Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kinks - How Are You

(London, 1986)

Two midtempo mediocrities from Think Visual, though, to be fair, these are two of the better songs on that abomination. Whee! “How Are You” is a mature response to a relationship gone bad, crooned in a manner reminiscent of mid-’80s Bowie, and “Killing Time” sounds surprisingly like a period Jeff Lynne production. Which raises this point: aside from the fact these simply aren’t very good songs, it bugs me that the Kinks, in their final years, have not only tried to become JUST LIKE everybody else on the dinosaur circuit, they’ve also failed miserably at it. The result is boring cookie-cutter rock for old people that sounds like it was created by a bunch of disinterested session hacks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kinks - Rock 'N' Roll Cities

(MCA, 1986)

You know what my Kinks reviews have in common with the band’s career? Both are interminable and depressing. Crikey, “Rock ’N’ Roll Cities”? What is this shit? I can’t imagine there’s a worse single in the Kinks’ discography than this appalling turd, which lays out the age-old laundry list of touring-band gripes in the most generic fashion possible over humiliating bar-band backing. Oh, wait! Ha ha! You made up some jokey radio station call letters, one of which is K-O-N-K!! Truly, you’re both a wit and a visionary genius, Dave! Also: FUCK YOU. And “Welcome to Sleazytown” is as bad as its title, a slow, bluesy lump of a song that once again demonstrates Ray’s near-total inability, by the late 1980s, to write – as he once did so easily – lyrics or music capable of moving his audience. Pathetic stuff. Here’s where the Kinks become a joyless, characterless, mindless husk of a band. This is bad music. It really is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kinks - Do It Again

(Arista, 1984)

Word of Mouth – drum machines and all – is an improvement over the putrid State of Confusion, but it’s pretty clear that Ray’s already-suspect creativity is sapped when the album’s single bites the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night,” morphs into a bad Pete Townshend impression, and then, inexplicably, rips off 1968 B-side “She’s Got Everything.” Maybe the whole thing’s a stroke of brilliance meant to illustrate the “nothing is ever really new” mopery of the lyrics. Or maybe Ray’s just out of new musical ideas. And given how little of his songwriting during this decade stands out as anything resembling MEMORABLE or EXCITING (or even WORTH OWNING), I’m putting my money on the latter being the case. Brother Dave’s not faring too well here either, with “Guilty” blaring forth as yet another boring, riff-by-numbers rocker – albeit with an OK chorus – that’s further sandbagged by Dave’s rotten vocals. Always strained and weak-sounding going back to the ’60s, his nasal yowlings are by this point brutal on the ears.

And just to kick the Kinks while they’re down, can anyone out there think of a band that had nearly as “impressive” a run of hideous album covers as these guys did from ’83 through ’88? I mean, good gravy… State of Confusion, Word of Mouth, Think Visual, and The Road are spectacularly ugly artifacts. Eyeball obscenities, all of ’em.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kinks - Lola

(PRT, 1984)

Reissue madness from the zany Spaniards, who take one song from Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, one song from Arthur, cram ’em onto a 7”, and wrap the results in a psychedelicized Village Green Preservation Society sleeve! Such releases are usually crude budget items, so I straight-up dropped my monocle into my martini the first time I saw this fine fella hangin’ out on the shelves of eBay, but recovered quickly enough to send a few coins over to Europe for the thing. Lucky lucky! Now I can inform one and all that this earth-shattering, axis-rocking single contains the stereo “cherry cola” mix of “Lola” and the standard LP version of “Victoria.” And speaking of “Victoria,” I’ve always wondered what’s up with Ray’s voice on there... Why’d he decide to sing it with that then-unheard, lower-register booziness?! I love it plenty, but it’s certainly jarring the first time you hear him mooing away like that! Kinda makes me nervous that there’s a joke here that I’m not in on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kinks - State Of Confusion

(Arista, 1984)

