinda Kinks simply seem to betray more interesting ideas this time around, as opposed to the sonic uniformity of their debut. The Davies brothers had yet to master the art of crafting memorable melodies, but at least they exhibit signs of advancement; while far from perfect the majority of the melodies are at least purely original, with only a modicum of borrowing ideas from other sources.
Furthermore the absence of Jimmy Page forced the group to polish their instrumental skills, and while far from virtuosos they certainly demonstrate superior musicianship on this outing. Even Dave Davies delivers some tolerable vocals, though the nadir of the album, the cover Naggin' Woman, features the worst singing of his career, which is saying quite a lot.
One definite sign of improvement is that the originals are vastly superior to the covers. Admittedly part of this can likely be attributed to their inadequacy at conjuring effective arrangements for their covers while the primitive originals are more their speed; lacking sophisticated instrumentation they could do little to make the covers their own, whereas their originals demanded little in the way of instrumental skills from them. Nevertheless it's refreshing that the album only boasts two covers, and that amongst the remaining originals there are no actively bad tracks.
Like their debut Kinda Kinks has one song that far exceeds its brethren from a qualitative perspective. In this case it's the ballad Tired Of Waiting For You, complete with the band's best vocal melody to this point in their careers. As on most of the tracks of the album Ray Davies' vocals have dramatically improved, and his singing perfectly matches the mood of the song.
Most fans' copies of the album are greatly ameliorated by a plethora of singles and EP derived bonus tracks, but I have no such luck, as my version contains a mere four additional cuts. Ergo I can only assess Kinda Kinks on the basis of the tracks available to me, and save for See My Friends the extras on my copy do little raise my estimation of the album, featuring songs like the third You Really Got Me rewrite I Need You which manages to be vastly inferior to both of its predecessors.
Thus Kinda Kinks is a thoroughly decent affair and a significant artistic step up from their debut. It remains deeply flawed, as it's difficult to retain much beyond Tired Of Waiting For You (for qualitative reasons) and See My Friends (for stylistic reasons). The band had improved, but they'd have to improve far more to distinguish themselves as more than a solid garage rock outfit.
Ultimately what's most important, however, is that Kinda Kinks is an enjoyable listen, which is more than I can say for the majority of their debut. Save for Naggin' Woman the album has no painful moments, while as far as highlights go Tired Of Waiting For You is certainly a more mature, complex alternative to You Really Got Me.
Thus on Kinda Kinks the band's innate, latent talent begins to show through, pointing a way to a greater future that, while it may seem distant, actually arrived unexpectedly soon for the group.
While Kinda Kinks was thoroughly decent and their eponymous debut was certainly listenable, The Kink Kontroversy was the band's first truly good album. The caliber of the songwriting, which had been slowly progressing since the group's inception, had reached a level where most of the group's songs are distinctive and interesting, and while they're far from classics their melodies are generally solid if not especially memorable.
The Kinks' musicianship had also come a long way, as is signified by the opener, the album's lone cover Milk Cow Blues. While they were still far from instrumental virtuosos they managed to cultivate a healthy level of rock and roll excitement, something they were unable to communicate in their previous covers.
Dave Davies voice had likewise become somewhat more palatable, while his brother had reached a point where he was able to sustain ballads through his expressive vocals alone, hence tracks like the pretty Ring The Bells which, while rather familiar and prosaic alone, is transfigured into a moving affair thanks to Ray Davies' emotional performance.
The songs are simply more developed and individualistic on this outing; even some of the more generic, rudimentary tracks, like the derivative and rather basic Gotta Get The First Plane Home possess some appeal; the song is far from a masterpiece, but it rocks enough and is imbued with sufficient personality that it feels like a cut above their usual filler.
Highlights include the rocker Till The End Of The Day; as is invariably the case, it owes a lot to You Really Got Me, but it employs its inspiration as a foundation rather than a template to religiously adhere to, and thus the track has its own identity and charms.
Elsewhere the bonus track Dedicated Follower Of Fashion is a precursor to the band's subsequent style, satirizing the pompous world of patrician values and social conformity. Whereas in the future it often feels like every Kinks song is oriented around clever if somewhat heavy-handed social commentary, at this point songs of that nature were truly scarce on their releases, helping to differentiate the song from the other tracks on the album.
Ultimately The Kink Kontroversy is quite a solid listening experience, bringing the band one step closer to their signature sound. The album's far from a masterpiece, as it's difficult to retain many of its melodies and the overall quality is still far removed from their classic period, but it works as a logical successor to Kinks and Kinda Kinks. With each subsequent release the band betrayed signs of growth, and this record is no exception to that rule.
While it's understandable if someone opts to bypass the group's earliest output in favor of heading directly into the band's golden age, I can't really advocate that course of action. The Kinks had committed some quality material to tape on their first three outings, and it would be a pity to miss them due to a lack of patience for the band's lesser work. This initial trio is obviously eclipsed by the group's future genius, but if one has the tolerance to endure some substandard material in order to experience a few hidden gems then by all means they should seek out the genesis of the Kinks' sound.
Face To Face offers an unprecedented leap over the quality of The Kink Kontroversy, as Ray Davies went from penning moderately catchy garage rock tunes to composing timeless classics. While The Kink Kontroversy betrayed a healthy level of talent it offered no clues that the group was capable of delivering a product of this staggering quality, and this instant maturation poses a truly mystifying rock and roll phenomenon.
There's a radical musical paradigm shift between Face To Face and its predecessors, as the group is suddenly transfigured from a conventional garage rock outfit to purveyors of the newly blossoming Britpop movement. Face To Face contains everything from the occasional garage rock tune to moving ballads to cynical social commentary and satire to whimsical pop to the aforementioned Britpop tendencies, as the album proves a far cry from the uniformity of their earlier work.
As influential as the album is in providing the roots for Britpop, it was set to be a far more revolutionary endeavor than it ultimately ended up as; Face To Face was originally intended to be a concept album, with interstitial spoken sections and with myriad sound effects to accent the plot. The studio wasn't terribly thrilled with this risky prospect, however, and thus the dialogue segues between tracks were universally excised. The only remnants of the album's earlier incarnation lie with the fact that several sound effects, though divorced from their original context, are retained on the record, from the ringing telephone that opens the album and functions as a prelude to Party Line to the storm effects on Rainy Day In June.
While it's a pity that the original form of the album was destined to never surface, the album certainly functions brilliantly even if it's a mere selection of songs as opposed to a huge artistic statement. There's obviously no shame in this equation, and the band was afforded many more opportunities to craft concept albums in the future (at a certain point it felt like all the Kinks could do were concept albums, as Ray Davies got a tad carried away in the artistic department).
What matters, needless to say, is the quality of the songwriting, and on this album it's universally strong. There are no covers, as there's no need for them; Ray Davies had reached a point where he could easily sustain an entire album with his aptitude for composing, requiring no additional help to pad the record.
Nearly every song constitutes at least a minor classic, thus making the selection of highlights a somewhat problematic affair. Nevertheless Rosie Won't You Please Come Home is emotionally devastating, as Ray Davies' vocal perfectly convey the pathos of the situation, Dandy is an amusing interlude, Rainy Day In June is a haunting, menacing number with chimerical allusions, Little Miss Queen Of Darkness is an inviting music hall send-up and Sunny Afternoon is Britpop at its absolute finest, combining a stunning melody with a uniquely British flavor.
Thus the album's selection of tracks is certainly impressive enough, but the record is further ameliorated with its absolutely incredible extra bonus tracks. I'm Not Like Everybody Else is Dave Davies finest hour as a vocalist, not to mention a superb individualist anthem with an exceptional vocal melody, Dead End Street is a hyper catchy account of living in poverty and Mr. Pleasant is a charming depiction of a well respected man's downward spiral, a pretty typical topic for a Kinks song but one that's handled well enough to make it yet another classic. The remaining bonus tracks are strong, particularly Big Black Smoke, but they fail to achieve the level of this spectacular triumvirate.
At any rate the band had come a long way from endlessly remaking You Really Got Me and passing it off as a new composition. They had shed the trappings of their garage rock origins, enabling them to enter into a whole new world of music. This musical freedom is apparent throughout the album, as the Kinks embrace a plethora of new modes of expression. The most prominent stylistic addition is, of course, the introduction of Britpop into the proceedings, a genre that would carry them through myriad future endeavors. This style complements Ray Davies' songwriting quite well, as on Face To Face he displays his terrific ear for melodies, a facet that hadn't been quite developed enough to animate his earlier work.
Thus Face To Face is the band's first truly timeless work, a masterpiece of the highest order. Blending brilliant melodies, far more intelligent lyrics and more stylistic diversity (not to mention far better production that effectively dispels any lingering traces of their erstwhile garage rock sound), the album towers above their prior outings, overshadowing everything in its wake.
The band's initial trio of albums certainly had their merits, and I would still recommend them to fans of the group, but there's no question that Face To Face is an unbelievable progression over their preceding work, an artistic triumph that marked the beginning of the Kinks' golden age.
