Saturday, June 30, 2012
THE KINKS FIFTH
SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS
Occasionally, I turn off the old Victrola and actively search for new music. While there are lots of great artists/bands out there doing interesting stuff, much of it never finds a home on mainstream radio. Do you know what the dumbest trend in contemporary pop music is? One note "songs" that go talk, talk, talk, talk, talk...SING!! (vocal line buried up to the neck in pitch-correction software).
Then it's back to the talking.
Rinse, lather, repeat…
Is it bad? Not during the week that it's popular. Try playing it again in a few months, though. No craftsmanship, no staying power. Remember when radio had room for great songs?
Something Else By the Kinks is filled with them.
1967 witnessed an explosion of rock music that was outrageously bent and filtered through a prism of drug induced “experiences”. Many writers of the era saw pot and psychedelics as useful tools to enhance their creativity, with some successfully taking their listeners on wondrous sonic journeys. Others under this same narcotic spell managed little more than self indulgent, pretentious attempts at profundity which should have been left on the cutting room floor. The Kinks steered well clear of “happenings” in the year of flowers and beads, opting instead to focus on making great records.
Disclaimer: If you approach this album expecting "You Really Got Me" or "All Day and All of the Night" type stuff, you will be disappointed.
The ability of the quartet to lock in and let the riffs steer the ship was merely one facet of the band’s personality. This template would inspire countless imitators, with each subsequent generation increasing the decibel count. Their previous effort (Face to Face) took a giant step away from the power chords that initially made them such an important band. Virtually all of the material here (“Love Me Til the Sun Shines” excepted) was constructed with a more subtle approach in terms of style and arrangement. Augmented only by occasional brass or keyboard parts, Something Else sounds like nothing else released in the year of grandiose productions. This in itself has given these lovely melodies a life outside of the time frame in which they were created.
Opening strong, "David Watts" ingeniously deploys the note that follows “so” repeatedly, for maximum impact:
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Serious rock criticism at work here!
Primarily inspired by a bi-sexual, former officer who became obsessed with Dave Davies, the tune is driven along by Mick Avory in suitable military fashion, though it is piano based, leaving the guitars muted. The hook is infectious as is the energy generated in the performance.
“And all the girls in the neighborhood /try to go out with David Watts / They try their best but can’t succeed"
Further surprises came with the emergence of Dave Davies as a writer. His “Death of a Clown” is a definite highlight, holding its own amongst the compositions that brother Ray brought to the table. Combining the surrealism of Dylan's wordplay with a truly eerie but enjoyable turnaround (listen to that backing vocal courtesy of Ray's ex-wife Rasa), the sing-a-long chorus sealed its place in the UK top five during the summer of '67. Ray did contribute to this one, to give credit where it's due.
Won't someone help me to break up this crown?
Elsewhere, Dave's other two offerings ("Love Me Til the Sun Shines" and "Funny Face") bring a bit of a balance to the disc and in the case of the the former, an uptempo rock piece to open side two. The BBC radio version of this one is faster with some dexterous drum breaks toward the end courtesy of Avory.
Reality, the stock in trade of Ray's vignettes, features prominently as a theme throughout. Whether he is imagining missing the female companionship of the girl who joined him for the daily, most English ritual of taking tea ("Afternoon Tea"), musing about the drudgery of working class life, punctuated by the small reward of rolling your own ("Harry Rag") there is a sense of sadness behind some of these creations. “Lazy Old Sun” sonically demonstrates this aspect of "down", yet showcases Ray’s depth as a wordsmith. “That Lucky Old Sun”, a popular tune from 1949 (Louis Armstrong and Frankie Laine both had success with it) has a lyrical theme that finds the singer bemoaning all of the toil and struggles that life brings, “while that lucky old sun has nothin' to do /But roll around heaven all day”. Whether Davies projected this subconsciously or not, his old sun is depicted as “lazy” for not casting its glow upon him. Incorporating sun worship into the mix, he is as quick to praise our solar orb as he is to chastise it.
“I don’t mind/To spend my time/Looking for you/For you are my one reality/When I’m dead and gone/Your light will shine eternally…”
The song’s most clever line shows him to be well ahead of many of his contemporaries in terms of wordplay.
“When I was young/My world was three foot, seven inch tall/When you were young/There was no world at all…”
Lethargic music complements the mood of the lyrics perfectly, with tumbling drums at half speed, droning keyboard parts and a stoned lead vocal. The overall sound drifts close to certain tracks from Their Satanic Majesties Request which also qualifies it as “Stoned”. Certainly the closest that R. Davies ever came to emulating the psychedelic experience on record.
Disappearing sunshine only adds to the air of melancholy that pervades throughout. Endings take precedence over beginnings. As the long happy afternoons of the summer of love began to shorten, bowing to the inevitable change that would usher in chilly fall evenings, this beautiful set was brought to the marketplace.
End of the Season
On a side note, if the brilliant "Autumn Almanac" had been included on the original release, it would have been a coup. I cannot think of a better fit with an album that is positively redolent of Fall.
(Kick off "Tin Soldier Man" and "No Return" to bring in this track and "Wonderboy" and you have a perfect 10.)
Nothing could have followed "Waterloo Sunset", wisely chosen as the closer. Originally titled "Liverpool Sunset", Davies intention was to create a tribute to the Northern port city, cradle of the "Mersey Sound" that spawned the Beatles and their Liverpudlian contemporaries. This approach was dropped, though it would be interesting to find out how this would have sounded had he followed his initial train of thought. The focus is shifted instead to the lonely observer ("but I don't need no friends"), who watches the lovers (Terry and Julie) meet at Waterloo Station. Pure poetry at its finest, working within the bounds of a melodic pop masterpiece.
Much has been written about this gem, so it's best to simply appreciate it.
Pity that people roundly ignored an album of such quality when it was originally released. It unfairly missed the charts and sank commercially. This was due in part to the fact that no attempt was made to run with fashionable themes of the day. Fortunately, the fullness of time has revealed the subtlety and ingenuity behind these songs. Ray Davies was ahead of the curve-audiences would simply have to catch up. Had they listened a bit more charitably, they would have realized just how strong this LP was.
One of the top five Kinks records, without question.