The only CONFUSION one should having regarding this British EP is why it EXISTS, consisting as it does of two then-current LP tracks and edits of two songs off of the band’s 1980 live record. The bits lifted from State of Confusion – the title track and “Heart of Gold” – represent both sides of the bozo-rock coin that make that album such a disaster (one tuff/paranoid growler, one sensitive/Pretenders-style midtempo yawn). An accurate representation of the increasingly tired Kinks at this time, I suppose, but hardly a flattering one. The live songs, meanwhile, are the macho stadium versions of “Lola” and “20th Century Man” that chumps the world over had already bought years earlier on One For the Road. Weird. Honestly, I’m not sure whether this disc was released to promote a tour of the UK, to expose the back catalog to newly-minted fans of “Come Dancing,” or just thrown out there as a cynical (and lousy!) piece of product. All three, perhaps.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kinks - Father Christmas

(Flashback, 1983)

Sometimes life teaches you things. Like Thursday, when I pulled my air conditioner in after a rainstorm and, it being filled with water, promptly dumped a gallon of cloud-piss onto my bedroom floor.

Sometimes Arista reissues things. Like 1983, when the label paired two Kinks singles of the ’70s for a budget 7” and, it being a pointless catalog goosing, promptly dumped tons of unwanted vinyl onto the market.

See what I did there? It’s called craftsmanship. Savor it while I savor my Pulitzer.

All seriousness aside, though – I did in fact win a Pulitzer – this Frankenstein reissue of two semi-golden semi-oldies is a real jukebox champ: “Father Christmas” is mid-/late-period Kinks recalling their snotty/pissed best circa ’64, and “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” is perhaps the finest, heppest, slinkiest ’60s-band-gone-disco song out there… sure beats hell on “Goodnight Tonight,” “Miss You,” and even (MAYBE) “Wiggle That Wotsit.” A pointless cheapie not worth owning, this, but still, thing’s admittedly an impeccable two-song comp. And there’s enough similarly solid stuff out there that if you spring for an LP-length assemblage of Ray’s best from these years you’ll manage to appreciate the guy’s occasional hiccups of brilliance as spread – however thinly – throughout the RCA/Arista/MCA era; I give him a hard time, but dude was OK. Frustrating as heck, but generally OK.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kinks - Come Dancing

(Arista, 1983)

Yup, you know it: This is the big ol’ hit offa that famed album where an ageing Mick Avory, one fifth of the world’s Ugliest Band, is snapped lumbering through the cover-shot in an unfortunate sweatsuit. Yikes! He, all a-perspiring, clearly dug deep for that sprint, so let’s assign credit where due: nicely done, Mick! Gold star for you! And, sure, yeh, while we’re handing out plaudits based on State of Confusion, let’s toss one to the previously catchysong-barren RAY, what with “Come Dancing,” last of the Kinky smashes, being a synth-kissed way-back-when-fest that sledgehammers home most of the standard Davies lyrical obsessions while wrapping everything up in a tidy radio-bow. You: dig the craftsmanship, dig the steel-drum pep, dig the big-band horns at the end. A tasty trifle! Like it! Love it! Congrats, Raymond; you pulled one last nostalgia-hump outta your rump! Huzzah! And yet… the non-LP “Noise” on the B is a sour, curmudgeonly response to mid-’80s radio that’s made all the worse given Ray’s INABILITY TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR and realize that he’s gotta suck big dong on that front, given that he’s desperately trying to get himself on the airwaves at this point by adapting his sound to current trends. A pathetic lyric, a pathetic sentiment, a pathetic song… if anything marks the end of the Kinks as a to-be-taken-seriously thingy, it’s this embarrassing whine-fest. The A was a hit, but the B makes it clear: GIVE UP, RAY. YOU’RE OLD AND OUTTA TOUCH. So? BOO.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kinks - Better Things

(Arista, 1981)