Something Else By The Kinks is often heralded as the band's finest hour, an assertion that simply mystifies me; while it's certainly an excellent product, I find it to be weaker than the albums that bookmark it, a far more erratic outing than many of the immaculate records culled from the group's classic period.
While consistency issues detract from the overall experience of Something Else By The Kinks, it's still an eminently worthy offering from the band. The group's lyrics continue to grow more and more sophisticated with each passing album, as the Kinks trade in their generic, primitive love songs and simplistic, pedestrian teen angst anthems for intelligent, insightful and thoughtful lyrics, be they satires of high class society, assaults on social injustices or introspective meditations.
Thus while the lyrics are unimpeachable the group's songwriting fails them on occasion, a far cry from the album's filler free predecessor. The group certainly pen some extraordinary melodies, from the charming opener David Watts to Dave Davies' Death Of A Clown, a number second only to I'm Not Like Everybody Else in his repertoire, to the infectious narcotics sing-along Harry Rag to the catchy Tin Soldier Man to Situation Vacant, a track made by its irresistible organ passages, to Afternoon Tea with its unforgettable refrain to the album's magnum opus, the consummately gorgeous Waterloo Sunset.
While none of the remaining material is anywhere approaching bad, they're simply on a lower level than the album's highlight, and thus suffer due to the contrast. Two Sisters is an unusually simplistic and reductive dissection of the dichotomy between an archetypal housewife/mother and her liberated sister, with no real hooks to speak of, while tracks like No Return and Funny Face are wholly unremarkable, with little in the melody department to distinguish them from the other numbers.
Another notable defect is the album's dearth of variety. Face To Face was hardly a cornucopia of disparate styles but it at least attempted to somewhat vary the tone with tracks like the pathos ridden Rosie Won't You Please Come Home and Rainy Day In June with its ominous atmosphere.
Something Else By The Kinks, however, is rather uniform in its stylistic approach. Britpop is still the group's modality of choice, with precious few deviations from that formula. The arrangements still owe a lot to British music hall fare, infusing a measure of monotony into the proceedings.
Nevertheless Something Else By The Kinks remains an excellent outing, depicting a continuing evolution in the lyrics department while the songwriting remains, for the most part, highly strong and compelling. The aforementioned highlights betray the group's flair for composing stellar melodies, while the album's filler is far from offensive.
Thus the album is another masterpiece, indicative of the massive level of talent and creativity the band brings to its classic period outings. While a step down from Face To Face, Something Else By The Kinks remains a masterful showing from the group, an artistic triumph from a band that used to be more concerned with rocking out than anything to do with artistry.
It goes without saying that the album is an essential purchase for any fan of the Kinks, depicting an important step in the band's development. It may be somewhat overrated but it's still a superb product, as the band was on a quality streak that would sustain them for quite some time, and once it was over could never be captured or duplicated again.
Due to their aborted attempt on Face To Face, The Village Green Preservation Society ended up assuming the title of the Kinks' first concept album. The album is drenched in nostalgia for a bygone era, bemoaning the loss of the simpler life one could inhabit in a less complex epoch.
While it's difficult to attribute any degree of sincerity to this supposed longing for a departed zeitgeist allegedly harbored by the band, the premise makes for an excellent foundation for the album, offering a template of diverse retro facets around which to construct catchy melodies and clever lyrics.
Compounding its status as a concept album is the fact that, for the first time, the record is a single man's vision; setting a precedent for many of their future endeavors, Dave Davies is exiled from the creative aspect of the LP, leaving his brother to compose each and every number on the album. It's unlikely that Dave Davies would have been compatible with the sound of the album, as this type of nostalgic excursion is more in keeping with Ray's forte.
Furthermore, Ray Davies has grown even further as a songwriter, conjuring a plethora of memorable melodies and an array of stunning hooks, all infused with the album's charming atmosphere. The album is far more consistent than its immediate predecessor, bereft of filler and with a veritable onslaught of compelling, unforgettable highlights.
The title track is a wonderful anthem that initiates the concept of the album, with the band posing as protectors of a forgotten lifestyle seeking to defend their traditional values from the imminent Draconian invasion of modernization and progress. The song itself is highly catchy and genial, a deeply welcoming way to start the album with its quaint charm and inviting atmosphere.
Nostalgia persists as the reigning theme on the album with the second track, Do You Remember Walter? on which the singer recalls a friend of days long past, while Picture Book furthers this motif with families' attempts to immortalize their experiences through the medium of old photos.
Elsewhere the bluesy Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains has a heavier sound than anything else on the album, while Johnny Thunder boasts a memorable, infectious chorus. Big Sky sees Ray Davies reciting as opposed to singing, but that works well in this context, while the group grow increasingly and somewhat incongruously whimsical with an account of an anthropomorphic feline appropriately enough entitled Phenomenal Cat.
For added diversity there's Monica accented with its irresistible exaggerated, stuttered vocals, while Wicked Annabella is one of the few dark tunes that also rocks considerably more than anything else on the album.
Truth be told the album is overflowing with classics, with nary a misfire to be found. Diverse, catchy and intelligent, it's difficult to find fault with the record. The conceptuality may be ancillary to the album's overall purpose, as once more, in the long run, it's simply a collection of excellent songs, but this doesn't matter; the album has more than enough substance to get by even without a unifying theme. Yet even if it's not the album's main goal, the concept helps give the album form, dictating the styles and providing effective framework for the record's overall sound. In a sense the concept is simply the album's inspiration, a catalyst for the nature of the LP as opposed to a profound, insightful artistic and social statement in and of itself.
In all The Village Green Preservation Society is an incredible product, filled with magnificent songwriting and excellent lyrics. Ray Davies was at his peak as a songwriter, and the emergence of his innate, latent dictatorial tendencies adds to the album's overall cohesiveness. The record is a true masterpiece, representative of a group at the pinnacle of their abilities. Ray Davies even makes his debut in the capacity of a producer, ensuring that every note conforms to his bold vision.
Thus the album is essential for any fan, be they diehard or casual, of the group, a brilliant masterwork that, in the height of its idiosyncratic nature, could only have been crafted by the Kinks. Rather than worry about hip posturing the band took a chance with this defiantly untrendy work, and while, predictably enough, it failed them from a commercial and critical standpoint, it was a resounding success from an artistic one, displaying the multifaceted glory of the band.
Film soundtracks tend to be rather pedestrian fare, betraying little in the way of effort or creativity; they're simply opportunities for rock stars to cash in while investing only a modicum of time and care into the creative process, perhaps penning a few rudimentary instrumentals and the occasional song with a only tenuous connection to the movie it accompanies at best.
Even some of the better soundtracks, like Dylan's score for Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, are still rather underwhelming efforts, making it abundantly clear that the artist only applied a fraction of the time and energy to composing the tunes that he would on a real album.
That's precisely what makes it so astonishing that the Kinks' magnum opus, the pinnacle of their illustrious career, is a mere soundtrack to a BBC film that was ultimately never even made.
Arthur is far from a cheap payday for the group; on the contrary, it was as meticulously crafted and carefully composed as any of the standard albums in the Kinks' massive discography. The band fully devoted themselves to the project, cutting no corners or shirking the toil necessary to create a great album.
Thus, soundtrack or not, Arthur is the band's finest hour, filled with brilliant songwriting and masterful performances. The music is growing progressively complex, as myriad songs are multi-part affairs, with each section carefully developed and constructed, displaying the artistic growth of the band.
Nearly every song is a classic; the opener Victoria is a clear indication of what's to come with its biting, satirical lyrics and infectious melody, while the subsequent track, Yes Sir, No Sir is a cynical suite condemning the dictatorial officers in the military. Some Mother's Son is a deeply moving, devastating tale of the grief of those whose loved ones perished in battle, while its follow up Drivin' offers a brief reprieve from the serious subject matter with a cute, bouncy melody and inconsequential lyrics.
Brainwashed is a precursor to punk with its primitive riff and angry lyrics, more potent, energetic and sincere in this capacity than most actual punk songs, while Australia starts off as an amusing ad for the allegedly utopic country that segues into an entertaining jam, the only one of its type on the album.
The opener of side two, Shangri-la, is the album's masterpiece, an excellent multi-part song that shifts between majestic pathos, a rocking interlude and some bouncy instrumental breaks, all while managing to retain the song's focus and cohesive vision, while Mr. Churchill Says deftly alternates between slow and fast, heavier sections. She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina is quintessential Kinks with its penetrating send-up of the world of fashion, while Young And Innocent Days is a pretty, touching ballad.
Nothing To Say is catchy with a great hook in the refrain, and the album's closer, the title track, has a great riff and an upbeat melody.
Every track is the product of brilliant songwriting and musicianship, as the album is overflowing with creativity and musical ideas. The lyrics are likewise excellent, alternatingly witty, moving and insightful, while Ray Davies is in top form as a vocalist throughout.
