The Kinks

Strongest album: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Must To Avoid: You Really Got Me

Generally thought of as a minor British invasion band with a few hits, the Kinks are in fact one of the giants of popular music, with a career spanning four decades and several hundred of the most charming, melodic, hard rocking, compassionate, and intelligent tunes to grace this music we call rock'n'roll. The leap from "You Really Got Me" to "Waterloo Sunset" is as big a leap as the Beatles made from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to "Strawberry Fields", and both were made between 1964 and 1967! Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by the Beatles, Who, Stones, etc., and their best music (the 1966-1970 era) went practically unheard, at least in America. However, every power-pop, garage, punk, Brit-pop band worth their salt knows how great they are - it's not for nothing that Ray Davies is, after Lennon/McCartney and Bob Dylan of course, the most covered songwriter in rock. Their music is pretty eclectic, ranging from garage-protopunk to music hall to Beatlesy pop to Sinatra-y pop to Caribbean currents to limeys-play-blues'n'country to conventional hard rock, to name a few genres. Needless to say, they aren't equally successful at every style they tackle; their major flaw is releasing too much material - Ray Davies may be a legendary songwriter, but even legends write clunkers, and he doesn't have a Paul or George to back him up (ok, Ray had Dave, but Dave wasn't that prolific as a songwriter, great guitarist though he may be). Their albums, with a few exceptions, generally pit brilliance against the enjoyable-but-mundane. Their late-period albums (post-1970) exemplify this flaw to a greater degree than the classic '66-70 period, though they released plenty of good, even great, music in the '70s and '80s. Can't say much for the '90s, though. Anyway, any band that has influenced Blur, Mott the Hoople, the Clash, Big Star, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, the Jam, Squeeze, Aimee Mann, AC/DC, the Lyres, Camper van Beethoven, Shonen Knife, Green Day, Paul Westerberg, Sex Pistols, the Pretenders (admittedly bearing Ray Davies' child is carrying hero-worship to the extreme), the Who (the Beatles and Stones, for that matter!) has earned its place in history. As you might have guessed, the only think most of the people on this rather, um, eclectic list have in common is having covered songs credited to R. or D. Davies. Their music is slightly less eclectic, with plenty of variations in style and some huge ups and down in quality as well. There's an excellent website with a mailing list, news, and all sorts of neat stuff, and it's really well done.

Special Update: The first five Kinks albums, You Really Got Me, Kinda Kinks, The Kinks Kontroversy, Face To Face, and Something Else by the Kinks, have recently been reissued in Britain with bonus tracks. I don't have these reissues and may need to upgrade when they are released in the States. From a glance at the track listing of the bonus tracks - "Autumn Almanac", "Dead End Street", and other brilliant singles - I would surmise that at least one extra star needs to be added to my ratings of these albums, if you are purchasing these reissues. The additions to Face To Face look particularly good.

Yet another update: Well, it looks like Velvel is going to reissue the entire Kinks catalog. So far the reissues have reached the mid-70s, though the '70s reissues only have one or two bonus tracks per album as opposed to the five or six contained on each of the '60s albums, making them less appealing. The good part is that I've finally gotten hold of the Preservation series; unfortunately, the '70s Kinks releases that are being reissued are generally quite spotty and not the band's best material, and my ratings for these particular albums stays the same.

You Really Got Me(1964)*1/2

Back in the good old days, before Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds, rock'n'roll (and it did roll back then, too) was primarily a singles medium. A band had its hit, then got rushed off to the studio to knock off an album to put the hit on, a process that lasted all of eight hours. Ever seen That Thing You Do? You know, where the record company tells'em they have to record a bunch a lame covers and a Spanish language version of "That Thing You Do?" Unfortunately, this album is from that era. Stuck right in the middle is the hit - track #8, in fact - that liberating blast of distortion that basically laid the groundwork for heavy metal, punk, hard rock, what ever you wanna call it. No, Jimmy Page didn't play lead guitar on it, though you can bet he got plenty of ideas, as did Pete Townsend ("I Can't Explain"). And as far as this album goes, that's it. Repeated listenings have revealed the charms of the harmonica-driven "I Took My Baby Home", a foreshadowing of gender-bending to come, and the sped-up, incomprehensible cover "Too Much Monkey Business" is right up Ray's alley (Chuck Berry was a hugeinfluence on Ray's vocal style and lyrics. Heck, you know the guy influenced everybody! You know, it's like he invented rock'n'roll or something!). The rest is lame white-boys playin' the blues, not half as good as the Stones or Yardbirds or Animals, but darn tootin' better than Herman's Hermits by half (who did, by the way, a cloying version of Ray's "Dandy"). And producer Shel Talmy's "Bald Head" duo are real lows, obviously written and performed just so he could get some royalties. The Rhino CD reissue adds three bonus tracks: a limp "Long Tall Sally", and a couple of laughable Beatles ripoffs "You Still Want Me" and "You Do Something To Me". The even newer, heavily bonus tracked reissue appends precisely one song that you might actually want to hear: "All Day and All of the Night," a clone of you-know-what, but for some reason I've always liked it better.

Kinda Kinks (1965) **

Well, it appears that the boys spent more than a few hours in the studio this time 'round, as the material and performances are noticably stronger. However, that's not to say this album is much good. It's better than the debut insofar as it contains 4, count'em, 4 decent songs. "Tired of Waiting For You," begins Ray's string of masterfully melancholy ballads, and "Something Better Beginning," ends the album with another. "Don't Ever Change," while not nearly as good as those two strokes, does show some melodic improvement for a quite listenable mid-tempo number. "Come On Now," has a cool surf riff but not much else, but the cool surf riff is enough for me to look forward to this little ditty. The rest is insipid and I have next to nothing to say about any of it. No, wait, I do have some things to say. To wit: Dave's singing sucks, and I literally cringe when it's his turn at bat, especially "Naggin' Woman." "Dancing In the Street," might concievably have been a good song when it first came out, but years of overplay have sickened me on that stupid song, and a cover is always a tragic waste of space on a Kinks album. But hey, the liner notes are interesting, particularly Ray's: "I don't want to be a pop star. I think that this is just a part of my life which will come to an end."

Kink-Size Kinkdom (1965)**1/2

This Rhino reissue contains tracks found on the "Kink-Size" and "Kinkdom" EPs or mini-LPs or ripoffs or whatever, plus some concurrent singles and B-sides. Have I noted what a mess the Kinks' discography is, especially in the early days when albums weren't albums but luxuries 'cause the real gold was in singles? A big improvement over the previous album, though the pressure of releasing two or three albums' worth of material per year caught the still-developing Ray with a shortage of quality. Thankfully they don't subject us to any covers save for a ho-hum stab at "Louie, Louie", but there's still way too much filler; many of these songs seem written five minutes before they were recorded, if even that much. That said, "I Need You" is a thuggish stomp with an amazingly brutal two-chord riff (it might be three chords, it sounds like only one!) repeated by Dave over and over with a short break for guitar solo, showing the future Troggs and AC/DC how to thud that primal caveman swing. "See My Friends" is the only good song here that isn't found on Rhino's Greatest Hits, which is a shame, since it's the second most innovative single of their early period. Inspired by a brief stop in India, Ray fragilely sings the drowsy melody and Dave imitates a sitar with a buzzing drone, inventing the Velvet Underground a whole two years early, as well as being the first rock song to betray an Indian influence. "A Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" are Ray's first forays into the social commentary that he's renowned for, though like the first steps of a toddler, they are as clumsy as they are charming. But it's the final track that you'll remember this CD for, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", a song so tough and nihilistic that the Sex Pistols covered it before they had originals, though it's questionable whether any of the punks ever peered this far into the void. The minor keys menace in as Ray sings in a quiet boy's voice, the voice of someone who's held his tongue and kept his place while being pushed around and has HAD IT, that quiet voice seething with passive-aggressive anger, Ray repeating "I'm not like everybody else" three times, each time louder, until he explodes with pent-up fury into the chorus, lashing out against anyone and everyone who's ever hurt him, and that includes anyone and everyone. It's one of the most powerful statements of alienation anyone has made, in music, literature, or film, and one of rock's genuinely scary moments.

