Thursday 10 January 2019

The Kinks

The Kinks early years were as one of the great 60s Singles bands - 9 singles in 18 months (8 in the Top 10, including 3 Number Ones)

"Dead End Street" (from late 1966) marked a change in sound and approach - Ray Davies was now moving into evocative social commentary with a firm working class grounding.
This was followed by the monumental "Waterloo Sunset" and the Dave Davies solo (featuring the whole band) "Death Of A Clown".  Both were lifted from the soon to be released album 'Something Else'.
This album hints at what the band wanted to be doing, how they wanted to be seen, and attempts to put the (possibly derogatory) Singles Band moniker behind them.
Yes there would be further singles to come, but only one more ("Autumn Almanac") would reach the Top 10 in the sixties.
What 'Something Else' also did was herald a run of run of 5 albums equal to the work of their peers.  The only problem was Pye (and later RCA) did not really know how to place the band and market them effectively.  This resulted in the band being tagged as a Singles Band, and their albums (which had much more of "the real Kinks" about them) went unnoticed

These albums were:
  • Village Green (1968)
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)
  • Lola (1970)
  • Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
  • Everybody's In Showbiz (1972)

Village Green
Read the mumblings of a dullard (ie me) here

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a TV play that never happened.
Being an already written screenplay, ensures this album remains "on message" and the narrative remains focussed.
The commercialism is reined back - "Victoria" and the sublime "Shangri-La" being the obvious choices for singles.  But pretty much every track here is fit for purpose and rives the story on, culminating in closing track "Arthur" which really does sound like the closing theme of a TV show.
There is an oft trotted out argument of which is the first concept album - and this is one of the contenders (along with Pretty Things' 'SF Sorrow' and The Who's 'Tommy'), but as this one came last chronologically it may be a flawed argument, but this is definitely in the first three.

Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One
The lead single returned them to the upper reaches of the charts, but the album bombed.
Possibly too insular - Ray takes a swipe at "the biz".  Maybe this set of songs just doesn't have the resonance (whether it is nostalgia or environment) that the previous two had.
The other thing to note with this album is that the concept doesn't truly hang together, but the strength of the songs - ranging from Music Hall to Heavy Rock (even "proto-punk") lifts it from folly to fineness.
And one more thing ... would Ray's cod-African/Jamaican accent on "Apeman" be acceptable nearly 50 years later?

Muswell Hillbillies
New record label (RCA) and the chance to finally break in the US (now their US ban was lifted, and support from said new label).
And what did Ray do?  He went back to "what he knew" and dashed off an album of songs about roots characters from his upbringing and a veiled diatribe towards urban renewal at the expense of "everyday folk"
But all is not lost - the musical backdrop is and English accented take on Americana, colliding with London-centric Working Class Music Hall, with touches of darkness, despair and paranoia.
Much like 'Lola ..' the cogency of the storyline/narrative does go awry, but it is the strength of the songs that wins out.
And yes, this one bombed in the UK too, and didn't get great success in the US either.

Everybody's In Showbiz
This album could so easily have been called Life On The Road, but it's anothe concept that loses waivers from the base narrative..
The music is deeper into the US roots that informed the original Kinks, but with an English accent - at times sounding reminiscent of Rod Stewart & The Faces.
And to top all that, it rounds of with surely one of the greatest songs to fall out of Ray's pen - "Celluloid Heroes"
The accompanying live set showcases the power of the band on stage - this may not be the best mixed live album you'll hear, but they sure know how to put on a show.

There's a theme developing above - Kinks concept albums rarely remain bounded by the concept they purport to sell.
Undeterred, there would be further concept albums through the 70s (Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace)  - whilst this run retains the adventure of the previous outings, the conceptualising and the band themselves begin to sound strained, and sometimes forced.  Rays descending sanity, continual under-achievement and the bands lack of focus on the game in hand certainly didn't help.
And after 1975s 'Schoolboys In Disgrace' another change of label led to another change in focus this time attempting to recreate their live Rock show on record
Still up to a standard many bands would be glad of, but no longer doing anything in the UK, and bumbling along nicely in the US.  1983s "Come Dancing" returned them the UK singles chart, but the attendant album (as normally happens with The Kinks) pulled up no trees.

But these 5 albums (plus 'Something Else' as a prologue) I believe represent the high point of The Kinks career, and deserve to be heard by a wider audience - if only to prove there is more to them than "You Really Got Me" or "Waterloo Sunset".


Top Of The Pops

Muswell Hillbilly

Celluloid Heroes