Ray Davies retains his monopoly on the creative front, penning every track himself, and thus the album is the product of his musical genius. The album is wholly devoid of filler, and even the customarily derided parts like the jam on Australia ultimately prove themselves to be quite good as well.
Ergo Arthur is an incredible artistic achievement, endemic of the best the Kinks have to offer. Its status as a soundtrack, rather than acting as the catalyst for a half-hearted effort, helps give the album focus and form, as their adherence to the film's story helps shape and pace the record, making it feel more like a cohesive vision and likewise engendering added meaning and purpose to each track. While The Village Green Preservation Society was a concept album, it lacked the overarching structure that supports Arthur, and while this conceptual unity is quite intriguing and enjoyable it's still fortunate that the latter album can still be appreciated even if one neglects or ignores the storyline of the film.
Thus Arthur is a true classic, depicting the Kinks at their zenith as a rock group. While The Village Green Preservation Society is likewise a masterpiece, Arthur manages to surpass it with its somewhat superior track selection, not to mention the fact that, while the former didn't suffer for it, it's refreshing to see the Kinks cease the abstinence from rocking exercised on that album.
The Kinks could simply do no wrong during their classic period, and Arthur is a product of that incredible streak of quality. Criminally obscure, Arthur is a necessity for any rock collection, boasting fabulous melodies and superb lyrics, not to mention anticipating phenomena like the punk movement long before their explosion onto the music scene. Arthur is quite simply an amazing musical achievement, as a soundtrack, a concept album and a simple collection of great songs.
Needless to say LVP is a concept album, as Ray Davies seemed incapable of producing a record that lacked conceptual pretensions once he initiated the streak with The Village Green Preservation Society. Not every song adheres to the album's concept, but enough of the record is devoted to the theme to earn the record official conceptual status.
The concept is a, rather heavy-handed, indictment of the music industry, ridiculing the greedy suits, false friends and obsequious parasites inherent to the record business.
Unfortunately, Ray Davies apparently felt that the concept (and thus the lyrics) took precedence over the music, thus breeding myriad songs that are alternately bland, hookless or irredeemably primitive.
This situation is exemplified by tracks like Top Of The Pops, which features the kind of garage rock treatment that the band had outgrown long ago. Its primary riff is consummately basic to the extent that it's wholly interchangeable with a plethora of other similar forays into musical primitivism, while its secondary riff is brilliant but sadly directly lifted from Land Of A Thousand Dances.
The lyrics to the conceptual side of the album are decent, but too simplistic and ham-fisted to amount to much other than an outlet for Ray Davies to express his anger and frustration. There's little in the way of subtlety or insight; the lyrics are still intelligent, as at this stage of his career Ray Davies was incapable of anything less, but amidst his vitriolic invective there's precious little underlying depth or complexity to speak of.
As far as the conceptual tracks go, Powerman is easily the best, a catchy riff rocker with an irresistible refrain. As a depiction of money grubbing businessman it's somewhat predictable and rudimentary, but while the melodies are usually ignored in favor of the lyrics in this case the music helps complement the subject matter.
As far as tracks that don't compose part of Ray Davies' polemical, bitter vision, songs like This Time Tomorrow and A Long Way From Home are simply bland and hookless, lacking the innate charm and expressiveness that most Ray Davies ballads are imbued with.
Fortunately there are still some top tier Ray Davies songs to be found on the album. Lola is the band's signature song, a hyper catchy sing-along describing an encounter with a transvestite. The track is simply infectious, irrevocably branding itself into the listener's mind.
Elsewhere Apeman is another staple of the band, a whimsical outcry against the tension and complexity of modern life, wishing for a far simpler existence. It packs hooks galore in the best tradition of Ray Davies' songwriting.
Another plus is that after a two album songwriting hiatus Dave Davies reasserts himself as a prominent creative force in the band, penning two numbers that are both quite good. Strangers is a lovely ballad with a memorable if somewhat awkward refrain, while Rats is a great riff rocker that rivals his brother's similar contribution Powerman. His singing has progressed a long way since his grating vocal treatments on their early work, while his songwriting has reached a point where his offerings can comfortably sit alongside the work of his more talented sibling.
Overall LVP is a somewhat disappointing effort when compared to its predecessors, but it remains a very good listen. Ray Davies' songwriting is more erratic than it had been in the past, and his loftier ambitions sometimes get in the way of crafting solid melodies, but nevertheless the album is quite strong, boasting classics like Lola and Apeman. His attempt to skewer the music industry is disappointingly straightforward and predictable, while his melodies suffer from the attention given to his lyrics, not to mention his generic ballads that come across as little more than filler, but the album is strong enough to persevere beyond these defects, resulting in yet another triumph for the band.
Between the two brothers there's enough quality material to compensate for the lesser content, and nothing on the album is the least bit offensive, plus his condemnation of the music industry isn't bereft of compelling ideas and intelligent elements. The record certainly isn't as instantly attractive as the last four albums, but repeated listens prove that there remains much to be lauded about LVP, and that it's worthy of its place in the Kinks' golden years.
Rather than functioning as a self-contained album in its own right like Arthur, Percy is transparently a soundtrack, with all of the defects and limitations generally endemic to the medium. The soundtrack to Percy sheds little light on the film's story when experienced independently of its cinematic inspiration, while many of the songs have little meaning when divorced from their original context.
Percy is simply a standard film score, predominantly composed of instrumentals and suffering from a dearth of overall depth or substance. This may not seem like a fair complaint to leverage against a soundtrack, as these deficiencies are customarily inherent to the art form, but on Arthur the Kinks proved that far more could be done with an album of this nature and thus this regression to the medium's norm comes across as somewhat disappointing.
Nevertheless Percy is actually a very good album in its own right. Nearly all of the instrumentals are quite, even unexpectedly, well written, with well crafted melodies and a great deal of diversity. While they're rather consistent the standout is an instrumental, and far heavier than the original, rendition of Lola, transfiguring the Kinks' classic tale of a transvestite into an entertaining rocker.
Most of the songs are rather strong as well; the opener, God's Children, is grating with its religious subtext, but remains a compelling, melodic offering, Moments is over orchestrated but still pretty and Animals In The Zoo is an enjoyable, more whimsical interlude in a similar vein as the band's classic Apeman.
The album, by virtue of its soundtrack status, is innately slight, but it still proves quite entertaining in the long run, as while the level of craftsmanship evident on Arthur is conspicuously absent here it's still apparent that the band devoted some serious effort into the lyrics and melodies on Percy.
The film itself centered around a penile transplant, though this is hardly discernable from the soundtrack (though it's far easier to infer when looking at the cover), and ultimately it scarcely matters; while the soundtrack is certainly meant to accompany the movie, without having the film on hand to complement it the only real way to appreciate the album is to treat it as an independent project, enjoying it for its musical merits as opposed to attempting to educe facts and clues about the source material from it.
Thus Percy is a solid outing; it's likely the worst of the Kinks' output during their classic period by a wide margin but it remains a perfectly entertaining musical entity. The tracks are well written and well performed, further ameliorated by the fact that on the instrumentals, as Ray Davies can't hide behind his lyrics as he had been as of late, he's forced to compose comparatively complex, engaging melodies as opposed to the simplistic garage rock fare that often surfaced on LVP.
Ultimately Percy is well worth a listen from any Kinks fan; while there's a stigma to its role as a typical film soundtrack, this is hardly an insurmountable barrier to the listener's enjoyment, and if one manages to overcome it they'll find that there's much to laud about the album, even if it is decidedly lighter fare when contrasted with the band's recent parade of deeply serious, artistic epics.
Muswell Hillbillies is the Kinks' debut on the RCA label, and most likely isn't what the record company was hoping for. Instead of a singles oriented rock album they received an LP quite unlike anything else, a defiantly uncommercial record with no analogs in the world of rock music.
Muswell Hillbillies is a marriage of American style ragtime and jazz and lyrics with a uniquely British sensibility, a bizarre and somewhat counterintuitive fusion that nonetheless works brilliantly on the album.
In order to pull off the American jazz aspect of the sound the Kinks recruited a jazz trio who proceeded to accompany them on this and subsequent outings, while the band achieved a mastery of ragtime dynamics to enable them to deftly pull off this idiosyncratic musical paradigm.
Another chief component of the album is its sense of humor, be it in the Kinks' satire of dieting fads Skin & Bone, the whimsical nostalgia of his grandmother's universal remedy on Have A Cuppa Tea or the group's amusing portrait of the unhinged imaginings of a somewhat unstable and diseased mind on Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues.
This isn't to say that the album is bereft of serious moments, as songs like Alcohol treat their subject matter with far more gravity than the coruscations of wit that compose many other tracks, but the emphasis is squarely on black comedy, an area in which the band had already proven that they excel.