The Kink Kontroversy (1965) ***

The record that captures the Kinks in a transitional period between garage ravers and sublime, slightly arty popsters. It's a considerable improvement over their previous releases, but it's still inconsistent (that's what happens when you record four albums in one year). Evenly split between by now standard Kinks tropes - the frenetic speed rocker "Till the End of the Day," was the single - and more measured, reflective moments, it throws hints of things to come all over the place. Though the record begins with an exciting blues cover (a real anomaly - Kinks covers usually sucked, and they were generally pretty lame tackling R&B) "Milk Cow Blues," it swiftly segues into "Ring the Bells," an intriguing early attempt at the lovely balladic style Ray would soon master. The almost Zen contemplation of "The World Keeps Going Round," (which would turn up later, to better effect, in "Big Sky") and the cynical wordplay of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" again demonstrate creative growth and map out directions Ray would explore the rest of his career. "I'm On An Island," is a weird little number that introduces the Kinks' jones for calypso. However, most of the rest consists of generic throwaway material (still!), though not as embarrassing as some of the stuff off their earlier albums (Dave keeps improving). As Kevin Featherly states in his spot-on review (at the bottom of the page under Reader Comments), this is easily their best pre-Face to Face album, and it is crucial to understanding just how Ray made such a massive leap in such a short time. According to the liner notes, the Kinks began recording Face to Face within weeks after this release. Think about that, folks - weeks separated the early garage Kinks from the mid-period Brit-Pop Kinks...

Greatest Hits (1966, 1989)****

All you need to hear from the Kinks earliest, and probably weakest, era. You know the hits, all of which I've mentioned earlier, except for "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" which has some of Ray's most incisive lyrics and a great chorus, "Set Me Free" a just-ok rewrite of "Tired of Waiting For You", "Who'll Be the Next In Line" which I always thought of as just another bluesy bore, "Stop Your Sobbing" which was done ten times better by future fiance of Ray Chrissie Hynde, and "Sunny Afternoon" a great breezy summertime tune that'll get your toes tappin' so much you might miss those lines about a girlfriend running away due to "drunkenness and cruelty". As far as '60s singles compilations, this is only bettered by the Who's Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy and the Byrds'Greatest Hits. The great stuff is so good you'll forgive the weaker songs. Every garage band in the universe has worn out a dozen copies.

Face To Face(1966)****1/2

Now here's where the going gets great. In a couple of short years Ray had somehow made a dramatic improvement in his songwriting, making the Kinks one of the few original British Invasion bands able to keep up with the Beatles' continuing improvements. Perversely, this artistic ascendance was accompanied by a commercial slump - they had no hits between 1966 and 1970, and their albums barely sold at all. This album does contain "Sunny Afternoon", the last of those hits, and it delineates the change from scorching garage-rock to tuneful pop. The Kinks were the most English of their contemporaries, and they were innovative in looking towards the British musical traditions of pop and music hall as opposed to country and blues, and it's often said that being too English was one of the reasons they weren't successful in America. From my point of view, that's bollocks - except for some jabs at the English class system, the subjects that Ray sings about here are pretty universal: world-weariness ("Too Much On My Mind"), a rueful character study of a womanizer ("Dandy"), a sister who's left home ("Rosy Won't You Please Come Home"), the excesses of commercialization ("Holiday In Waikiki"). "Session Man" is an ode to the great piano player Nicky Hopkins, and a sly commentary on the commodification of musicians ("He's not paid to think, just play"). Overall the songs are great, but the sound is awfully thin; this was 1966, and I guess Ray and Shel Talmy didn't know much about recording yet, or have the proper technology. Originally this album was supposed to contain 18 songs connected by dialogue, making it the first 'concept' album, but the record company execs thought that that was too radical, so 14 unrelated songs were released instead. The good fight thwarted by those people in grey, again!

Live At Kelvin Hall(1966)***

The main instrument heard on this live album is the audience's incessant screams. You can barely hear the band play half the time, and don't even try deciphering Ray's between song patter! Luckily, when you can hear the band they're pretty hot, delivering racous versions of their early material, most of which is either on Greatest Hits and Face To Face. I'm not a fan of live albums, and like most of the breed this is fun for the converted and inessential for neophytes. Question: Why does a group of girls break into "Happy Birthday" in the middle?

Something Else(1967)*****

The Kinks' first wholly successful masterpiece, it's another great leap forward in songwriting, arranging, and production. This may be their finest album. It begins with "David Watts", a bitter little ditty about a boy who has everything, and ends with "Waterloo Sunset", perhaps the loveliest ballad rock has ever produced, the sad but oddly peaceful tale of a man who watches two lovers from a window. Dave finally comes into his own with "Death of a Clown", a Dylan-esque rollicker that'll drive you to drinkin'. "Two Sisters" is one of the earliest, and still most sensitive, songs in rock with a feminist slant. "Afternoon Tea" is Ray at his most charming, an olde fashioned love song tinged with regret, with wonderful ba-ba-ba-ba-ba's. "Lazy Old Sun": neo-psychedelia with the bright melody poking through like the sun bursting "through the heavy thunder clouds." Dave raves like the lusty garage-rocker he is in the organ-driven "Love Me Till the Sun Shines", dropping his defenses in the bridge with "Baby, baby I don't know what I'm doin'/Everything I do it turns to ruin." Another Dave song, "Funny Face", contrasts a jagged guitar hop with lovely a-capella harmonies clear like whispery breath on a winter's day. All of those songs are great, great, GREAT, the Kinks at their absolute best, and the only real problem with the album is that the remaining five songs, while good, pale in comparison. But each of those other songs are fine in their own right, especially "Situation Vacant", the sad tale of a conniving mother-in-law and the precariousness of lower-middle class life. This album may also seem a bit hodgepodge compared to some of their others, since it was never recorded as an album as such but put together mainly from '67 singles, two of which, "Death of A Clown" and "Waterloo Sunset" reached #2 in England. In the U.S. it went unnoticed, which is probably due to a four-year ban from North America more than anything else; this is the first album they made after a temporary retirement from touring, and like the Beatles' retirement, it improved their music dramatically.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Many regard this as the Kinks' masterpiece, and it is certainly their most legendary. Which just goes to show'ya, since it was their worst selling - it only sold 17,000 copies in the U.S. when it came out. Nothing on here reaches the spectacular highs of "Waterloo Sunset" or "Victoria", but this is, song-for-song, their most consistent set. Loosely inspired by Dylan Thomas' "Under the Milkwood", it sketches out life in a small English town, capturing its citizens with their small pleasures and mundane realities. It's a quiet, engrossing album, filled with mostly acoustic pop, but never laid-back or banal. Ray pares down his lyrics and the music to absolute, enchanting simplicity, giving the songs a timeless quality. An unheard of rarity at the time, this was rock not as raise-the-roof teenage dance music, but rather a children's storybook set to music. Nostalgia for young and innocent days - "Do You Remember Walter", playing cricket in the rain, is my favorite - coexist with cartoon characters like "Johnny Thunder", "Wicked Annabella", "Phenomenal Cat" (straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland), and oh, yes, "The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains". The band plays at its quietest and most stripped-down; any jolts of noise or baroqueness would only break the spell. No other "rock" album is better for a peaceful picnic in the country. Or just close your eyes, listen to this album, and you'll already be there.

