Friday 4 July 2008

The Kinks "Give The People What They Want" (1981) ('Core' Album Review #81, Revised Edition 2014)

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The Kinks "Give The People What They Want" (1981)

Track Listing: Around The Dial/ Give The People What They Want/ Killer’s Eyes/ Predictable/ Add It Up// Destroyer/ Yo-Yo/ Back To Front/ Art Lover/ A Little Bit O’ Abuse/ Better Things (UK and US tracklisting)

Well, hi there. You're watching the AAACNN news special 'Back To Front', featuring all the best trailers about our forthcoming fluffy programmes of no importance separated by the odd distorted news bulletin about people we don't like doing things we don't understand to people we don't care about. And what an ugly world it is out there too: have you heard the one about the assassination yet? Man that was a gas wasn't it? Hey mom, there goes a piece of the president's brain!  Here are some close-ups in 3D, now with extra blood! Shocking! Gow could this happen? We shouldn't have to see this sort of filth - which is while we'll repeat it in a few minute's time! If you look really hard that might even be remorse you can see in the killer's eyes - but, nah, it's probably not, I mean he's not famous or anything and he's probably poor from a background we'll never understand so we're just going to turn him into a figure of hate. That's right, just keep chanting 'hate' over and over through the next advert break...Oh ho, welcome back! What have we got next? Well how about a bit of domestic violence? That always goes down well. Now I wouldn't want to say we approve but somebody's got to buy those plasters we advertise, right? I mean, add it up suckers!!! Coming up next a special about parenting: a broken man's just been seen crying in the park after trying to talk to his children. He's obviously up to something dodgy there - I mean, it's not as if he's been granted custody, know what I mean? We're with the rich judges whose children are all at boarding school on that one! Oh and how about sending us in your comments? After all, we're not going to find the news ourselves - that's too much like hard work - and if you send us in your stories for a tiny bit of money we get the bonus of laughing at you too! Remember, stuff what people need, like properly educated stories about people's motivations and their complex lives - let's just keep giving the people what they want! We're the station that's never predictable because we're the station that likes to say 'yes' - to a big fat pay cheque from all our sponsors! Coming up next, our usual slot with that underground DJ who plays all that unsigned unknown music...oh wait, news just in, his programme's been axed and replaced with a 'highlights' special dedicated to the highlights of last week's highlights programme! What an improvement, eh? So you - yes you, slumped in front of the television, your brain 'not expected home for an hour or more' - be sure to join us next week when we'll have exactly the same news - but about different people!

Ray Davies and the news, now there’s a mixture for you!  One is concerned with the past, one with the present, one stays within the mainstream and the other decidedly out of it, one is all about bullet points (that's why they're called 'bulletins') - the other with getting to grips with how people act the way they do, one is so British his veins are probably filled with tea leaves while the other is as American as apple pie, one explains, one understands. By rights The Kinks' 'Americana' album (an obvious next step after the arena-pleasing 'Low Budget') should be horrible: two very separate entities that have nothing whatsoever in common. After all, this is an album shaped more than anything by American  news stations and as far away from the preservation of village greens as it's possible to get. Instead 'Give The People What They Want' is a thrilling journey 'behind the headlines' as Ray and his fellow Kinks stop asking 'who?' or 'what?' like their contemporaries and ask 'why?' A kind of extension of 1965 B-side 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?', this is The Kinks ripping into contemporary society, looking at the period's hate-figures with more sensitive and understanding eyes, trying to work how people's lives became so fragmented that they were pushed into doing things they wouldn't otherwise have done. 'Give The People' might sound like a lot of shouting on first hearing, but it's an album with a big heart behind that suit of armour it wear and Davies' lyrics are more than ever the tonic a troubled, unsettled, turbulent period badly needs.