The songwriting is uniformly excellent, as the humorous lyrics are always accompanied by catchy, well crafted music, from the infectious refrain on Have A Cuppa Tea to the bouncy sing-along Skin & Bone to the despairing vocal melodies on Alcohol to the album's solitary true rock song 20th Century Man to the anthemic Muswell Hillbilly.
The album had little hope of mainstream success with its refusal to adhere to any musical fad, either past or present; there was hardly a market for such an eccentric project, a record following no discernable trend or even clinging to a known style. The music can't be called dated as it resembles nothing that preceded, rendering it an anomaly in the music world, thus irrevocably consigning it to the fate of obscurity and unrewarded merit.
Myriad Kinks masterpieces were afflicted with a similar fate, evading musical clichés and conventions and thus alienating any prospective audience. This is truly a tragedy, as albums like Muswell Hillbillies are absolute classics, meticulously crafted and performed with no sin save not bowing to conformity.
Between its hilarious, often scathing lyrics and its high quality melodies Muswell Hillbillies is an unforgettable experience, as the jazz and ragtime elements and this British flavor gel, contrary to expectations, with the utmost precision and fluidity, as if these dynamics were always meant to collide and merge.
Thus Muswell Hillbillies is another essential Kinks purchase, a profoundly clever and entertaining outing unlike anything else in the band's discography, or even outside of it. As on The Village Green Preservation Society the album depicts Ray Davies yearning for a simpler, old fashioned life, which is reflected in the nostalgic tone of the record and the blending and implementation of dated musical forums. This has proven time and again to be a department in which Ray Davies thrives, and while his dreams of a return to these days of glory is a tad anachronistic for the young musician his delivery always imbues these anti-progress tirades with a level of conviction, sincerity and earnestness that, while obviously not fully genuine, results in a truly captivating experience, as the listener falls under the spell of the Ray Davies' words and the album's distinctive atmosphere.
In the grand tradition of Cream's Wheels Of Fire, the Kinks' follow up to their RCA label debut Muswell Hillbillies is a double album, with the first half comprised of new studio fare and the latter half devoted to a series of live performances. The motivation behind this stunt is somewhat baffling, as unlike Clapton's supergroup the Kinks were never renowned for their live prowess and the content here does little to betray any hidden live potential, but nevertheless for better or worse the album is bifurcated in this fashion, constituting both a first and a last in the Kinks' massive discography.
Beyond the group's lack of virtuoso instrumental chops the live half is exacerbated by the fact that, as the Kinks were often apt to do at their concerts, the bulk of the material is derived from the band's latest album, Muswell Hillbillies. The content of that album is amongst the least conducive fodder for a live treatment in the band's catalogue; the performances are perfectly adequate, and the songs are universally great given the caliber of that album, but the live renditions fail to distinguish themselves from the originals in any notable respect, as ragtime was never exactly envisioned as an ideal paradigm for a rock show.
Nonetheless the live half is uniformly solid; as previously stated the tracks culled from Muswell Hillbillies fail to benefit from any potential live energy, but they still come off well, particularly Alcohol. As for the rest of the material, snatches of covers of Mr. Wonderful and Banana Boat Song are present for reasons that elude me, along with the mystifying decision to affix an excerpt from the coda of Lola (only the part with the audience endlessly singing the refrain) to the end of the album.
Elsewhere Top Of The Pops seems like an arbitrary choice to open the live portion of the album, as I've never been especially fond of that number nor is it a fan favorite by my understanding, though Arthur's Brainwashed is a good, energetic choice for a live track. The cover of Baby Face is at least a full fledged song as opposed to a random fragment, but it still makes an odd choice for inclusion on the album, while the bonus tracks Till The End Of The Day and She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina are solid if unspectacular.
In all the live half of the album is rather extraneous, in no way complementing the far superior studio side. Between poor track selection and a failure to make the live aspect of the songs mean anything all that the half amounts to is a sequence of pretty good songs that sound nearly exactly like the originals except somewhat inferior. There's no live magic, no unleashing of previously dormant, latent furious energy and no clever reinventions of any numbers, and thus no reason whatsoever to listen to this component of the album.
Fortunately the studio tracks are another matter entirely; while they suffer from being stylistically reminiscent of the material on Muswell Hillbillies without quite reaching that level, they remain well written, humorous interludes with an old fashioned flair. The Kinks have retained the jazz outfit they recruited on their previous outing to back them up once again, resulting in some great instrumental performances to act as the foundation for the band's jazzy escapades.
Few of the songs are weak, though many cover similar ground to their Muswell Hillbillies counterparts, rendering some of the melodically and lyrically lesser numbers like Maximum Consumption rather superfluous in light of its resemblance to material on their prior outing.
Most of the songs are quite strong, however; tracks like Hot Potatoes, though somewhat primitive, are irresistibly catchy, while Supersonic Rocket Ship is disarmingly charming in its whimsical nature.
The album's best cut, however, is the classic Hollywood anthem Celluloid Heroes, a sweeping musical vision that's alternately powerful and amusing without compromising either department.
Thus Everybody's In Show-Biz is a bipolar affair; the live side is entertaining but ultimately eminently expendable, but the studio fare continues on in the tradition of the masterpiece Muswell Hillbillies, comparing favorably to that masterwork. It certainly isn't quite up to the level of that record, suffering when held up to its standards, but it remains quite a solid outing, albeit coming off as something of minor sequel to its classic predecessor.
Thus despite its inevitable comparisons to Muswell Hillbillies casting it in a less than flattering light I have no reservations about proclaiming it to be an immensely impressive album that can be recommended to any fan of the group. It's unfair to judge it by the same criteria as its predecessor, as by any other standards it's a very good record; it simply had the misfortune of being a rehash of any incredibly brilliant work, thus irrevocably held up against the original in the equation. It's sufficiently good, however, that, as I said, even when contrasted against Muswell Hillbillies much of the album compares favorably to it, merely never attaining the same dizzying heights that its precursor ascended to.
The reissue of Preservation Act I begins with a single that acts as a sort of prologue for the rock opera, a track appropriately enough entitled Preservation, and it's rather telling right from the start; the song employs a modified version of Hendrix's Purple Haze riff, a plagiarism that's largely indicative of the overall paucity of musical ideas expressed on the album.
Throughout the album it's evident that Ray Davies' focus is on the lyrics as opposed to the melodies, resulting in generic and uninteresting music. Despite the extra attention they receive the lyrics don't fare too well either, transparently polemical, heavy-handed and simplistic words that betray little of Ray Davies' signature intelligence and creativity.
Despite an endless procession of concept albums, Preservation Act I is the first true rock opera Ray Davies had penned, though it hardly seems as though he was visited by some amazing bout of inspiration. The story is pedestrian, rudimentary fare, consummately derivative and riddled with egregious, cringe inducing clichés. As the album is only the first act of the rock opera it merely establishes the future conflict between the hero, Mr. Black, who intends to rise to power and rule in favor of the common man and the Draconian Flash, who embodies all greed and corruption and wishes to exploit the plight of the poor working man.
This good versus evil paradigm is never sufficiently fleshed out to constitute anything more than a childish fancy, resulting in a war of overly spelled out concepts and quixotic ideals. The message of the rock opera is shoved down the listener's throat from the very beginning, as the story never moves in any new, creative or unpredictable directions.
The only thing that could salvage this debacle would be a strong musical accompaniment, but as stated before the melodies were sacrificed to emphasize this juvenile storytelling. The music is never compelling, merely acting as a meaningless backdrop over which Ray Davies superimposes his intended profundities and would-be brilliant insights.
The story is so basic and limited and the characters so forgettable that nothing much really happens over the course of the first act. With so little story to advance most of the tracks feel like meaningless digressions, with little to say and a modicum of melodic substance. Whether it's Johnny Thunder's affinity for fifties rock and roll or utilizing cricket as a trope or microcosm for the complexities of life, precious little transpires over the course of the album, resulting in meaningless and poorly implemented diversions.
Thus Preservation Act I is a profound disappointment, the first Kinks album since they graduated from the realm of garage rock to be actively bad. Sporting bland and hookless music and ham-fisted lyrics the album is the height of self-indulgence, as Ray Davies assumes the role of master storyteller despite not really having anything meaningful to say.
While the corruption of a simple, idyllic life is a subject that Ray Davies tends to gravitate towards, returning to it time and again, he continues to enact the concept with little in the way of intelligence or precision, betraying no innate wisdom or perceptiveness on the topic.
Whereas on The Village Green Preservation Society Ray Davies was able to effortlessly evoke a nostalgia for a bygone age through exceptional songwriting and his usual intelligent lyrics, on this outing little is done to make us care about the tainting of this faux Eden, with nothing compelling or even remotely intriguing revealed about this innocent locale. Ray Davies always communicated through well crafted melodies and insightful lyrics, not amateurish and desultory narration. Thus Preservation Act I falls flat when compared to Ray Davies' earlier achievements, an album that exceeds them in ambition but most certainly not in quality.