Arthur, Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire

The Who's Tommy beat this by an entire month, which is too bad, since it's a better album. It's not strictly a "rock opera", either, but rather a soundtrack to a British mini-series that was never aired. The story concerns a lower-middle class carpet-layer named Arthur whose brother gets killed in WWI ("Some Mother's Son") and whose children emigrate to Australia ("Australia"). It's not quite as good as the previous three albums, the production and performances being somewhat dry. But it's only disappointing compared to the previous three; otherwise, this is another typically brilliant album. The side openers, "Victoria" and "Shangri-La" are the most immediately compelling tracks, and for the first hundred times or so I thought they were the best things on the album. However, I slowly succumbed to "Drivin'" a seeming throwaway, that like 75% of Ray's songs, seems slight until you dig a little deeper (subject: not drivin', but British isolationism in the '30s). Burying his pretensions keeps Ray on the right side of pretentiousness, which despite our denials we all know rock'n'roll can't live without. "Some Mother's Son" may be the most powerful anti-war song I've ever heard, because instead of making some grand sweeping statement, the song focuses on one mother's grief, specifically the picture she has of her son hung up on the wall. "Some mother's son lies in a field/But in his mother's eyes, he looks the same/As on the day he went away" may be the most heartbreaking lines Ray has ever delivered, and "But still the world keeps turning/Though all the children have gone away" is profound in its simplicity. The band returns to harder rock, though still folky and poppy, and only loses its way when they try to jam at the end of the otherwise sublime travelogue "Australia" ("No class distinctions/No drug addiction"). The Kinks are a song band, and they can't solo or show off, which is why I love'em. And kudos to Dave for that riff smack in the middle of "Brainwashed", the hardest he's hit since '65.

Lola Vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround(1970)****1/2

This was the first Kinks album I ever bought, and while it's not their best, it's the one I probably listen to the most (sentimental reasons, I guess). The hit was "Lola", which you already know all about, but there are other great songs as well. The band returns to a harder, more stripped-down approach - "Top of the Pops" rocks like crazy, especially the slow build-up in the middle, and "Rats" may be mainly a riff, but what a neat, fuzzy-chewy-rubbery little riff it is! Good to hear from'ya again, Dave, "Rats" and "Strangers" a moving ballad that I still don't know what the hell is about, are the first songs you've put on a Kinks album since Something Else, and they're good! "Get Back In Line" begins perfectly: "Facing the world ain't easy/When there isn't anything going/Standing at the corner waiting/Watching time go by", aawww, Ray, you almost bring me to tears with your tale of a little man who only wants to make an honest living and bring his honey home some wine, but the Big Boss Union Man won't let'em! "A Long Way From Home" is another moving little ballad about hippies/bohemians who aren't as grown up as they think they are. "This Time Tommorrow" kicks off side two with calm harmonies, a simple effective riff, and a typically lovely melody on a song about flying across the ocean; when Ray sings, "This time tomorrow/Where will we be?" he may be literally singing about which city he's going to land in, but emotionally it implies more, like where am I going in this life? "Apeman" is a kinda goofy slice of Kinksociology, but a few cups of banana wine and you're as loose-limbed as a monkey, Ray's fruity fake-Caribbean accent the cherry in the daquari.

The Kink Kronikles(1972)*****

The Kinks left the Reprise label after Lola, so Reprise came out with this double-album compilation that picks up where the original '64-66 Greatest Hits left off, with only "Sunny Afternoon" overlapping. This covers their indisputably finest period, 1966-1970, from Face To Face to Lola, and I can't think of a better introduction to the Kinks. It's also essential for fans who already own the previous five albums, since about two-thirds of this consists of A-sides that didn't make it to albums, B-sides, and unreleased tracks. Chief among the goodies are - where to begin?!? - "Days" a timeless, lilting ballad that has been covered a lot but never bettered than the original; "Deadend Street" a defiant, lugubrious tour through the slums of London; "Autumn Almanac" about growing old and gardening, and realizing you're never going to leave the same street you've lived on all your life, a thought both comforting and regretful. "Autumn Almanac" is amazing for its structure, the way it constantly keeps changing from section to section, yet it all seems naturally fluid, not patched together at all. Dave's best Kinks song may be the B-side "Mindless Child of Motherhood", his high-pitched wailing obscuring the lyrics but packing an immense emotional punch. And speaking of B-sides, just how did a song as wonderful as "This Is Where I Belong" wind up as one thrown away in Holland? My only real complaint is that they picked some of the weaker tunes from Face To Face to represent that album, and there's only one from V.G.P.S., but since I already own those I can't complain too much. The other problem is that this is so wonderful that neophytes will be disappointed when they buy the original albums! You haven't heard the Kinks until you've heard this compilation, and anyone who doesn't love them after hearing it....Well, there are people who don't like the Beatles, either!?! Start here and proceed according to how much this makes you want to buy their entire back catalog.

Muswell Hillbillies(1971)****

Or the Kinks go country after a side trip through New Orleans. When I first heard this album I didn't hate it exactly, just felt bored, but it grew on me eventually, and when it did I discovered one the finest collections of Ray's songs I've heard. The synthesis of English music hall and American blues/ragtime/country may seem eccentric, but it's inspired and the Kinks pull it off more often than not. The songs are really fun, but the way they are put across leaves much to be desired. Not for the first, and certainly not for the last time, some of the Kinks' finest material is sabotaged by poor and/or inappropriate production. The sound is muffled, and the band sounds sloppy, like they really have been sousing themselves in a Southern saloon. This distracts when the material is fine ("Complicated Life") and is disastrous when the material isn't up to par ("Acute Schizophrenia Paronoia Blues"). "20th Century Man" kicks the record off with a conventional rocker, a Luddite protest anthem that ol' Unabomber Ted could hum as he mailed away "care packages", that is if he believed in having stereo technology in his cabin. "Holiday" and "Alcohol" are studies in laziness and dissipation, turn-of-the-century style tunes that your great-grandfather might have requested from the barroom piano player if the songs had existed in 1911 instead of 1971. "Here Come the People In Grey" is another paranoid anti-gubmint' anthem that is creepily appropriate for these paranoid times, though not half as good as "20th Century Man". Despite nonsense throwaways "Have A Cuppa Tea" and "Skin and Bones", the album is much darker than previous affairs, a depressing kronikle of paranoia, mental breakdowns, jail, alcoholism, lack of inertia and motivation, confusion, the only way out of your miserable hum-drum life being pathetic fantasies of being Rita Hayworth or Doris Day in "Oklahoma, U.S.A." Fantasizing about Oklahoma is funny to me, you see, 'cause I'm from Arkansas, and our main source of pride is that we have "No. 50 in everything" Mississippi to the east, and Oklahoma "The Land Without Trees or Culture" to the west, so our state looks good in comparison. England must be a miserable place if it you fantasize about running off to Oklahoma, and it's one of Ray's five or so most moving ballads. The title track makes fun of all this, limeys from Muswell Hill (the section of London Ray and Dave grew up) pining away for an America they've never seen. The Rolling Stones, for instance, would never have written a song that spells out so honestly the contradictions of English boys ripping off country and the blues. But that's what you gotta love about the Kinks - they tell it like it is, and how it is is that life is messy and "so complicated".