This isn't a pretty album and The Kinks never quite master the art of sounding like some derivative noisy brainless American rock band (thank goodness!) and as the lyrics succinctly put it 'we don't fit in - but we don't stand out', a line many critics surely felt applied to this record. The Kinks’ 1980s output often gets short shrift from many British fans and critics but thanks to the Kinks’ belated American breakthrough (which might have come a bit earlier than the mid-70s had not Dave Davies and Mick Avory got up to several unrepeatable hi-jinks on an aeroplane and seen the band banned from American shores for five years as a punishment) this is one of a series of albums designed to appeal to fans who hadn’t got a clue where Waterloo Sunset is or what a village green might be. For fans who’ve come straight to this album from our reviews of Face To Face and Arthur and want to hear more of the same wonderfully eccentric Englishness: I’m truly sorry, but this does not sound one iota like the same group and if you love those LPs as much as I do you might well end up hating this record and its many brothers and sisters.  However the band had to change with the times or go under, as so many of their contemporaries had done and as they were at risk of doing in the 'concept album' years, and this is the second in a run of albums where as the Kinks albums become more contemporary, more newsworthy, more, well, what the people (of America anyway) of the day seemed to want. The good news, however, is that when you accept this album for what it is, all chunky electric guitar riffs and provocative boisterous songs performed by Ray at his most oikish, what there is here pretty darn good and Give The People What They Want has been unwanted for far too long, easily my favourite Kinks record of the 1980s just for its sheer courage and chutzpah.

After all, it's not as if The Kinks have completely sold out. 'Give The People What They Want' is a roaring lion in sheep's clothing, a record that tries to do 'surface' and 'primal' and 'riff-heavy' like all the Kinks' American competitors but, typically, does it better. This is an album title that comes both at face value and with a sneer: it gives the people the sound they seemed to be asking for but it also gives them what they need: a humanity and a heart unusual to other period albums also focussing on assassinations, violence and child molesters. Give The People is in fact a terrific marriage between the early bare-knuckles Kinks sound of You Really Got Me and some of the band’s most complex character songs, such as Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon. The songs might sound musically nothing like that Kinks best-of set you got for Christmas, but these tales of struggling minority characters trying to move forward while stuck in the pits of despair actually contains some of Ray’s best and most typical lyrical work. Dave Davies also makes a strong return after many years spent quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) fuming during the Kink’s rock operas and music-hall phase, playing some of his most piercing guitar-work in years and hasn't played this many jaw-dropping solos since 1965. Drummer Mick Avory, too, has come 'alive' on this album, with the band finally returning to something close to the R and B roots they hired him to play and as ever on Ray's better, most emotionally vivid material, he's right on the money. Bassist Jim Rodford and Ian Gibbons also cement their status as the band's reliable new members, with the former excelling on the ensemble pieces and the latter adding some delightful touches to several songs. Just check out the singalong title track, one of the liveliest and funkiest Kinkis recordings in years, beating even the no frills 'Low Budget' for simple rock grooving.

Albums like Low Budget and this album’s twin sister State Of Confusion are all a step away from the Kink’s Britishness, mining the aggressive but commercial world of American MOR, but somehow Give The People doesn't sound like those other records either: it's cleverer than they are (and I say that as a fan who likes them both), more sensitive to the needs and whims of a chaotic world and yet tough enough to take the fight to them. On other records The Kinks sound like they're mining this style because it's the only way they'll sell records; 'Give The People' sounds like Ray is making a point about survival and how life has just got that bit tougher. Even the ballads on this album are brittle songs about love being tested by domestic abuse (and Ray's helpless attempts to offer advice to someone not listening), It speaks volumes that the 'champion' character on this album has disappeared:  it's no longer Captain America or Superman looking on at the world but an underground DJ taken off the air for unexplained reasons on the opening track. Ultimately Give The People is - far from being the awful album many people seem to take it to be -  the best of a good batch of the third great Kinks era. Ray’s vocals are at once his most vulnerable and his most angry, the latest incarnation of the band (now settled to a five-piece that's the band's most stable since the good old days of a decade earlier) are at their tightest and most roadworthy and the songs all take the Kink’s wry-smile-through-a-crisis short-term pessimism long-term optimism formula to a logical extreme.