Thus the album is by no means an ordeal that a Kinks fan should subject himself to. A crushing disappointment after a seemingly never ending streak of magnificent outings, the album is simply the culmination of all of Ray Davies' worst excesses, from his inherent tendency toward self-importance to his need, for better or for worse, to break down artistic barriers. On Preservation Act I he bites off more than he can chew, exposing his limitations as he neglects his strengths in favor of his lofty, unattainable ambitions. Ray Davies was already a great artist, and didn't need a departure from his norm in order to make a meaningful statement, as his brilliant visions had already been realized on albums like Arthur, Face To Face and The Village Green Preservation Society. Serious artistic aspirations are always commendable, but not at the expense of everything that makes the artist great.
While still a severely flawed product, Preservation Act II is vastly superior to its abysmal predecessor, and this is understandable; the rock opera's first chapter was rushed out to appease the record company as Ray Davies was primarily focusing on the meat of the narrative contained on the second act, and thus this creative neglect bred hastily composed sonic mediocrity and a pronounced paucity of musical ideas, while even the story itself barely exhibited any progression as the album amounted to little more than a prologue for the rock opera proper.
The story told on act II is still a rather pedestrian affair, but it's at least somewhat more compelling than the tale depicted on its predecessor, as it contains genuine narrative developments throughout as opposed to the general inaction found in the rock opera's first act. This is fortunate, as act II is a double album, and thus requires plot progression to sustain any degree of momentum imbued into the story.
I won't praise the story too highly, however, as it remains a painfully predictable, heavy-handed and preachy tale. In an archetypal role reversal the erstwhile nefarious Flash, the personified embodiment of capitalism, is humanized, while the once heroic Mr. Black proves himself to be a dictatorial ruler with rather pronounced totalitarian tendencies.
This plot twist establishes the 'no easy answers' moral in the most clichéd way imaginable, an Orwellian dual political indictment that lacks the intelligence and insight found in texts such as Animal Farm and 1984. Ray Davies' attempt at depth is laughably childish, simply constituting a polemical parable of the most standard, rudimentary variety.
Nevertheless the story, despite its myriad faults, is at least somewhat involving, sustaining the listener's interest for the duration of the album even if there's little reason to retain the tale afterwards. By virtue of its continual development it manages to engage the listener's attention, and thankfully doesn't contain quite as many cringe inducing moments as one would imagine.
What truly makes the album surpass its predecessor, however, is the presence of a number of strong melodies that easily eclipse any of the modicum of musical ideas found in act I. Far more attention has been devoted to the music this time around, as unlike the haphazardly slapped together act I act II is what Ray Davies was truly devoting his attention to.
Thus there are some genuinely enjoyable songs this time around, from the catchy Introduction To Solution and Money Talks which, unlike anything contained on act I, actually rock convincingly, to the single Mirror Of Love which may boast the most memorable melody on the album.
The tracks no longer seem like lyrics awkwardly superimposed over generic aural backdrops, coming off as full fledged songs wherein the music is as important, or at least nearly so, as the words.
The melodies aren't universally strong, as the album suffers from a somewhat erratic nature, afflicted with a severe case of filler and inundated with a number of bland, hookless passages, but the presence of any quality music at all is a relief after the melodically bereft act I. The presence of generic female vocals can also be quite grating, as can the overly theatrical character of much of the music and delivery.
The album also contains several spoken tracks; this breaks up the flow of the album somewhat, but it's still a necessary component for following the plot of the rock opera and thus can be excused for its disruption of the musical proceedings.
Overall the album is pretty good, and thus leaps and bounds above its atrocious predecessor. The plot remains derivative and devoid of anything that could be termed subtlety or artistry, a by the numbers attempt at a profound political statement, and the music is far from consistent, but nevertheless a collection of solid melodies coupled with a story that, if nothing else, is still somewhat involving, makes for an overall positive listening experience.
Thus, unlike its predecessor, Preservation Act II can be recommended to fans of the group. It's quite flawed, a disaster as a rock opera and only a moderate success as a rock album, but it's still entertaining, and ultimately that's all that could reasonably be asked of it.
Unsurprisingly Soap Opera is yet another rock opera born from the mind of Ray Davies, as his relentless artistic ambitions made it inconceivable that he could produce a work that wasn't at least a concept album on some level, while rock operas in particular satisfied his limitless pretensions and creative aspirations.
On this outing the plot revolves around a Prince And The Pauper style arrangement between a rock and roll superstar and an anonymous, mundane office worker named Norman, focusing on the star's attempts to adapt to this banal, tedious lifestyle. Subsequently it becomes ambiguous if the star truly exists or if he's merely an escapist delusion conjured by Norman to help him cope with his monotonous existence, but at any rate the star is ultimately irrevocably condemned to live out this average life with no hope of regaining his supposed erstwhile splendor.
Once more the plot takes precedence over the music, as the melodies tend to be bland and generic. When the caliber of the tunes is stronger there are invariably mitigating circumstances; for example, Everybody's A Star (Starmaker) is decent enough, but largely because it borrows its riff from the Who's classic first single I Can't Explain, with little new to offer the listener beyond its shameless, consummately overt plagiarism.
By and large the album fails to offer any memorable or compelling melodies, at best offering entertaining but ultimately forgettable, derivative grooves like the ultra generic boogie of Rush Hour Blues that's wholly interchangeable with just about any other boogie composition.
Sadly Ray Davies' facility for songwriting has apparently atrophied, or perhaps he merely neglected this area in favor of devoting all his efforts toward weaving his insipid tales.
Unfortunately there's little to offer in the lyrical department as well. Ray Davies was once a great lyricist, but try as he might he seems incapable of crafting a good rock opera, thus making his incessant attempts all the more frustrating. Most of the lyrics on Soap Opera are competent but unexceptional. When it attempts to be insightful or profound it falls flat on its face, and thus its better moments arrive in the form of somewhat amusing, less serious interludes like the star's critique of Norman's wife's sense of fashion in Ducks On The Wall.
The lyrics are seldom actively bad; they simply never amount to much, failing to carry the artistic import Ray Davies attempts to imbue them with. The rock opera is hardly a meaningful artistic statement, and it's clear that Ray Davies had hoped for far more from it.
The plot is at least somewhat involving while it's on, even in cases of redundancy like When Work Is Over and Have Another Drink which, despite being sequenced consecutively, still cover exactly the same subject matter. The story is by no means gripping or mesmerizing, it's simply sufficient to sustain the interest of the listener to at least some extent for the duration of its runtime.
Ultimately Soap Opera is a rather pedestrian affair, sporting bland, overly primitive, familiar and uninteresting melodies accompanied by Ray Davies' would-be profundities. The plot is serviceable but by no means strong, merely adequate for a quick diversion, as it fails to achieve any of the artistic goals it sets for itself. Rather than crafting a deep, moving product Ray Davies merely penned a mildly interesting curiosity, bereft of any rich complexity or higher meaning.
While hardly a painful listen Soap Opera fails to be terribly enjoyable or rewarding, and can thus easily be skipped by Kinks fans without missing anything of much worth or value. The album succeeds on neither a musical nor lyrical level, merely another Ray Davies rock opera with all of the inherent baggage and limitations that that label signifies.
Proving once more that he was incapable of penning a simple collection of individual songs, Ray Davies crafted yet another concept album; the record could even be construed as another rock opera, though it ultimately comes across as more of a thematically linked array of tracks with insufficient overarching plot dynamics to constitute a true cohesive story.
This time around the album's concept is a series of reminiscences pertaining to Ray Davies' experiences as a schoolboy (as can easily be deduced from the self-explanatory title), evoking warm nostalgia with a modicum of childhood trauma thrown in to vary the mood.
This more simple, earnest and emotionally accessible subject matter is a relief after all of Ray Davies' incessant grandiose plotlines, depicting vignettes that are far more easy to relate to than the heavy-handed political satire of Preservation or the experiences of a superstar attempting to adjust to a mundane existence in Soap Opera. This more autobiographical premise prevents Ray Davies from growing too self-important or pretentious, conveying his feelings as opposed to aspiring to devise elaborate intellectual constructs that are beyond the scope of his abilities.
The album is greatly ameliorated by an improvement in the melody department since the musically abysmal Soap Opera. The melodies are hardly brilliant, and there are a number of tracks that are bereft of musical merit, but Schoolboys In Disgrace still provides a superior sonic experience when compared to some of the Kinks' rather pedestrian recent output.
Jack The Idiot Dunce is wholly unoriginal but still provides some harmless fun with its charming retro style boogie, rocking more convincingly than the band had in quite awhile, while I'm In Disgrace is a catchy account of failed young romance, with the subsequent track Headmaster delineating the repercussions of said childhood relationship with another engaging if unspectacular melody.
The Hard Way is one of the better songs on the album, though it's built around the riff to the Who's I Can't Explain despite the fact that they'd already usurped that riff on the previous album, perpetrating the same plagiaristic theft on two consecutive records.