Percy(1971) **

This is the soundtrack to the movie "Percy" which concerns a penis transplant, which I've never seen, though I'm sure it's a cinematic masterpiece on par with Kurosawa's The Seven Samuari, Godard's Masculin, Feminin, and Myerson's Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach. It's a hastily assembled mess; Davies has no talent for instrumental scoring, and the wordless revamping of "Lola" counts as one of the band's all-time career lows. It's not a complete loss, as the actual Kinks vocal songs contain some of Ray's most sensitive and affecting balladry. The twin centrepieces, the tender "Moments" and the haunting "The Way Love Used To Be," reflect on loss and the fragility of the time we're given of happiness as poignantly as anything in the Kinks catalogue. "Animals in the Zoo," recycles "Apeman" for a slight, if amusing throwaway, "Just Friends," visits Kurt Veill cabaret territory for a glimpse into the Preservation-era future, "Willesden Green," is a beyond-pathetic stab at hardcore C & W, while "God's Children," triumphs as a searingly melodic, if somewhat syrupy, protest against the excesses of cold-hearted modern science. The reissue merely adds more soundtrack versions of "Dreams," "Moments," and "The Way Love Used To Be," (there is no sound reason for having 4 versions of the same song on one disc), making it a mostly useless upgrade. Pick it up if you see it cheap for the four or five worthwhile songs, but keep in mind there are about 20 other Kinks LPs more worthy of your attention and dollars (or pounds, pesos, rubles, yen, or whatever they call that funny money you foreigners use).

Everybody's In Showbiz(1972)***1/2

Ray is still capable of brilliance, but there's more filler, and what seem like slight throwaways areslight throwaways, not subtle gems. This sounds like Muswell Hillbillies with better production and worse songs, with some calypso thrown into the country/New Orleans mix. Not that this isn't an entertaining album; on the heels of brilliance, this must have been very disappointing when it originally came out, but time has been much kinder to it. From here on out, don't expect consistency from the Kinks; what you get on nearly every album is a handful of brilliant songs alongside material that's either mundane or facile, though rarely unlistenable. Most of the latter-day albums are worth it for the brilliant stuff, however, and are highly underrated. The critics of the time overreacted to the Kinks' drop in quality and basically wrote them off after 1971, which wasn't fair considering that the Kinks still put out good records, just not brilliant ones. And let's face it, good records were something the Stones, for instance, just weren't capable of (Some Girls excepted) after 1972. The ***1/2 grade is the medium grade on my scale, which means it's an entertaining album that I'll listen to consistently with pleasure and you probably will too, but it's not what you'd call an album to live for. The first half contains new studio songs that mainly have Ray bitching about life on the road. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but the record gets off on the wrong foot by making the three worst songs the first three songs. Luckily the album rights itself, with Dave's "You Don't Know My Name" sounding like a cross between Canned Heat and an outtake from Every Picture Tells A Story. "Sitting In My Hotel" is another standout, though by this time the song and chord structures have gotten rather formulaic. The really great song on this record, though, is the epic ballad "Celluloid Heroes" a bittersweet rumination on dead Hollywood stars in which Ray admits that he wishes his life were like a movie "Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain/And celluloid heroes never really die." At seven minutes, this ballad really does have a cinematic sweep, especially in light of the fact that Ray almost never wrote a song that took more than three or four minutes. The second half of this double album is a live recording, selecting songs mainly from Muswell Hillbillies. The best parts are the brief covers (fragments, really) of sing-alongs like Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song" (you know, the one that goes "Day-O! Daylight come and we wanna go home"), and Ray's between-song patter ("And I guess ya'all know who I am....Hello, my name's Johnny Cash").

Preservation Act I (1973) ***

After having made several concept albums, Ray decided to produce a full-fledged musical, complete with a fleshed-out theatrical stage show. Entitled Preservation, it spanned three albums and stands as a one of rock's monumental follies. Unlike the Who's similiar operas, which failed because they didn't make any sense, the Kinks suffer from being far too literal: the songs are little more than pieces of text designed to move the plot along, and never before and thankfully again would Ray deign to be so heavy-handed. The first act isn't all that bad, though. In fact, there are three genuine Kinks klassics: "Sweet Genevieve" cut brilliantly from the same harmonica-laden pop-folk cloth as "Susannah's Still Alive" and the album's best song; a nifty little rocker "One of the Survivors" about this '50s holdover who spins his 78s of Jerry Lee Lewis while his sideburns grow gray; and "Sitting In The Midday Sun", which suffers a bit from a rather formulaic Davies song structure but is otherwise full of warmth and charm. The rest is filler, mostly, but it's not bad filler, mostly. "Where Are They Now" and "Money and Corruption/I Am Your Man" are ballads with strong melodies that suffer from excessive wordiness (though I really can't say anything too bad about a pop song concerning Alan Sillitoe and John Osborne, among other Angry Young Men). This is certainly a huge step down in quality from the work the Kinks were doing circa Muswell Hillbillies, and the in its day it was universally panned by the critics; it's not quite as bad as some say, but it is an album that those who aren't hardcore Kinks fans won't have much use for. Not so coincidentally, the best songs on this album have nothing to do with the Preservation plot; the fact that Ray doesn't stick to the Preservation theme is what saves this album from disaster. Unfortunately, after taking a few pleasant sidetrips, he began the drama in earnest...

Preservation Act II (1974) *1/2

It's a truism that every Kinks album has at least two or three good songs on it, even the worst, and that every Kinks album has at least two or three bad songs, even the best (except V.G.P.S.). Well, this is the only Kinks album without a single good song on it. Admittedly some of the material approaches being a good song ("Salvation Road", "Mirror Of Love") but gets derailed by flat production and heavy-handed wordiness. Ray dashed this off quickly, and it seems that he spent nearly all his time writing lyrics and not nearly enough on composing the music. Have you ever written a piece of prose and tried to sit down and set a tune to it? It didn't come out right, did it? It sounded awkward and forced, didn't it? You just can't write good songs using that method, not even if you're Ray Davies. The plot itself is actually pretty intelligent as far as rock musicals go: the greedy, venal capitalist Flash is running the nation. The people are sick of his rule, so the Puritan socialist Mr. Black swoops down and leads a revolt against the government. Mr. Black wins, yet it turns out that he's as bad as Flash, if not worse: he wants to turn everybody into automatons who don't indulge in sin and exist only to serve the state. The problem is that Ray doesn't deliver any individually inspired songs; in fact, he never deviates from the plot, which results in an entire album of makeshift songs designed to move the action along. This was the only double studio album the Kinks ever released, and it seems to go on forever; for the first time listening to the Kinks I had to switch the CD off halfway through when I first heard this because I couldn't take it anymore. Usually I regard a Kinks album as a gift from the gods and play it all the way through as soon as I get home from the record store, but this one was rough going.

The Great Lost Kinks Album(1973)****1/2

Released for about three minutes back in 1973, this impossible-to-find album has often been bootlegged. Most bootlegs pair it with Dave's Album That Never Was from his aborted late-60s solo album, which is what my bootleg contains. If you see it on vinyl, buy it even if you don't have a record player - it's quite a rarity. These songs date from between Something Else and V.G.P.S., and are generally of the same style and quality, if a bit rougher and lyrically slighter. Why these songs were never released boggles the mind, since they soar over most of the band's '70s output. I know I'd never be anywhere without "Misty Water", "Lavender Hill", "Where Did My Spring Go?"....oh, about every song! Dave throws in a fantasy about quitting rock'n'roll and becoming a big shot director in "Groovy Movies", and "This Man He Weeps Tonight" is an impassioned pop-rocker, one of his best. Ray's standout is "The Way Love Used To Be" an incredibly sad and haunting song that uses minimal words and chords, relying mainly on atmosphere that tells you more than words could. Think of this as a companion piece to the Kink Kronikles: it's sloppier and messier, rougher around the edges and less consistent, but draws a truer - and more endearing - portrait of the band. As for Dave's Album That Never Was, it's not quite as good but contains several failed singles like "Lincoln County" and "Creepin' Jean" that prove that if he'd ever gotten a chance to release that solo album, it would've been a knockout.