While most Kinks albums are timeless, 'Give The People' is in many ways an album locked in time, a surprisingly high number of real events (this is, after all, the band who gave us more rock opera metaphors of things like far-off empirical prison states and postmodernist television programmes about ordinary people becoming stars becoming ordinary people again in the 1970s than even Rick Wakeman did). The attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the real assassination of president Kennedy in 1963 (well, better late than never—perhaps Ray was watching repeats?!), even documentary programmes about domestic violence and the marital habits of middle aged couples seemed to have informed Ray’s writing and his sub-conscious this time around, as if the lead Kink was writing songs in his American hotel with the telly turned on for this album. But whether English or American, people are all the same to Ray Davies: confused, muddled and worried for the most part of their lives. Ray’s writing is the same as ever really, it's only the landscape for these songs has changed: by 1981 Lola is going out with a victim of paranoia, the radio DJs that championed unorthodox bands like The Kinks are no more and the survivors of the 60s are trapped in marriages they no longer want and leading repetitive ‘predictable’ lives where nothing exciting happens bar the odd piece of horrifying human interest on the TV news. You need to be strong to survive the 80s, says Ray, but his characters nearly always are – they may plummet the depths of despair a little more than usual on this album, but they still come up fighting every time in true Kinks fashion.

Yet there’s something uncomfortable and unusually un-heroic about some of these songs, in true new wave/ early Kinks fashion (not for nothing did new wave darlings like The Jam and the Pretenders cover so many early Ray Davies songs, the two are more similar than you might think), with this album’s general theme one of back to basics social unrest rather than life-is-stupid-and-so-are-you-for-buying-this-junk, 50s-rock-and-roll-but-now-with-safety-pins punk rock. Like many new wavers, Ray seems to have some profound sympathy with the characters in his songs, even the gunmen and wife-beaters who cause such grief to their victims, their victims’ families and their own brethren to boot. Ray’s real acerbic wit is saved for the very TV station he seems to be permanently tuned into, laughing at us all for being fooled by 24 hour consumerism and bite-sized news pieces that are so brief and so shallow they can’t hope to get to the bottom of why such horrible events happen to people in the world with such terrible frequency. Humans aren’t heartless, evil killers at heart, claims Ray, just fallible ones that break all too easily when forced under pressure or made to do things they don’t want to do too many times. In his efforts to look beyond the media sniping, Ray tries to inject his lyrics with real pathos and compassion, creating perhaps his most ‘human’ album of all, but like the TV coverage you’ve got to look beyond the noisy bitty surface to dig out the stories, as up front all these songs are a shock, all sounding as aggressive and nasty as the subject matters do.

'There are many different people...', the opening line from album highlight 'Yo-Yo', is the theme of the album. The world of the 1980s, even more than now, tries to limit everything to a 'fit-all' label, everyone judging each other by their own standards, the Thatcher/Reagan-era approach  being that everyone has the same chances of success and the same opportunities. Ray knows this isn't true: human beings are complex. That man arrested for looking at children in the park? A true story about a local man who was denied custody of his children but longed to see them so much he disguised him and wandered about the local park where he knew they'd be, just to check they were ok (Ray, distanced from his now twenty-something daughters after his first marriage to wife Rasa ended in such particular style, could no doubt relate). 'Killer's Eyes' was equally inspired by a news report of the man who tries to shoot John Paul II and the nosy reporter's attempts to get a few words from his baby sister, clearly clueless as to what had happened. 'A Little Bit O' Abuse' was probably a work of action, but that 'sounds' real too: Ray tries to get a beaten up wife to leave her husband but she won't leave; resignedly he admits 'he must be special' for her to put up with so much and acknowledges that, despite it all, she's still in love with him. 'Yo-Yo' is by rights a duet, even though Ray sings to himself, presenting both sides of a family argument: a weary overstressed worker slumps in front of the TV (watching 'Channel 4', the album's lone British reference and a network that didn't actually exist yet though it was much discussed: the first broadcast wasn't till 1982), wondering why his wife keeps bothering him. For her part she wonders why he doesn't speak to her anymore. Like all the best Kinks songs this is a situation where no one is 'right' and in the end everybody loses.