Much of the album simply gets by on its nostalgic atmosphere, but no matter how charming this vibe is it's insufficient to sustain a whole album, and thus there are lengthy passages where little of note transpires.
Thus Education is overlong, with its later sections eschewing its initial decent melody in favor of bland, tedious sections, while Schooldays relies purely on atmosphere with no strong musical foundation to speak of. The Last Assembly can be rather drab, as can its follow up No More Looking Back.
The album's erratic character and over reliance on atmosphere at the expense of melody prevent it from even approaching classic status, but it's still a pretty good outing, with sporadic instances of musical merit and fewer grating storyline developments. Schoolboys In Disgrace doesn't aspire to be a sweeping artistic statement or a profound, insightful masterpiece, and thus is a less off-putting aural experience than Ray Davies' more ambitious fare. What little plot there is is simply harmless, innocuous nostalgia, devoid of the massive pretensions that afflicted the band's recent work.
In all Schoolboys In Disgrace is an entertaining outing, a charming retro revisiting of Ray Davies' youth. It lacks hidden deeper meaning, but this works in its favor, allowing the album to simply be an enjoyable, slight affair. There's no shame in abstaining from artistic posturing on occasion, and this more humble quality makes the album more immediately likeable. Some more quality melodies would be welcome, as the album's dearth of catchy music is its greatest liability, but this deficiency can be overlooked in the long run, making Schoolboys In Disgrace a pretty good LP in the end.
It's rather telling that the moment the Kinks' abandoned their seemingly endless streak of concept albums and rock operas they produced their best album in years, not to mention their first hit in quite some time.
The group had been dropped by their erstwhile record label after a parade of commercial failures and had just signed on to a new one, which was likely the catalyst for this stylistic deviation. The band wouldn't last long at their new label, Arista, if they continued to generate poor selling concept albums, and thus realized that for their musical survival they'd be forced to take a more mainstream approach.
It was obvious that the band's prospective audience on the music scene had no desire for rock operas or concept albums, and no tolerance for Ray Davies' artistic pretensions. Ray Davies had continually, in the great tradition of Bob Dylan, ignored the wishes of his fanbase, but he'd reached a point where if he alienated or antagonized his audience any further the group would become a completely commercially unviable commodity, an act that no record label would come near.
The product of this more commercially minded outlook was Sleepwalker. The album's marketability doesn't only manifest itself with regards to a lack of conceptual unity; its mainstream appeal is compounded by the fact that the band had irrevocably shed the trappings of ragtime, jazz, theater and every other subgenre the Kinks had flirted with over the course of their recent releases.
Replacing these styles is a far more accessible, axiomatically gratifying straightforward rock approach; the Kinks had always invoked You Really Got Me as proof that they were pioneers in the subsequent hard rock movement, and on Sleepwalker they renew their connection with heavier fare, a direction they had abstained from embarking on for a long time.
These changes, in and of themselves, aren't innately positive; Ray Davies' relentless onslaught of concept albums was growing wearying, but a simple collection of songs wouldn't inherently be superior to a thematically linked album solely by virtue of its lack of a concept, while the group's experiments with jazz, ragtime and the like were often quite successful.
Ergo what truly makes the album surpass the band's recent output is the quality of the songwriting. Perhaps as a ramification of Ray Davies no longer having to devote the bulk of his attention to crafting a plot or concept he focuses far more on the melodies, resulting in a much stronger musical product.
For the first time in ages the album is bereft of filler, while great songs abound, from the tenebrous, catchy rocker Sleepless Night to the upbeat Life On The Road to the Powerman throwback the heavy Mr. Big Man to moving ballads like Brother and Stormy Sky to the irresistible boogie of Juke Box Music. Each song has a well developed melody, while Ray Davies' lyrics come across as far more intelligent when he's not attempting to weave elaborate stories or delineate a single overarching subject.
The bonus tracks are nothing to scoff at either; Prince Of The Punks is a terrific indictment of the contemporaneous punk movement, The Poseur is a scathing portrait of a man attempting to adhere to modern fashion while On The Outside is another stellar ballad.
Thus Sleepwalker is an excellent return to form after a procession of middling efforts. Once fully extricated from the jaws of musical conceptualism Ray Davies was able to return to his old strengths, namely composing strong melodies and penning intelligent lyrics. The album may not be a monumental artistic statement, but it doesn't profess to be, nor should it.
Ray Davies had hardly sold out. Even though he abstained from penning another rock opera or some such enterprise for commercially motivated reasons the album hardly panders to its intended audience; all of the Kinks' assets are still on display, with no major compromises being made. Sleepwalker doesn't lack intellectualism or ambition, it simply conveys them in a different form, one no less legitimate or artistically valid.
Therefore Sleepwalker is an essential purchase for any Kinks fan, a masterful comeback that portrays the band with renewed vigor and purpose. Ray Davies had driven himself into a rut with his endless concept albums, and even something so simple as working on a single collection of unrelated songs was able to resuscitate his artistic faculties.
In all Sleepwalker is a very good album, a dark, intelligent and catchy record that recaptures the Kinks vibe of old. The group once again proves why they're legends on the rock scene, revealing that their skills had by no means atrophied after their last assortment of albums.
It could be argued that Misfits is a concept album, as it contains myriad portraits of assorted pariahs and outcasts as the name would imply, but in actuality it's more reminiscent of Sleepwalker, a collection of predominantly unrelated songs bereft of an overarching concept (and even Sleepwalker contained multiple allusions to sleep and dreams, thus casting the album as as much of a concept album as Misfits is in the long run). And, as is the case in Sleepwalker, this general lack of thematic unity is one of its greatest assets.
Once again Ray Davies doesn't neglect the melodies in favor of focusing on the lyrics; the songs contain intelligent and often amusing lyrics, but never at the expense of the music, as Ray Davies managed to conjure a plethora of memorable riffs and vocal melodies that obviously took time and meticulous craftsmanship from the Kinks' frontman.
The album isn't quite up to par with its predecessor, as it loses steam toward the end with several fillerish numbers (Trust Your Heart and Get Up are somewhat bland and nondescript, while Out Of Your Wardrobe begs the question as to whether or not the Kinks really needed another transvestite anthem), but for the most part the tracks adhere to a high level of quality, sporting strong melodies and intelligent lyrics.
The album starts off on a high note with the title track, the type of gorgeous ballad that Ray Davies seemed to be able to effortlessly compose when called upon to do so yet ultimately bespeaks tremendous care and passion.
Other highlights include the stellar riff rocker Live Life, the catchy and amusing Hay Fever which recalls the more whimsical moments on records like Muswell Hillbillies, the infectious Black Messiah which would be a classic were it not for the somewhat perturbing pseudo-racist lyrics, the album's first single A Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy and the memorable Permanent Waves.
These tracks are a testament to the resurgence in songwriting quality that Ray Davies was experiencing, a rejuvenation that took an ailing group and once more elevated it to the position of a top rock outfit. As recently as a few years prior to the release of Misfits it seemed inconceivable that the Kinks could extricate themselves from the rut they were stuck in and return to the music scene as a great rock group; in fact, it seemed doubtful that they could revert to the role of a rock group at all, as they were so mired in jazz and ragtime aesthetics that their aptitude for rock had seemingly atrophied altogether. Nevertheless they successfully recaptured their classic rock sound and launched one of the most unexpected comebacks in the history of the genre.
Ultimately Misfits is a very good outing, a strong follow up to their return to form on Sleepwalker. The album's deterioration toward the end prevents it from reaching the same level as its predecessor, but nonetheless Misfits is a very strong product, depicting a group eager to reclaim their past glory.
The Kinks would never again ascend to the heights reached in their golden years, with no chance of equaling let alone surpassing classic efforts like Arthur, Face To Face or The Village Green Preservation Society, but this is to be expected; few groups can ever hope to match their peak material at this stage in their career. Nevertheless this doesn't dilute the impressiveness of this comeback, nor does it compromise what amounts to an immensely enjoyable listening experience that can be recommended to any fan of the group.
Desperate to prolong their comeback and remain a commercially viable commodity, Ray Davies decided that the Kinks had to adapt to the changing musical climate, and to this end decided to assimilate elements of punk and disco into the band's sound. This may seem rather hypocritical after the group's scathing condemnation of the punk movement on Prince Of The Punks, but this modernizing stunt is simply indicative of the group's dramatically altered philosophy; after years of intentionally operating in styles that were anathema to their prospective audience, the Kinks had decided that they wanted mainstream success, thus going out of their way to court a new fanbase by adjusting their style to suit the times.
This could certainly be taken as selling out, but with the risk of commercial failure looming over their heads this was the natural course of action, and shouldn't merit derision from slighted Kinks purists. Ray Davies wanted to be a superstar, and he correctly ascertained that the surest way to achieve this end necessitated at least a subtle makeover for the band.