The Kinks Present A Soap Opera(1975)**1/2

It's not quite a disaster - this album is actually pretty pleasant, full of charming little tunes kronikling the story of how the "Starmaker" (a big rock star) changes places with an average joe by the name of Norman. However, when I actually start paying attention to most of the songs, they don't hold up, pleasant little ditties that only a sitcom character could get excited about. The exceptions are the aforementioned "Starmaker" due to its rockin' riff (stolen from the early Who, which is alright since the Who stole from the Kinks as well); "Face In The Crowd" a lovely ballad in which the character (Ray? Norman?) wonders if he's nothing special, just an ordinary guy; and "You Make It All Worthwhile" one of Ray's warmest songs and which would be much better if they cut out the intrusive characters' talking. This is a musical, after all, and Ray still hasn't figured out that the best way to write a good musical is to write good songs, not write songs just to move the plot along.

Schoolboys In Disgrace(1975)**1/2

Yet another musical, and it's slightly better than Soap Opera, but it's still not a success. Let's see, "Schooldays" is nice slice of nostalgia in a Village Green mode. "Education" is a good, anthemic song until about half the way through its seven minutes ("Celluloid Heroes" was great, but please stick to three-minute songs, Ray, it's what you do best), when it turns into a repetitive monstronsity. "I'm In Disgrace" and "The Hardway" are catchy, melodic hard rockers that hit harder than anything since the early days, and point towards the direction they'd take in the near future. "No More Looking Back" has the most emotional resonance of any song on the album, and is probably the best, if a bit blandly performed. So, according to my math, that's 4 and a half good songs, which ought to rate three stars in my book. But somehow, it seems less than that; the pieces don't add up, for one thing. The other problem is that the filler isn't pleasant-but-harmless as we have come to expect from the Kinks. No, the bad songs are as close to unlistenable as the Kinks get, "Jack the Idiot Dunce" being the worst offender - the title alone tells you all you need to know. I doubt I've heard more incompetent doo-wop than "The First Time We Fall In Love", complete with lyrics that are obvious and trivial by Ray's previous standards. All in all, worth a listen if you see it cheap, but remember, the bad stuff is really bad.

The Kinks' Greatest: Celluloid Heroes(1976)***

The Kinks have several dozen compilations out, most of which are kind of ok but poorly selected. Plenty of good songs, but you should really go to the original albums. I don't have the space to review all those compilations, but I'm making an exception for this one because I'm not aware of there being another overview of the Kinks' RCA era (1971-1976). Though the Kinks arguably did their weakest work during this period, a good compilation on the order of Kronikles could have been put together. This isn't that compilation. A selection of highlights from this era is quite useful, since the original albums were rather spotty - excepting "You Make It All Worthwhile" this collects everything you need to hear from Soap Opera. Those curious about this era of the Kinks might as well start here. However, there are two problems. One, the song selection is far from ideal - this is actually less consistent than Muswell Hillbillies and even Everybody's In Showbiz. There's no "Oklahoma U.S.A." or anything from Schoolboys; worse yet, several of the tracks are live recordings that, like most live recordings, don't compare favorably to the studio versions (completists should note that these are different versions than the live half of Everybody's In Showbiz and are unavailable elsewhere). This brings me to the second problem, which is that the Kinks apparently decided to re-record, or use alternate takes, for much of this material. The songs aren't radically different from the original versions, but are uniformly inferior. "20th Century Man" has all the life sucked out of it; luckily, the other songs are considerably less damaged, with only minor alterations. A curiosity for completists and a not-bad-introduction for neophytes, but they really could have done a lot better with this era.

Sleepwalker (1977) ***

Ray stopped writing musicals after the Kinks switched labels again to Arista - at the express order of the label president, so I've heard. It's a definite step up from their last four albums - their best work since Showbiz, in fact. Settling into a likable arena-rock mode, Ray downsizes his writing to snappy pop-rock numbers again, with generally decent results. Continuing the trend begun on Schoolboys, Dave's guitar arrives to the fore, as the younger Davies displays a more fluid and technically accomplished style than before (he finally learns how to solo!). In fact, Dave's playing has rarely been bettered outside of this period, IMHO. The Kinks would pursue the style staked out on this album for the rest of their period on Arista (which ended in 1986), gaining them their largest audience and record sales ever, particularly in America. However, at least on this LP one of the worse aspects of their RCA records - the flat, grey overproduction - carries over. Several of Ray's melodies are rather flat, also ("Brothers"). Sleepwalker is easily the weakest of the Kinks' six Arista studio albums, excepting Low Budget (of which my displeasure with appears to be a minority opinion). Despite at least two excellent, klassic numbers - the upbeat "Juke Box Music" and "Life Goes On" which John Cougar Melonhead lifted the main riff from in "Jack & Diane" - this isn't a terribly interesting album. It's okay, and sturdy enough to not bother you any, but there's little to entice the listener to put it back on when it's over. The 1998 Velvel reissue appends five bonus tracks of similar quality - not bad, but hardly worth get exciting about. The infamous B-side "Prince of the Punks" contains treasurably biting comments concerning punk scene phonies; too bad it's rather tepid musically - would have been much more convincing if the Kinks had rocked out punkily (it's not like they couldn't - they invented the form back in the mid-'60s). No "Jools and Jim" this - now there's a convincing attack on punks by an aging rocker!

Misfits (1978) ***1/2

When I first heard it, I would have given this four stars easily, but unlike most Kinks albums, it actually wears thin after repeated plays instead of growing on you. The title track and "A Rock And Roll Fantasy" (no, not the Bad Company song, thank god) are of a piece, and are some of the best ballads Ray's written in years, the latter in particular, a portrayal of the limits of living for the music when that's all you have going in your life. "Live Life" is such a good riff rocker that Johnny Rotten insulted it (you know that's just the perverse way he praised stuff when he was "punk" that he actually liked, like the New York Dolls and Neil Young). "In A Foreign Land" and maybe "Permanent Waves" and "Get Up" are tuneful McCartney-esque pop-rock with a slight edge, which makes them vbetter than most solo McCartney. "Black Messiah" disturbs me, not because Ray's a racist - he honestly seems to want to say something positive about how we should all be brothers - but because he seems confused and out of his depth. After all, Brits only have, what, a 1% black population, how are they supposed to know a heck of a lot about racism? Ray knows the class system much better; after all, he's a Brit. Dave contributes his first song since "You Don't Know My Name", and while "Trust Your Heart" has some good guitar playing, it doesn't hold together at all - apparently Dave pieced this out of three entirely different songs, and it shows. Overall, this is very well-produced and professionally performed, with good melodies and energetic playing. You'll enjoy it. I only wish the minor pleasures it gives me would turn into something more.