Elsewhere Ray's in personal confessional mode. Much as this album tries to be about 'outside' events several of these songs also hint at the impending split between Ray and Pretender Chrissie Hynde. 'State Of Confusion' is the 'real' album of their spectacular falling out (which ends with her unexpected rebound marriage to Simple Mind Jim Kerr, apparently done to let Ray know she was 'unavailable' as much as anything) , but 'Give The People' finds the relationship heading in that direction. 'Add It Up' even features Chrissie on backing vocals on an angst-ridden rocker about a relationship breaking up and the girl in the song being too blind (or in denial) to notice. While Chrissie was already on the bottom rung of the ladder of success and not at the bottom 'modestly waiting for a bus' as the song's opening implies, it's tale of a starry-eyed girl discovering a champagne lifestyle and getting too full of herself is clearly very close to the truth of what happened (a lifelong Kinks fan, Chrissie and the Pretenders came to fame by covering early Ray Davies song 'Stop Your Sobbing', through which the pair met). 'Back To Front' is on similar lines, a confused and messed up narrator finding his world turned upside down as 'we've thrown away all we had - it's down the drain, it's all gone bad!' This is arguably the first time for a while that Ray writes about his own feelings on an album directly, rather than through 'characters' (the last being either 'Life On The Road' or 'Misfits' depending how you read both songs). Even 'Destroyer' sounds more personal than most songs, an update of 'Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues' where Lola makes a return and chastises the narrator for his self-destructive tendencies, counting down the time until his paranoia factor goes off again with a big bang.

So once again we ask is that album title real or ironic? Like the title song, this album hedges its bets: one minute its laughing at us for being stupid enough to be taken in by its contemporary sheen and raw polish; the next its clear that this concrete wall is just a façade and hides a soft-centred inside, a hard and brittle shelter to hide behind during a rather nasty period of our recent history (Ray himself called the decade ‘the hateful 80s’ during a Record Collector interview about the Kink’s long history; certainly the chief principles of the 1980s of money and the mainstream  couldn’t be further away from this home-loving, outsider-supporting, underdog praising band). The groups’ gradual build-ins of the 1970s are also long gone, with pretty much every track on this album kick-started by some killer hook or riff, usually played on the drums by a particularly on-form Mick Avory who seems to have found his feet again on these basic foot-stomping rock and roll grooves. Furthermore, just look at the names on the tracks on this album which are nearly all one word and uproariously simple: Predictable, Destroyer, Back To Front, Add It Up; looking at the tracklisting on the back cover this could be an Oi! or a Sex Pistols album (but better, obviously). The band aren’t being totally ironic, however - this is to some extent what their fans 'want'; the choice is between the Kinks using the very excesses of the era they're in to comment savagely on it or stay back where they used to be and probably drown under the next batch of bands passing through. Yes the album’s brash arrogant rock probably wasn’t what people want from The Kinks when they look back now, but this wasn't meant to be a long-lasting statement for future generations the way that the band's carefully crafted 1960s and 1970s albums were. 'Give The People' is all about the here and now, the then-'present' to go alongside the 'Arthurs' and 'Village Greens' celebrating the past and before The Kinks get strangely excited about the future on 'UK Jive' and parts of 'Phobia'. The fact that this album's contents are now as much of a museum piece (and an accurate one at that) at what life was really like in 1981 somehow makes 'Give The People' far more acceptable and, yep, less 'predictable' than it probably seemed at the time. Then again, while the sound and texture and some of the actual references on this album might be period, this record’s blend of regret and despair and the classic songs about human nature really are timeless, another reminder of how much we love this band, whether they give us what we want from them or not.

The Songs:

Opening track  [281] Around The Dial confuses the issue even more. On the one hand it’s noisy catchy nonsense rock, one based on heavy guitar riffs and plodding drums which must have seemed right at home on the radio airwaves of the period. Yet these lyrics are typically Kinks, championing a radio DJ who has disappeared from the airwaves (some commentators think its meant to be John Peel, but its probably an American DJ as Peel to the best of my knowledge never disappeared) because he no longer fits in with the radio station’s aesthetics for noise and nonsense. Ray’s character, who is surely pretty close in character to the Teenage Ray Davies of the early 60s with a transistor radio clamped to his ear, is horrified to think that his ‘hero’ who ‘never followed any trends’ has been taken off the air to appease mainstream tastes and comes up with every heroic excuse possible to explain it (some scandal perhaps?) The narrator mournfully searching back and forth around his radio dial in the vain hope has that the DJ got a new show somewhere else is also a pretty thin metaphor for Ray’s contempt for the music of the period, even though this track is dressed up to sound like exactly the sort of AOR fodder he’s complaining about. ‘I’m going to keep my radio on till I find out what went wrong’ sings Ray, admitting to his followers that he’s desperately trying to live out a rather dry patch for music and wait for something better to come along. Many of the Kinks’ later recordings champion ‘misfits’ like this DJ responsible for putting similarly misfit bands on the air and most mourn the loss of the rebellious, revolutionary ideal that characterised the 60s (and possibly the punk era that was in its death throes when this album came out). Ironically, the man who wrote Where Have All The Good Times Gone? at the height of Britpop is now mourning that very period, frustrated that the revolutionaries from the same period are either being thrown off recording contracts or told to shut up and stop moaning and enjoy their money while providing their record companies with something they can ‘market’ according to current trends. Like this review it seems, this song is quite a long one for this period of The Kinks’ history – most songs are 2 or 3 minute bursts of angry rock just like the ‘good old days’ of ’64-’65 – but this track’s build up of anger and resentment is well handled and worthy of its 4:44 running time. Dave’s grungy guitar is a particular highpoint, sounding both arrogant and vulnerable in it’s desperate chord slashing. Of course, had this song been released thirty years later, we'd assume that the DJ in question was helping police with their enquiries in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal...

[282] Give The People What They Want’s title track is another musically crowd-pleasing but lyrically crowd-baiting portrait of 1980s culture, with Mick Avory’s ferocious military drumming bringing the opening of the song to a head of steam not hear outside The Jam’s early records. This song does its best to make assassination and other evil horrors sound commonplace, with Ray horrifying us in the way he casually dismisses the 1963 plot against Kennedy and the failed 1981 shooting of the Pope as simply ‘entertainment’. Moaning about the fact that such horrific images have now become part and parcel of Western culture, Ray goads his audience further and further into the video-nastyness of the age in the lyrics (‘Hey mom there goes a piece of the president’s brain!’) Ray’s vocal is suitably OTT and with lyrics to match you half expect him to come out of your speakers and slap you. In the background, Mick Avory’s loose but funky drumming style is the epitome of garage rock and Dave Davies’ riffs are so rousing that it sounds like the younger brother actually believes whole-heartedly in the song but for a different reason, celebrating its menace and violence with every guitar chop. Yet that’s the trouble with this song. After nigh on 10 years of polished (some might say over-polished) records, with the Kinks losing interest after take after take after take of the same song (Was it only two album ago that Dave Davies complained to an interviewer about the song Hayfever from the Misfits album: “we did it with backing vocals, we did it without backing vocals, we did it with a solo, we did it without, we did it with a new beginning, we did it with a new ending, we did it at a faster tempo, we did it at a slower tempo and after all of that we went back and used the original”). It's wonderful to hear the high adrenalin no overdubs charge of this song, which might be rough and uncouth and raw like the sort of thing Ray is moaning about here, but it is raw and powerful for all the right reasons. 

Just in case we think he’s gone potty, Ray returns to the same theme of assassination in the rather gentler and more typically Kinks-like track [283] Killer’s Eyes. A slower tempo and a slightly offbeat rhythm shuffle underline this great ballad which again centres around the television coverage of the Pope assassination plot (at least, Ray’s told us in interviews since this song was inspired by that incident – the lyrics are careful not to ‘date’ the song by pinning it down with too many details). This time Ray explores the real scene of devastation - rather than the diluted one seen on telly – in the would-be killer’s shocked family, half-sympathetic and half angry about what their family member has done. Ray is at his best with his portrayal of the guman’s younger sister who can’t work out what is going on and assumes their brother must be a ‘celebrity’ because so many interviewers want to talk to him and can’t understand why the rest of her family isn’t as proud as she is. Ray is at his vocal finest on this near-monologue track, getting out every nuance of hurt and sympathy of the lyric which nevertheless is still pretty brutal in its dismissal of the failed assassin (‘I see so little hope in you, so much despair..’). In contrast to the dismissive television portrayal on the last track, with its clear-cut heroes and villains, Ray adds that the killer could have been anyone – that we all have the darker side within us somewhere and to dismiss the killer as ‘evil’ without knowing the true circumstances of an event is every bit as cruel as the murder that so nearly took place. 