The second American single from Give the People What They Want backs away from the big-gesture aggression of the “Destroyer” 45 by pairing two of the album’s more thoughtful, midtempo songs for 7” release. “Better Things” (now 15 seconds longer than on the LP; ZOINKS!) was a radio hit, but a rather unlikely one due to a wobbly, tentative delivery by Ray and rhythmically-awkward lyrics in the verses that are only semi-successfully shoehorned into the melody. And while there’s definitely something “off” and demo-ish about the whole thing, I suppose there’s enough here to enjoy, like a nice dual-guitar line in the chorus and an overall air of optimism that’s refreshing as compared to the rest of the songs on the album. The significantly darker “Yo-Yo” is a return to sharp, regular-guy character sketches a la Something Else, but with Ray shouting the arena-crunch chorus in his stupid Jagger-of-the-’80s bellow, this is easily identifiable as a Give the People track and not some lost ’60s classic: ultimately, as on the A-side, it’s a good lyric matched with some decent if unremarkable songwriting. So what’s not to tolerate?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kinks - Destroyer

(Arista, 1981)

There’s so much to dislike on
“Destroyer” – the recycling of the “All Day and All of the Night” riff, the gratuitous reappearance of the Lola character, the simplistic red/bed/head rhymes, the bar-band keyboard – that I’m a little bit ashamed by how much I enjoy this gloriously stupid song. It: Calculated…crappy…catchy. Me: CONFLICTED. Which is actually how I feel about most of Give the People What They Want, a guilty-pleasure fave of an album where the Kinks, trying to ape their more successful musical offspring (circa ’81), indulge in big, dumbed-down guitar moves that are bizarrely SHOUTED over by a middle-aged, fashion-conscious, skinny-tie wearing Ray Davies. The weird and fun thing with this material, though, is that thanks (I figure) to the presence of horrible-solo-album-makin’ Dave, the Kinks go beyond new-wave pussyisms and creep into boneheaded Kiss-style territory on songs like B-side “Back to Front,” which is driven by some fantastic chunka-chunka guitar and caveman drums. Lookee: the Kinks prove themselves supremely capable of doing STOOPID quite well here, and given that that’s the direction they’d clearly been moving in since Low Budget, it’s odd to realize that the one thing holding them back from achieving true braindead TRANSCENDENCE (again: Kiss) is the stubborn refusal of Ray’s few remaining shreds of cleverness and craftsmanship to give up the ghost – social commentary and conceptual hoo-haw still abound. It all leads to an odd mixture of beefy fist-pump and psuedo-poetic over-exertion, but thankfully the final product skews dumb, and we’re all the better for that. Find this one in your local dollar bin and hear that I’m right. YOU BETTER ADMIT IT.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kinks - Celluloid Heroes (live)

(Arista, 1980)

Wheeee, the Kinks recorded an overdub-heavy double live album at the end of the ’70s. And wheeee they bothered to release a single from it, perhaps trying to shamefacedly give “Celluloid Heroes” the chart opportunity it should have had back in ’72. Fuck it: As with most live records, this stuff follows the tired “play it faster, play it louder” formula that has resulted in many a pointless concert-souvenir cash-in over the years. Plus you get obnoxious Wings-style synths and some sweaty guitar-noodling by Dave that detracts from the fragility of the original. So why bother? And on the other side, if you’re silly enough to care, the audience-heavy recording of “Lola” is muscular and energetic, but still begs the same question.

Yet: Biggest head-scratcher? Why’s there a palm frond on the cover of this record?! Ray, TELL A GUY.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kinks - Father Christmas

(Arista, 1977)

I can only imagine the excitement felt by the citizens of 1976 when it was reported (on the internet of 1976) that famous baldy Clive Davis had hung Ray Davies by his ankles off of a 20th-story balcony, demanding that he stop recording shitty rock operas. Ray found Clive’s message to be persuasive, and thus, fellow Red Sox fans, did we get Sleepwalker and Misfits, two albums of boring, middle-aged plod-rock that induce yawns aplenty by offering up ultra-slick, Showbiz-style rock-life complaints; beefy, dum-dum Seger-isms; and keyboardarific proto-power ballads. Now, as much as those reviled concept records tended to stink, they at least had a distinctly Kinksian personality… these albums play like Ray Davies wrote them desperately needing a hit and is therefore trying to fit into some sort of AOR mainstream that he doesn’t really understand; it’s here where the Kinks fall behind the times rather than simply out of step with them.