Low Budget(1979)**

The Kinks' comeback has a curious reputation among certain circles for being the best album of the Arista era, but to my ears it's easily the worst. Apparently Ray and Dave wanted to become "big" stars again, so they constructed a mediocre heavy-metal album for the American market. For the first time they seem pandering, and luckily they didn't sink to these depths again after getting their little gold record, but that doesn't excuse the music here. "Superman" thumps along not-badly, but why are they doing disco?! Oh, that's right, it's 1979, but this don't hold a glitter ball to Blondie or Chic, and there's nothing sillier than aging rock stars trying to keep up with the kids. "Attitude" and "Catch Me I'm Falling" are the highlights, and they aren't that high, especially since the latter is just a rip-off of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" with badly dated political lyrics. Thanks for "A Little Bit of Emotion" which ain't really that great of a ballad, but it's decent enough, and in this context it's an overwhelming relief from noisy thudding metal. Not that there's anything bad about noise or thudding or metal, it's just that the Kinks aren't very good about it, at least since 1965. That all said, it's funny that no one ever mentions the final track "Moving Pictures", which is actually pretty good and confronts disco better than "Superman", even if the chorus is based on a cliche that Bryan Ferry put to better use a year earlier.

One For The Road(1980) ***

Now that they were superstars again with gold albums and hit singles, the Kinks capitalized on their comeback with that quaint relic of the '70s, the double live album (everybody released one, I mean everybody. This was the Frampton and Kiss Come Alive With Foghat era). Surprisingly, this is a pretty listenable document. The Kinks go straight for arena rock bombast, metallizing all the old standards and drawing heavily from Low Budget; if you can handle that, you'll enjoy this album - if you can't, you'll hate it. I can handle it, so I gave it a decent grade, but I rarely listen to this since I don't have any real use for live albums (unless your band happens to be the Who). It opens with an instrumental "You Really Got Me" that, with its thudding heaviness and swirling organ fills, seems patterned after the Mott the Hoople version. Ray doesn't engage in much stage patter, which makes this much less fun than the live half of Everybody's In Showbiz, though he does have some sport getting the crowd to sing the "Banana Boat Song" again. The harder numbers are good and crunchy, if a bit too Van Halen-ish (you figure out why that's so, sport). The sing-along version of "Lola" is terrible - I guess Ray had gotten so sick of this overplayed song that he wanted any excuse to not play it (he did the same thing on Showbiz). This also contains the only appearance on album of the 1977 b-side "Prince Of The Punks", a nasty swipe at new-waver and former Konk recording artist Tom Robinson; he and the Kinks had had a bitter falling out. This was one of the biggest selling albums the Kinks ever released, and it briefly made them big stars among the heavy metal crowd (which makes sense, since they invented it).

Give The People What They Want(1981)***1/2

If you're going to sell out, you might as well be mean and sarcastic about it - the title track claims that what the people want is the Kennedy/Lennon assassinations on TV, and I bet half the audience who bought this album didn't even notice the lyrics. Too bad the song itself is a piece of metal crap, and too many leftovers from Low Budget like "Back To Front" mar an otherwise encouraging return to form. "Around The Dial" is actually metal, too, but it's fast metal, and that makes all the difference - it kicks the album off in fine rockin' style, and doesn't sound forced the way Low Budget did. Overall, Ray writes some of his most incisive lyrics on this album, especially on "Killer's Eyes" which actually allows some sympathy for a sociopathic murderer. The master of the telling detail gets to me emotionally here with the image of the murderer's little sister seeing him in the paper and thinking he's in some kind of movie. "Art Lover" is probably the best song on the album, and one of the most disturbing songs Ray, or anyone, has ever written. Musically it's a jaunty piano-driven slice of tunefulness that hearkens back to Face To Face, told from the point of view of a man who follows little girls around the park and watches them with both joy and sadness because he knows he can't take them home. Whether he stares at them because they remind him of his own children that he's lost, or he's just a pervert, is open to question, but the song does deal with a very touchy and taboo subject in an interesting, artful manner. It's nice to see Ray hasn't lost his touch. "Better Things" closes the album with an uplifting antidote to the cynicism and darkness that permeates a lot of what preceded it, with a prime, lovely melody. Otherwise, "Add It Up" is another good, fast hard rocker with catty backing vocals from Ray's then-lover Chrissie Hynde; "Yo-Yo" and "A Little Bit Of Abuse" are good songs undermined by thin production and playing; and the hit was "Destroyer" which borrows a bit too heavily from "Lola" and "All Day and All of the Night", though otherwise it's just fine.

State of Confusion(1983)***1/2

Their best since Muswell Hillbillies also contains Ray's best song since the Kink Kronikles era, "Come Dancing". It turned out to be their biggest hit since 1965 and the video's a staple of that Big '80s show on VHI. This is all well and good, since it's also one of my favorite Kinktunes, an intimate yet cinematic reminiscence of watching your older sister going out on dates to the local dancehall; the dancehall's long since been razed in the name of "progress", the day they tore it down was the day your childhood died. That song alone would make this album quite a comeback, but there's other strong tunes as well. The title is another pounding arena rocker with an amazing, foreboding intro and lyrics in Ray's patented paranoid I-can't-cope-with-this-modern-world mode. "Don't Forget To Dance" could be the sister in "Come Dancing" pushing 40 - at least some rockers know how to write songs about growing old gracefully (get the hint, Mick?). "Young Conservatives" snipes at yuppie Reagan/Thatcherites, complete with a bitchy swipe the by-then sold-out Bowie ("rebel rebel, now he's such a well respected man"). An easy target and somewhat dated, but hey, anyone who wants to heap abuse on yups I won't stand in their way. "Long Distance" self-consciously parodies and pays homage to Dylan, one of Ray's few songwriting equals, and is Ray's second song with Australia in it (take a wild guess what the first one was). There's also folky pop ("Heart of Gold", not as good as Neil Young's but a good song nevertheless); theatrical demi-metal ("Cliches of the World" with alien beings picking up Norman from Soap Opera); divorce ("Property"); and some crap ("Noise", "Labour of Love"). Dave fans get a just-ok screeching, hyper metal-rockabilly "Bernadette", and Oasis stole the title of "Definite Maybe" for their first album. Not a bad show.

Word of Mouth(1984)***1/2

This sounds much like the previous album, with its similiar cloaking of pretty good Kinktunes with AOR hard rock, typically mid-80s production with heavy synthesizers abetting the guitar-dominated sound. It veers crazily from absolute highs - "Do It Again" (which Green Day, ahem, "borrowed" the melody, arrangement, and chords for their "Walking Contradiction") is to my ears their greatest hard rocker ever, its melodic pop-punkishness towering over even "All Day and All Of the Night" - to the pits, the title track metallizing "Start Me Up" in an(other) Stones ripoff. The band rocks harder than ever before or since, quite a feat twenty years into their career, but the results are haphazard. "Sold Me Out" rips off the Clash (oh, the irony!) quite excitingly, if tunelessly. Funnily enough, the highlights for me are the ballad in which Ray admits to a crush on Diana Dors and the synth-pop number about how "Summer's Gone" - what a great melody, it almost beats the Thompson Twins' current singles. Dave contributes his first songs since Misfits, the overrated "Living On a Thin Line" about how "there's no England anymore" and the crazed raunchy almost speed-metal-ish "Guilty". "Missing Persons" is an affecting, heartfelt ballad that seems a bit aimless in its chorus, but the way Ray delivers "Till then I've got nothing to ease my mind/And I'm thinking about her all the time" is very touching. More than any other album, this exemplifies the Kinks' tendency to place brilliance side-by-side with crap.

Come Dancing With The Kinks: 1977-1986****

This collects most of what's good from the Arista era, which began with Sleepwalker and ended with Word of Mouth, and throws in the single "Father Christmas" ("give us some money") which they play on classic rock stations every season. A really good overview that collects all the hits but misses a few gems, it's all the Kinks from this era a non-fan really needs to hear. Start here if you're new to their latter-day period.