[284] Predictable is the joker in the pack, with Ray singing in his best falsetto voice about how every time he tries to do something he gets bored because he’s done it so many times before. Well, actually, these lyrics seem to be attached to the wrong song because the track’s part-calypso part-reggae jaunt is a complete one-off for The Kinks and the lop-sided shuffle of this track is decidedly odd until you get used to it. The song’s middle-eight is very Ray Davies though (‘I wish it would get worse, what can I lose? It might turn into something better’), with that peculiar mix of pessimism-optimism that only the Kinks can pull off. What’s interesting about this song is the way it so closely parodies most 1980s material. The backing track is naturally chirpy and cheery (at least it would have been if someone hadn’t slowed it down to make it more sluggish), but the fed-up loser narrator couldn’t be further away from the likes of Madonna’s ebullient but empty-headed Material Girl or the Flying Lizards’ only slightly sarcastic cover version of album archive list favourite  Money if it tried. As if to emphasise the timelessness of this song’s theme compared to the records of the day, the hilarious promo video for this song finds Ray in the 60s, 70s and 80s suffering the same sort of pathetic accidents and mishaps whatever the surroundings or fashions he struggles to keep up with in his tiny bed-sit flat. 

If the last few tracks are slightly tongue-in-cheek, though, [285] Add It Up seems to be The Kinks finally enjoying their new wave surroundings. Much tighter and rawer than usual, the band seem to be having a great time on this charging rocker which makes four-bar rock and roll sound like an art form. Yet for all of its nonsense chants and basic groove, Ray’s edgy vocal and hurt, bitter lyrics give this song plenty of substance as the narrator screams in desperation to his partner that he’s lost any love he used to have for her. Chrissie Hynde joins in on the nonsense chorus of this song, which is surprising, not because the two are incompatible (if ever a 1980s band were the incarnation of The Kinks it was The Pretenders, not least because Hynde used to champion the Davies brothers during her pre-rock fame as a music journalist when the band were hideously unfashionable) but because this song sounds so brutally honest about their disintegrating relationship – especially Hynde’s sudden journey from a pitied nobody to a star eclipsing Ray’s own fame just like the character in the song. The Kinks try to hide the seriousness of this song under a killer riff and some daft backing vocals, but at points this song sounds like a pure cathartic cry from the heart (‘you can’t disguise those sad little eyes that give your loneliness away’). Like most of The Kinks’ 80s material this song is really loud and nasty, sounding like what the band might have ended up playing post-Til The End Of The Day in 1965 if Ray hadn’t spread his genre wings a bit more. Yet for once that isn’t a criticism. Although basic in the extreme, Add It Up has a swing and a sarcasm long missing from the band’s catalogue and is one of the album’s more surprising highlights.

[286] Destroyer continues the garage riffing with a hook perfectly placed between You Really Got Me, Til The End Of The Day and All Day And All Of The Night, plus a cameo role for Lola and lyrics returning to Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues. The poor narrator finds that paranoia wrecks his relationship with friends and family, but doesn’t want to change because the monster sitting over his shoulder has become more real to him than real life and is more like ‘family’ to him now than the people he feels alienated from and has left behind. Like many of this album’s ‘character’ songs, this song dodges between scathing put-down and helping-hand support, with the narrator exasperated at the character’s lost opportunities not because he’s annoying but because he ‘s got so much going for him (‘You’ve got so much to live for, so much to aim for…’) Yet despite the chinks in the armour, Paranoia still comes across as a surprisingly cold song and one that seems to treat the whole thing as a joke – but not the tongue-in-cheek we-love-you-really atmosphere of the other songs on this album. On the plus side, this song does feature one of Dave’s most powerful solos, however, and a middle eight that absolutely charges out of the final chorus.