But between those two LPs, the band released “Father Christmas,” a non-album holiday single that showed there might still indeed be some life left in these paunch-rockers. With a sneering, class-conscious lyric about mugging Santa Claus, it’s the most frantic, supercharged song from the Kinks since maybe 1966 (laugh all you want, but calling it Motorhead-lite is just a slight exaggeration), and its memorable chorus and hooks are a welcome respite from the facelessness of so much of Ray’s writing around this time. You: Love it! And then play it repeatedly on your local bowling-alley jukebox, just as I did all the time back in high school! And then prepare to be disappointed by the B-side! “Prince of the Punks,” allegedly a slam directed at ex-bud Tom Robinson, swipes the chorus of “Substitute” and hopefully – given its piano, horns, and bouncy choogle – isn’t actually supposed to sound like punk. The “Substitute” rip could be considered semi-clever, what with the Sex Pistols covering that song and all, but the whole thing isn’t nearly as sharp or damning as I’m sure Ray thought it was at the time.

The A-side is now a bonus track on the Misfits CD, the B is on the Sleepwalker reissue. Good to know, but Smarty Smartman will get either the original 7” or the 99-cent download of “Father Christmas” and just ignore the rest of that era’s Kinks material altogether.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kinks - Sweet Lady Genevieve

(RCA, 1973)

The two-volume Preservation saga is the first major embarrassment for the Kinks (but don’t worry – there are plenty more to come!), a pair of bloated, confused albums almost stunningly uncompelling and inessential in concept, composition, and execution. Still, among the pretentious wreckage of boring rockers and odious show tunes, there are a few tracks that can stand quite ably on their own, and “Sweet Lady Genevieve,” wisely chosen as a single, is one of them. This is a folksy stomp that could have easily come from the group’s ’67-’69 glory days – simple, sunny, laid-back, outstanding melody. It’s pretty much the last gasp from Ray Davies in this style, and it was released, coincidentally, around the same time as the musically-similar late-’60s outtake/rarity LP The Great Lost Kinks Album. Sounds more like a single pushing that disc than Preservation, sez a guy who tends to be right (me).

Perhaps reflecting band or rec-label awareness of the serious lack of strong material from these sessions (though I do like the “Celluloid Heroes”-esque “Where Are They Now”), Everybody’s in Showbiz’s “Sitting in My Hotel” is dusted off for the B-side of “Genevieve.” Which is fine with me, because, if nothing else, it’s nice that there was an attempt to score further exposure for the song, a slice of sad, piano-led self-examination wherein Davies observes his own rock-star ridiculousness from the viewpoint of his back-when friends. Cutting, hard-hitting stuff, and certainly one that deserves to be included on any Kinks comp that purports to collect the group’s greatest. Just a shame that Ray, his head burrowing its way ever further up his own ass, couldn’t train that same sharp, brutally-honest eye on his laughable Preservation and Soap Opera concepts before he decided to dump them on an instantly-vomiting fanbase (rather than into his own brain-toilet).

You know, I have Preservation Act 1 playing right now as I type, and I realize what it is that REALLY annoys me about this album. It’s the fact that, aside from the obvious dreck – a Lou Reed knockoff?! – there are elements of what COULD HAVE BEEN good songs in here, especially within “Daylight” and “Money & Corruption/I am Your Man.” But instead of developing these bits and pieces into lovely little self-contained tracks, Ray decides to strangle them with distracting, plot-advancing lyrics and the ugly musical/vocal bloat of his bellbottomed theater-troupe nonsense. A frustrating waste; he wasn’t out of ideas by ’73, he was just committed to pursuing grandiose ones he was incapable of pulling off.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kinks - Supersonic Rocket Ship

(RCA, 1972)