Thus the Kinks opted to operate within the paradigms of punk and disco, modifying their signature sound to accommodate these new aspects of their style. Whether this was an obsequious stunt to garner attention and pander to a new demographic, a pathetic conformist attempt to evade accusations of dinosaurism or a defilement of their rock and roll legacy is ultimately irrelevant; what matters is if these new genre exercises led to a quality product, and fortunately enough they most certainly did.
The marriage of punk stylistics to the band's trademark rockers proves to be a natural fit, as evidenced by tracks like the riff rocker opener Attitude and the primitive burst of punk energy in Pressure, while their disco posturing suits the group's quite well in songs such as Nation Health.
Ray Davies didn't hastily graft these new elements to his preexisting formula, nor did he forsake his old style in favor of these musical trends; rather he seamlessly integrated them into the band's sound, making them sound perfectly natural and organic in the context of the album.
This results in a plethora of highlights, from the album's hit single the classic (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman to the pretty ballad Little Bit Of Emotion. Catch Me Now I'm Falling is also a quality track, though why the band felt compelled to insert the Stone's Jumping Jack Flash riff into the song eludes me given that that number is perfectly fine without that overt plagiarism. The punk rockers like Attitude and Pressure are great adrenaline rushes, while A Gallon Of Gas and the title track, despite covering similar lyrical ground, still feature distinctive strong melodies.
Throughout the album a healthy dose of humor is incorporated into the mix, with whimsical lyrics in the vein of comedic classics like Muswell Hillbillies prominently featured throughout the record. Clever coruscations of wit abound, the type woefully absent from much of the band's pompous rock operas. Unlike those self-important concept albums Low Budget never takes itself too seriously, resulting in a highly entertaining, if slight, experience.
In all Low Budget is another resounding success for the band, boasting strong songwriting courtesy of Ray Davies and tight performances throughout; in particular, over the last few albums Dave Davies had grown immeasurably as a lead guitarist, proving himself capable of some solid soloing, and given the rock leanings of their recent records his guitarwork was featured far more prominently than it had been in quite some time.
The fusion of catchy melodies and humorous lyrics fits the band perfectly as it had on albums like the previously mentioned Muswell Hillbillies; while Low Budget is a far cry from the quality level of that record, it's still highly impressive for a late period work, managing to capture some of the magic from their compositions from that era, resulting in an excellent final product.
The trio of Sleepwalker, Misfits and Low Budget were amazing feats for a group so late in its lifespan, particularly given the sonic stagnation they were born from. Accordingly they're a true, unexpected treat for any fan of the band, constituting the most successful comeback one could have hoped for from them. While hardly the equal of the Kinks' golden age, they're certainly nothing to scoff at, comprising a sort of silver age for the group.
On Give The People What They Want the Kinks continue to reinvent themselves to coincide with modern trends, in this case embracing the world of heavy metal. Unfortunately, whereas the band was able to successfully integrate punk and disco into their sound, taking full advantage of those respective genres, their handling of heavy metal leaves much to be desired, generally coming across as sterile and flaccid, bereft of catchy melodies, memorable riffs or any significant level of rock and roll excitement, metal at its most banal and pedestrian.
The Kinks didn't seem to understand that quality heavy metal demands more than some distorted guitars and an angry attitude; while they may have been pioneers during the inception of the genre, they've lost whatever aptitude they once had in that department, and thus there's nothing of the caliber of You Really Got Me (though there is a thinly veiled remake of All Day And All Of The Night entitled Destroyer with allusions to their past work (such as namedropping Lola), rendering it something akin to the Kinks' take on the Beatles' Glass Onion, though the song itself is rather poor when stripped of its self-plagiaristic components).
The band's attempts at power ballads fare little better than their rock counterparts, and thus tracks like Killer's Eyes are bland and tedious, with virtually no redeeming value. Ray Davies' songwriting is simply uninspired throughout the duration of the album, poor efforts that, while ultimately inoffensive, basically fail to even register for the listener.
Throughout the album the group prove themselves to be wholly unequipped to handle their attempted metallic style, and even the lyrics tend to be rather unimpressive; from a listener's quest to locate his favorite DJ on the radio (Around The Dial) to a portrait of a borderline pedophile (Art Lover) the tales Ray Davies conjures never really amount to anything substantial, doing little to compensate for the wretched quality of the music.
In all Give The People What They Want is an abysmal outing, the Kinks' worst effort to this point; in trying to transfigure the band into a heavy metal outfit Ray Davies failed to translate the group's strengths into this new modality, thus stranding them in a foreign context in which they had few gifts and a modicum of experience to rely upon, resulting in a sloppy, desultory affair that's completely unrepresentative of the band's talents.
The album brings the Kinks' late period quality streak to a screeching halt, with the band attempting to be something they neither are nor should be. The group needed to master the genre, or at least grow competent and comfortable within the confines of it, before they employed it for the duration of an album, and this hasty descent into unknown territory resulted in a final product that was well below the standards the Kinks had set for themselves over the course of their career.
State Of Confusion is a testament to the difference between carelessly dabbling in an unfamiliar genre and truly studiously working with a style to achieve the best results, as after the heavy metal debacle that was Give The People What They Want the Kinks have managed to progress exponentially in the world of distorted guitars and energetic aggression to the point where the harder tracks are the savior of the album.
From the title track to Clichés Of The World (B Movie), the Kinks prove themselves to be adept students at the art of metal, concocting solid riffs and appropriately gruff vocal melodies, rather than simply employing meandering distorted guitar lines, a derivative chord progression and some angry vocals and expecting the final product to constitute a good metallic anthem.
Strangely enough it's the ballads, traditionally Ray Davies' forte, that let the album down, even though they're generally the recipients of most of the album's acclaim. In this regard the single Don't Forget To Dance sounds overproduced, forced and artificial, Heart Of Gold is rather generic and nondescript and the much lauded bonus track Long Distance is bland and thoroughly unremarkable.
Perhaps Ray Davies' balladeering skills are incompatible with the eighties sensibility featured on State Of Confusion, or perhaps by this late point in his career he's exhausted his seemingly limitless supply of quality melodies for ballads, but either way the album's severely marred by these softer misfires, an ironic situation given that it's typically the strong ballads that salvage Kinks records dominated by an onslaught of pedestrian rockers.
This isn't to say that the metallic tracks are excellent; in actuality, State Of Confusion is bereft of any true Kinks classics. The rockers are simply more compelling, sporting engaging riffs and featuring some of the genuine rock and roll excitement that Give The People What They Want had been sorely lacking.
The album opens with a surge of adrenaline in the form of the hard rock title track, instantly surpassing any of the mediocre metallic fare on its predecessor. Other highlights include the great rocker Clichés Of The World (B Movie) and a bonus track that finds a perfect balance between catchiness and cacophony appropriately enough entitled Noise.
The remaining tracks are decent if unspectacular. Young Conservative boasts some intelligent, incisive lyrics, but is ultimately rather uneventful from a melodic perspective, while the retro style of Come Dancing can be somewhat grating even if it injects a much needed dose of diversity into the proceedings.
In all State Of Confusion is a perfectly solid record, and at the very least a huge step upwards after its dismal predecessor. The band had developed a knack for the heavy metal genre after displaying no aptitude for it on their previous outing, thus preventing a rehash of the egregious lapse of taste that was Give The People What They Want.
While the ballads are certainly inoffensive they never amount to much, thus detracting from the overall experience and preventing the album from rising above the level of 'pretty good.'
Nevertheless the album can be quite entertaining, and while hardly essential it can be whole heartedly recommended to any fan of the group. It's not as strong as the triumvirate that launched the Kinks' partnership with Arista but it remains a solid outing, and it's intriguing to witness the band's development in the world of metal.
After honing their metal chops to the point where they were finally capable of generating quality heavy material on State Of Confusion, the Kinks regressed to their initial metallic incompetence, producing material bereft of clever riffs or infectious hard rock energy.
Why they reverted to their original status of purveyors of tepid heavy metal mystifies me, as it had seemed that they'd finally overcome the obstacles preventing them from attaining their place as a genuinely entertaining metallic outfit, but at any rate Word Of Mouth is a huge step down after the solid State Of Confusion, depicting a band making the same egregious mistakes they'd seemingly grown beyond on their previous outing.
Once again the ballads fail to redeem the album from its metallic deficiencies, as Ray Davies appears to have lost the moving earnestness and emotional expressiveness that he had always infused his softer content with, thus rendering his forays into the realm of balladry bland and forgettable.
None of the tracks are actively bad, simply alternating between fangless, lifeless and sterile metallic rockers and banal ballads. Despite these liabilities the songs remain serviceable, more tedious than offensive, though this is certainly damning the record with faint praise.
The lone genuinely good track is the up tempo rocker Do It Again (with no relation to the Steely Dan classic of the same name), wisely chosen as the opener to start the album on a high note. Few of the other songs can even qualify as decent, though some of them (like Living On A Thin Line) are somewhat more interesting than others.