Think Visual(1986)***

Can you say "overproduced"? Yes, boys and girls, history records that 1986 (trailed closely by 1974) was the worst year in rock'n'roll, and one of the reasons was that high-tech '80s production got really, really out of hand. Some fine songs are hurt in the process, which is a shame since Dave delivers his best song since 1972, "When You Were A Child". The other Dave song, "Rock And Roll Cities" sounds unnervingly like Foreigner, though not quite that bad. Aside from "Working At the Factory" which kicks things off in fine, anthemic style, there's not much from side one I want to hear again except for the white reggae-meets-"Penny Lane" social satire of "Video Shop". Side two's much better, with the two Dave songs and typically lovely Ray melodies on "Killing Time" and "How Are You?". Really though, the songs are almost smothered by the sound. This might have almost been better if they'd released an acoustic demo version. Hey, there's an idea! Force to Kinks to either record their songs right or just release the "unplugged" versions! That'll set'em straight! Remember, the times have changed and we hate slick, overproduced product in the '90s (....well, for the most part)! I'm giving it three stars because for some reason this tape shows up in every dollar bin I've ever seen, even the Wal-Mart cut-out bins! This one must've been a flop, thus ending their late '70s/early '80s comeback. But hey, it's definitely worth a dollar or two, which is more than you can say about most of the other LPs that come out in '86. Wham! Music From Edge Of Heaven anyone? Huey Lewis & the News Fore? Hello? Any takers? Ok, I'll give'em to ya for a coupla quarters, I'm really thirstin' for a Coke....

The Road(1988) **1/2

With each Kinks era, there's a live album to document it. This covers the Kinks' '80s years, with only "Apeman" pre-1981. It's got a new studio track, "The Road", attached to the live product. It's okay but hardly a significant addition to the Davies canon; a whiny rock star complaint that hearkens back to the studio side of Everybody's In Showbiz. When Ray opens "Destroyer" with campy adlibbed comedy, I thought "Great!" But I was disappointed because otherwise there isn't any between-song patter. Ray just delivers the tunes without comment, and where's the fun in that? I already own all the studio albums, so this is pretty useless to me except as a completist. "It" is another new tune, about a bored housewife who sees a commercial advertising some brand of snake-oil. I really don't care much for it - the social commentary's obvious and the comedy doesn't make me crack a grin. I finally realized why people rave about Dave's "Living On A Thin Line" - the Word Of Mouth version didn't do a lot for me, but here it comes across as moving and haunting. The singing and arrangement's the same, so I can't quite figure out why I like this version so much better. Otherwise, it's just a live album, and you can very easily live without it, even if you're a hardcore fan.

U.K. Jive(1989)**1/2

Repeated listenings have revealed that the songs are actually quite accomplished, and Ray's lyrical sensibility hasn't diminished. "The War Is Over", in fact, may be the best song yet written about the end of the Cold War. However, the production and corporate-rock performances sink most of this, again. It's interesting that "Aggravation" employs contemporary industrial techniques, but interesting's all it is. "What Are We Doing?" is actually pretty snappy, with some real drive, but "Entertainment" is facile protest - come on, everybody's known that TV is shit that exploits violence since they were old enough to read between the lines - and the Brit Invasion pastiche of the title track is nostalgia as political metaphor that makes politics sound like an oldies act and nostalgia like a con job, which may have been the intention but doesn't make it any easier to listen to. Why does "Down All The Days", an otherwise fine song, rip off "Jump"? Ray's way of paying back Van Halen for ripping him off with "You Really Got Me"? The real low points, though, are Dave's. Some may find "Dear Margaret" funny and sharp political satire, but I find it pointless since it doesn't say anything more specific about the horrible things Thatcher's done except that she "lied", and Dave might have found the parodic sexism clever, but I just find it crude. Dave's other two songs sound like beer commercials. All in all, not as bad as I've made it sound, but only hardcore fans really need this, and you really should look at either their late '60s or early '80s material first.

Did Ya EP(1992)

This has become quite rare, and I doubt if it was ever released in my home state at all (I'm sure you can find it easily if you live in a major metropolitan area that has lots of record shops with imports). Reaction to this EP was very favorable from the critics - I believe the Village Voice voted this EP of the year in their Pazz&Jop poll when it came out.


Another year, another record label. This one came out on Columbia, which makes it the fifth label they've been on; the preponderance of record labels owning their back catalog is why their back catalog is a mess - no box set, no reissues with bonus tracks, shoddy quality CD pressings, etc. Anyway, this was their only album on Columbia, since they were dropped after it bombed commercially. It's not hard to see why. A return to the strained metallisms of Low Budget, its flat noise-duds make that 1979 album seem inspired, and they take up half of the 16 tracks. And that's another problem: too long - an hour's worth of music makes it all that much harder to sift through the junk to find the gems. And there are a handful of decent songs - "Babies", "Over The Edge" (more paranoia), "The Informer", and especially the excellent "Scattered", a better song about death and mortality than anything on Lou Reed's Magic And Loss. Making an allusion to the Beatles doesn't make "Somebody Stole My Car" any better, the melody of "Don't" sounds way too much like "Lost And Found" off Think Visual, and "Only A Dream" regresses to awkward adolescence, and not in a good way. And do Ray and Dave have to spell out sibling-rivalry in such a obvious, hamfisted manner on the obnoxious "Hatred"? Not really worth it for the good stuff, and as their only studio album of all-new material for the '90s, pretty depressing.

To The Bone(1997)

Studio re-recordings of songs spanning their entire career, with obvious hits and overlooked treasures. I haven't heard it, but the song selection makes it look like a pretty good introduction to the Kinks, and it contains a couple of new songs by Ray. It's a double CD/tape package that, surprisingly, is available at most record stores. It seems prohibitively expensive for me to buy versions of songs that I already own in other configurations, but this quirky anthology looks like a neophyte's best bet for Kinks 101.


Solo Albums

Dave Davies: AFLI-3603

Dave's first proper solo album (one had been planned in the late '60s after "Death of a Clown"'s success, but nothing came of it save for a handful of singles). I don't have it, but am scouting around for a copy; apparently it's much better than his other two solo efforts.

Dave Davies: Glamour (1981) **

Dave usually contributes a song or two to Kinks albums as a change of pace, but in the '70s his contribution had dwindled considerably. This left a backlog of unused Dave songs waiting to be let out. Unfortunately those songs were let out. It's easy to see why the Kinks passed over his material: to be frank, it's not very good. His lyrics are banal when they aren't incomprehensible (some baby boomer quasi-mystical self-help gibberish about revealing yourself and eastern eyes). The music is oversynthed, overproduced corporate rock in typically bland '80s fashion. To be fair, Dave does display plenty of his trademark crunchy guitar (check out the title track), and his melodies are strong. However, guitar playing isn't why we love the Kinks, it's good songs, and all of these go on too long. He sings pretty good, though, and this is nowhere near as terrible as the album he released after it.

Dave Davies: Chosen People (1983) *

Apparently Dave's songwriting gift left him in 1972, and this album is a nightmare. I've subjected myself to it three times already and I still can't remember any of the songs, only feeling a sigh of relief once they're over. The music is typically bland corporate rock, nothing to get worked up over either way. The lyrics, however, take the cake, mystical "spiritual" gobbledygook from an acid-damaged '60s "survivor". Dave claims in his recent autobiography that in the early '80s he was contacted by alien beings who told him the secrets of the universe, and this experience changed his life. If you say so, Dave. Recommended to people who take L. Ron Hubbard seriously and/or think Men In Black was a documentary.