Mysteries abound on a Sunday night. Like, why did I buy and chew a boneless spare-rib combo from China One? I should have known it would only make me feel ill. And why did some kid of yesteryear write “LOVE IS LOVE – BARRY RYAN” on the back sleeve of my “Supersonic Rocket Ship” single? That ditty by Mr. Ryan alarms me to no end, and I’m not sure why anyone felt compelled to scribble its name on a Kinks 45 in 1972. The biggest mystery of all, however, is why in heck I really, truly LIKE “Supersonic Rocket Ship” when it’s essentially a rewrite of “Apeman,” a song I’m famous the world over for loathing. Escapism, tropical feel, Fey-Ray Davies – it’s all here. Still, as with much of the ultra-silly Everybody’s in Showbiz album, there’s a lazy-yet-punchy feel to the track – dig them horns and kettle drums! – that makes it hard to resist its goofy grooviness. A nifty single, a nifty songle. I woulda maybe preferred to have it paired with the incredible “Sitting in My Hotel,” perhaps the best, most honest song Ray Davies wrote in the ’70s, but hey, instead the B-side is “You Don’t Even Know My Name,” a slide-guitar shitkicker from Dave. Thing would’ve fit better on Muswell Hillbillies or Lola, and yet here it is! Funny how this world works sometimes. Really, though, tune’s fine and so’s life; I bear both but little ill will.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kinks - God's Children

(Pye, 1971)

The oft-ignored Percy soundtrack doesn’t get much love from the people of this world, but the Hott XXX Secret I’m gonna tell you now is that it’s actually filled to bustin’ with terrific songs in the basic mold of the Lola LP’s gentler moments. Ignoring the instrumental throwaways that pad out the record, these are mature, thoughtful, well-produced weepies that stand up as some of the strongest ballads Ray Davies ever recorded. “God’s Children” is the best of them, a rousing, string-filled syrup-fest that makes the same “back to nature” case as “Apeman,” but does it successfully and gorgeously, without the smirky, braindead hokiness that sabotaged the earlier track. An excellent song, and it’s almost matched by “Moments” on the B-side, a fragile hanky-honker that sounds quite a bit like something Paul McCartney might have recorded around the same time (especially when the brief guitar solo begins). Man. YOU WERE SO GOOD AT YOUR JOB BACK THEN, RAY DAVIES. And! Sweetening the deal here is the fact that the German wing of Pye Records offers yet another picture sleeve that kicks the ass of your eyeball, making for an absolute winner of a package. But still: Buy the entire album – both songs are on there – and thrill to the last of the classy, subdued, “sixties-sounding” Kinks records. Things were to get pretty rough after this…

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kinks - Apeman

(Pye, 1970)

If it’s praise for “Apeman” that you seek, seek elsewhere, PAL, because I don’t have many kind things to say about a single that takes Ray Davies’ dead-horse themes of dislocation and escape and forces them into a cloying, dunderheaded novelty entirely lacking in wit. Sure, I can appreciate new-guy John Gosling, who continues to make his presence felt with a pronounced piano/keys oom-pah that adds extra weight to the music, but, as on “Lola,” what’s up with Ray’s “in-character” vocals? That weak, tip-toe style of enunciating that he employs is EXTREMELY irritating, not to mention mildly racist during his terrible “reggae-man” spoken bit. Lousy lyrics (“I’m an apeman, I’m an ape-apeman, oh I’m an apeman / I’m a King Kong man, I’m a voodoo man / Oh I’m an apeman”) compound the problem, making “Apeman” a record that hardly ranks among the finer moments from ol’ Ray, a guy who likes to fancy himself the thinking-fellow’s pop star. Pfft. Clunker though it is, feel free to flip the thing over and enjoy “Rats,” a typically serviceable Dave Davies rawker. While the Kinks aren’t quite capable of running with the Heavy crowd of the early ’70s, this one makes a noble, noisy go of it and actually ain’t half bad. We’ll never see eye to eye on the whole alien-visitation thing, but I think we can at least agree that you did a swell job here, Dave! Common ground, my friend.