The album is simply a terminal bore, a mediocre affair that, while adhering to the structural blueprints of its predecessor, falls short of it in every conceivable department. It may cover the same ground as State Of Confusion, but whereas that record handled much of its material with deftness and precision Word Of Mouth is a procession of failures and misfires.
Ergo Word Of Mouth is an eminently expendable experience, one that no Kinks fan need subject himself to. Do It Again is certainly a strong number, but it's not sufficient in and of itself to merit a listen of its abysmal host. The album features heavy metal at its most generic and nondescript, never even cultivating a healthy level of energy or intensity, while its ballads are derivative, impotent numbers that never truly engage the emotions of their listener.
Thus Word Of Mouth should only be sought out by diehard Kinks completists, as it's an aural ordeal that proves that, without strong songwriting, even faithful emulations of a successful formula will turn awry in the long run. The album is never actually painful to listen to, though it certainly can be sleep inducing with its monotonous lineup of interchangeable rockers and drab ballads, a record that achieves absolutely none of its goals.
Perhaps snapped to their senses by the dismal quality of Word Of Mouth, on Think Visual the band eschewed their erstwhile heavy metal approach in favor of some old fashioned rock and roll. While these rockers are rather stylistically timid when compared to the metallic monstrosities from their recent work, many of them rock more convincingly than the poorly constructed, lackluster heavy anthems that the band had specialized in as of late, wherein the Kinks conceived that distorted guitar tones were sufficient to make a track truly rock. Furthermore, despite being a product of the eighties the band tends to avoid the pitfall of over abusing synths on the album, compounding the sonic purity of the old fashioned rock depicted on the album.
Not all of the tracks sport strong melodies, but the sound of the album is a great asset in and of itself, a profound relief after the seemingly endless onslaught of metallic Kinks albums. Evading the affliction of eighties production values the album has a very pristine sound to it, with each instrument fully discernable in the mix with a uniformly crisp sound to them.
The album's sound isn't its only merit, however; Ray Davies' songwriting on Think Visual is far superior to his work on the previous LP, and while there's little in the way of full fledged classics the majority of the tunes are rather accomplished.
Working At The Factory is a good choice for the opener, an effective rocker that employs the factory motif as a trope for the dehumanizing effect of working at a prominent record label. Elsewhere Welcome To Sleazy Town is an infectious rocker with a clever riff, The Video Shop is extremely catchy and after years of ignominious confinement in the band's vault Rock 'N' Roll Cities is finally unleashed, proving itself to be more than strong enough to merit placement on a Kinks album.
There are no bad tracks, though granted there are lesser ones, but nearly every song has something to offer. The album's impeccable sound salvages many a weaker offering, while Ray Davies' ballads have, for the most part, regained the subtle majesty that elevated many of his past compositions to such a high level (though obviously they can't compare to true classics like Misfits or Celluloid Heroes).
The album sort of peters out by the end, which is unfortunate, but overall it offers a very entertaining listening experience. Freed from the shackles of the heavy metal movement the band was able to recover a lost part of themselves, resulting in a truly solid outing.
Think Visual is by no means a classic; while generally decent enough, few tracks progress beyond the realm of pretty good, with many songs failing to even attain that level. As refreshing as the sound is it's insufficient to transfigure a decent listening experience into anything resembling a masterpiece, and while the caliber of the songwriting is well above their abysmal showing on Word Of Mouth by more objective standards most of the tracks are resoundingly unspectacular.
Nevertheless most of the album is solid, and while it may be underwhelming it doesn't means that this selection of pretty good tracks can't be thoroughly enjoyed. When compared to the Kinks' other late period efforts it becomes clear that Think Visual is the most one could hope for from the aged rock group, a compelling marriage of a classic rock sound and some quality songwriting. This songwriting may not stand up to their classic outings, but that's ultimately irrelevant; at this point in their careers it's foolish to judge the Kinks by the standards set by albums like Arthur and The Village Green Preservation Society. It's more apt to assess the record based on their late period work, and from this more reasonable perspective Think Visual comes across quite well, an album that can easily be recommended to any fan of the group.
Truth be told the Kinks had completed their artistic development quite long ago, and thus had been relying on rehashes and nostalgic allusions to sustain them throughout the latter part of their lifespan as a group.
The band's embracement of metal in cases like Give The People What They Want or punk and disco elements such as those featured on Low Budget was less a sign of artistic growth or evolution and more a simple case of commercially minded conformity, not developing anything new but simply running their preexisting style through a new brand of filter.
Thus the band became mired in retreads and regressions, and this stillborn development led to erratic results. On occasion it would work rather well, such as with the retro Think Visual wherein the band recaptured some of their old magic, but such is not the case with UK Jive, a consummately generic and derivative affair.
This genericism is instantly recognizable in the lyrics alone, as Ray Davies decries the evils of modern society in the same manner in which he'd been contumaciously orating the same points for nearly his entire career. From denouncing the corruption of simple life through corporate greed and depravity to condemning the violent escapist fare that captivates and subjugates the masses Ray Davies pens verses that are an exercise in redundancy, as if he'd exhausted his creative faculties to the point where he was only capable of endless reiteration.
The music doesn't fare much better. The album commences on a promising note with the well crafted multi-part Aggravation, a catchy track that seamlessly shifts between disparate, high quality melodies in each section, but the sense of hope it instills in the listener is soon proven to be woefully misplaced as it's all downhill after the opener's over.
None of the remaining tracks are bad, but they're predominantly bland and nondescript, an instantly forgettable parade of tepid rockers and hollow ballads. Some of Dave Davies' tracks are marginally better, but his work fails to betray the creativity or inspiration conspicuously absent from his brother's material.
The Kinks had sadly reached a point where stagnation was an inevitable reality, as they failed time and again on the album to conjure any memorable melodies or engaging hooks (save those on Aggravation). The result is a sadly dismal affair, nearly bereft of anything of considerable value.
UK Jive adds nothing to the Kinks' legacy; with each subsequent album the band retraces the same steps, with each new rendition proving worse than the previous one. Devoid of new ideas they were forced to endlessly recycle old ones, often losing sight of what made them great songs in the first place.
Thus UK Jive is an ultimately pedestrian outing with little to offer any fan of the group. Aggravation is certainly a commendable number but hardly demands the attention of Kinks' fans enough to necessitate them hunting down this abysmal album. UK Jive is simply a poor record, one that can and should be easily skipped by its entire intended audience.
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Overall Rating: 5
Phobia is a wretched, unrepresentative swansong, but it's understandable that the Kinks' final studio album would be a bad one; after all, the band must have realized what an atrocious product the record was, and thus perceived the wisdom in disbanding the group before they tarnished their legacy further.
It's certainly telling when the late work of a legendary, veteran rock outfit is inferior to the primitive, generic and immature material they generated in their early garage rock days; for such an accomplished, experienced band to produce content that can't compare with the output of the band in its undeveloped, embryonic stage is truly revelatory about the group's condition, betraying the erosion of the creative faculties of everyone involved with this aural effluvia.
The album is a seventy minute ordeal, with sixteen tracks and nary a good one amongst them. The record is dominated by atrocious heavy metal rockers with the occasional artificial, sterile ballad thrown into the mix.
Even the highlights can only be called so in relative terms, as Hatred (A Duet) and Somebody Stole My Car only come off well in the context of an abysmal album. The rockers are uniformly bereft of memorable riffs or vocal melodies. In fact, very little on the album can be termed memorable, which is a blessing in disguise as it frees the listener from the chthonic clutches of the album as soon as the record's over, with no vestiges of its horror lingering on in one's psyche.
The group had proven themselves capable of yielding some strong metallic tracks on albums like State Of Confusion, likewise showing that they could fail in this capacity as well (hence records like Give The People What They Want), but Phobia transcends the mediocrity of the latter with its endless onslaught of heavy, irredeemable sonic torture, with the lone silver lining that it's so mind numbingly tedious in its monotony that the listener will likely zone out for much of its duration and thus save themselves from the experience of this hour plus aural abomination.
The tracks are so generic and nondescript that they're nearly interchangeable, with each rocker sporting a primitive, highly derivative riff and some poor metallic soloing courtesy of Dave Davies whose instrumental progression is negated by operating in the context of this sonic nightmare, while each ballad is terminally formulaic, betraying not even the slightest hint of emotion.
Phobia is simply the nadir of the Kinks' catalogue, a dismal swansong that embodies every weakness the band had ever exhibited. The songwriting is awful throughout, Ray Davies' vocals can often prove grating when he endeavors to adapt his signature sound to a metallic environment, the group is hardly well versed in the art of the more complex metal instrumentation necessary to pull off thrash or speed metal (which doesn't prevent them from trying) and the lyrics are Ray Davies at his most obvious and pedestrian.
Phobia is a horrible note to go out on, but as mentioned before it's fortunate that they didn't attempt to progress further after this egregiously bad debacle. There's virtually nothing worthwhile contained within, merely a depressing portrait of the deterioration of one of the greatest groups in rock and roll history.