Ray Davies: Return To Waterloo(1986)***

The soundtrack to a short film Ray wrote and produced in 1985, it shares four songs with Word Of Mouth. I haven't seen the film, so the meaning of several of these songs eludes me. It basically sounds like an '80s Kinks album, which makes sense since every Kink but Dave plays on this record. The songs are all fine, if unspectacular, and the selections from Word Of Mouth make much more sense in this context. There really isn't much to say about this album; the movie is quite rare, and from what I've heard, quite good. Like Think Visual, this shows up in the bargain bins all over the place, though it's a better album than what the Kinks proper released the same year.

Post Your Comments


Kevin Featherly,, Minneapolis, MN

A fellow Kinkian here. I've read your reviews on the Kinks site, and I agree with almost everything -- though I think you're a bit hard on "Low Budget". However, I've got to point out two things:

You're missing a critical milestone by not having picked up 1966's "The Kink Kontroversy". Aside from the great early singles (two of which "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" and "Till The End of the Day" both appear here), this is easily their best pre-"Face to Face" record, and helps to explain how that astonishing leap forward happened so fast. The album has one of the few great Kinks covers in "Milk Cow Blues," a blues rave-up that would have shamed even the Yardbirds. It also sports the revealing but self-deprecating "I'm On An Island," and the weird, poorly performed but strangely VU-like "Don't You Fret." The sad, wistful "Ring the Bells" has a memorable melody and shows where Ray was branching off toward with his ballads, though its more promising than accomplished. There is some low-quality filler here, but without the best of these songs, you're missing out on part of your understanding about what made Ray Davies a master.

Also, you are missing a crucial view of Dave if you have not heard his 1980 RCA debut "AFL1-3603". It's far better than anything the Kinks themselves put out between 1972 and 1983, and it's a pretty spirited response to the whole punk-new wave thing, even if it's rooted much more in pub rock itself. Dave's playing most of the instruments (so the drumming's a little lacking) and he's laying down mostly material that was new at the time, rather than taking the opportunity to record stale stuff that the Kinks had been passing over through the years. As a result, he's excited and very political. His voice soars throughout the album, his emotions pour down like silver (to borrow Richard Thompson's phrase). "Imaginations Real," "Visionary Dreamer" (a possible ode to Ray) and the stomping "Nothing More To Lose" (a possible blast at Ray) are all memorable contributions to the Kink family canon. I wouldn't pass it by unheard.

P.S. I'm highly jealous that you found the "Great Lost Kinks Album." I've yet to even see a copy.

Tony Soltero,, Baltimore, MD

This hardcore Kinks fan enjoyed your reviews, and by the by I generally agree. Mr Featherly said all that needs to be said on the Kinks Kontroversy--it is definitely worth seeking out (and I'd add "It's Too Late" to the list of keepers). The Preservation albums aren't all that bad if you ignore the showbiz trappings and just focus on the individual songs --- "Sweet Lady Genevieve" and "Sitting In The Midday Sun" are especially strong. I'd take either of those two over anything on Soap Opera. Sleepwalker is exactly what you surmise it is --- generic arena-rock, redeemed by the occasional strong melody ("Juke Box Music"), but still a little too close to Loverboy territory for my tastes. My own favorite is Muswell Hillbillies, just because it's so musically out in left field. And the rustic-sounding production that sounded so old-fashioned in the 1970's (a charge, by the way, that was leveled at albums like Blood On The Tracks) is exactly what makes the record so durable today. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the songs are great (including "Have A Cuppa Tea"). If you've heard "Act Nice And Gentle", a B-side which dates from 1967 (and to my knowledge is only available on the British compilation Well Respected Men), you can see that MH wasn't as great a foray into unknown territory as it might have seemed. I like Think Visual better than you do --- except for the plodding "Rock And Roll Cities", which sounds like AC/DC covering a bad Peter Frampton song. Still, the rest of the album's songs display a melodic sturdiness that is sadly absent from the albums that have followed (for the most part --- "Scattered" gives me hope....). I could go on and on --- I love to talk about the Kinks, and I know mighty few other people who do --- but I'll stop now. I enjoyed it!

John Melbourne,

Yes I agree with most of what you say - the only comment I would add is that you should review the UK releases (at least until the 70s) these are the definitive editions. I mean you wouldn't review the shocking UK version of Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow (which was combined with Take Off losing the best tracks). By contrast the seventies albums were definitely compiled with the US in mind.

Anyway good work.


I agree with you on what you rated most of the Kinks albums as. All the way up to Preservation Act 2 that is, because I haven't been able to find most of their C.D.s that they recorded after that album. I think 1966-1971 was their classic period like you do with one small problem; "Arthur" I think should be rated 5 stars like the other three, but you recognized it as a great album anyway so I praise you.

Keep up the good work on the page; you are very knowledgable, articulate, and easy to understand when I read your Kinks reviews. I still haven't been able to find any of their work from "Soap Opera-1975" up until "Word Of Mouth-1984", but pretty soon Velvel will be reissuing so as soon as they are released I'm headed to Tower records. Keep up the good work.

Bryan B.,

I just wanted to contest the "Number 50 in Everything" Mississippi comment. We're number two or three on the most generous state list ("generous" is defined by how much, on average, the people of a state give to charity yearly)! That's more important than somethin' stupid like literacy. Plus, we've probably got the strongest musical legacy of any state (without us, there'd be no blues or rock'n'roll). And we have better writers than a number of states, including our friends in Arkansas. least you've got Clinton....

Other than that, good Kinks reviews

Since I wrote that comment, Arkansas has slipped to - you guessed it - Number 50 in median income. That makes us the poorest state in the country. So now Mississippi can say, "Thank god for Arkansas," instead of the other way 'round. Of course, we're still #1 in teen pregnancy! At least we're #1 in something! - Brian Burks

I've continually listened to the Kinks music, and would consider myself like you. I enjoy their earlier music, but am still impressed with "Give the People what They Want" and "Phobia". While I agree that the Ray hasn't put out quite the exceptional album since Muswell, there are songs on their albums I've said that make the Kinks more than worth listening too. "Scattered" may be the best song in the Kinks reportoire. (I told Ray that in NY and he agreed surprisingly). He's very proud of that song. You also refuse to admire the strength of Dave's best work since "Living on a thin Line". His songs "It's allright" and "Close to the Wire" claim exception. While not for everyone, these songs more than ever need to be heard by the true Kinks fan and are well worth mentioning.

As a long time Kinks fan, I agree with most of your reviews, especially the review of Low Budget. I thought I was the only guy that couldn't understand the hoopla surrounding this record. It's average at best, with rather boring, formula rock. However, I can't see why you hate Preservation Act 2 so much. I've always felt this was a cool album. It helps to avoid judging it by present day standards - think of it as if it were 1974 again - and forget about all the music to come. Most of all, remember that it's a theatrical album. Putting Preservation Act 2 on a record was a compromise to Ray. He really would have liked everyone to see the show, with the recording as a momento.

Kinks Fun Fact:

For the film Rushmore, director Wes Anderson originally planned to have an all-Kinks soundtrack. He ended up using a bunch of different British Invasion bands, but kept "Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worrin' Bout That Girl" for the great pool scene. It's neat to imagine how the film would've turned out with only Kinks songs, but the soundtrack ended up fantastic anyway. Go pick it up.

But see the movie first. It's one of my all-time favorites.

John Bohdanowicz,

You are to be commended for quite an exhaustive survey of the Kinks' albums. Very well done. One minor error: Dave sings the lead on "I'm Not Like Everybody Else". Critic and writer Greil Marcus writes about the song in some detail in his book "Mystery Train".

Something else?