[287] Yo-Yo is much more like the Ray of old, a gorgeous ballad about a middle-aged couple who have nothing whatsoever in common with each other except the fact that they are married. This song’s cold, isolated verses are knocked off by Ray at his most old and tired sounding, contrasting well with the emotional and energetic chorus which details first the wife and then the husband’s real feelings still going on behind the routine of their lives. Like many a song on this album, this is about facades and not taking people at surface value – Ray even adds ‘you thought you knew me really well, but with people like me you never can tell’ refusing to put himself in a box and restrict his character. If this song is about the Chrissie Hynde relationship again (Ray’s vocal is noticeably ‘straight’ here, which chimes with the other more autobiographical tracks on this album) then it might explain a lot about this album’s schizophrenia. Unsure from minute to minute whether he’s in a genuine loving relationship or just pretending to be in one, Ray seems to be real hiding his character from all of us, puzzled as to whether he really believes in the Kinks’ new contemporary sound or not. Just to rub it in, the best part of this song is its singalong chorus (which is just ‘yo-yo’ all the way through) which is confusingly much better than it sounds on paper (honest!), especially when backed with Dave at his most thrilling on angry, screaming guitar. Indeed, such is the originality and impressive contrasts on this track that its probably fair to call it one of the highlight of this album, if not the Kinks’ 1980s output as a whole.

Dave is also the star of [288] Back To Front, another primal rocker based around a 100mph version of the You Really Got Me riff, usually performed in concert as a medley with The Beatles’ Get Back. It sounds on first hearing like another basic crowd-pleaser with some very simplistic lyrics, but at least the band get the chance to cook up a storm here without falling over a tuba player as they did every time they picked up the tempo in the 70s. In many ways this is a happier update of Yo-Yo, with the narrator proud of his ability to stay on the edge of things without committing his sail to the mast completely (‘I don’t stand in but I don’t stand out’). There’s also a lyrical return to one of Ray’s favourite themes, when the narrator asks himself ‘is it reality or fantasy’, another hint at Ray’s confusion over whether he really agrees with this album’s rocky dressings or not (if Ray still doesn’t know after debating that same question for a whole album on Give The People’s polished polar opposite Soap Opera  from 1974 then he probably never will!) Ray’s witty ad lib at the end asking the band if they’re listening (they’re not!) and that they ‘have to do it all over again’ may well be a tongue-in-cheek attack on Ray’s perfectionism in the 1970s (again things have changed since the band's overdubbing days of a mere three years earlier when perfectionist ray drove the band insane).  The ad lib might also explain why this basic rocker comes out sounding strangely polished compared to the others on this album.

[289] Art Lover is unusual territory for any writer, but only Ray could make it work. What sounds like a creepy sighing song of love by a middle-aged man for a young girl in a park was actually inspired by Ray’s desperation to gain access to his children from his first marriage to Rasa Davies in the 1960/early 70s. Prevented from seeing his two daughters growing up and knowing that they were only allowed out alone at a certain time, Ray used to go along in disguise to keep an eye on them, knowing they would never recognise him (or so the story goes according to Ray’s ‘unauthorised autobiography’ (!) X-Ray – although like the rest of the book, there’s no reason why we should believe that story!) Very few people would have known this at the time, however, which has left Art Lover as a rather unloved song in The Kink’s canon, which is perhaps odd considering its importance in it (Art Lover is probably the song from this album that was played live the most and you can hear it on the soundtrack CD of Ray’s TV play Return To Waterloo, along with other songs that are close to his heart). Understandably given the true meaning behind the song, Ray turns in one of his most emotional vocals on this track – especially the closing line ‘she’s just a substitute for what’s been taken from me’ - and his love-lorn ‘come to daddy’ refrain no longer sounds creepy when you know what this track is about, just plain sad. Again, this is another seemingly jokey song performed in a playful light manner to conceal the burning real feelings in the heart of the song and is yet another example of the ‘look behind the surface’ message of this album as a whole.

[290] A Little Bit Of Abuse uses the same trick and is almost as uncomfortable. A jokey but still very supportive song about domestic violence, this song was inspired by a fan who asked Ray why his songs never dealt with ‘deep’ issues (she must have missed the poverty saga Low Budget and the disillusioned heroes of Arthur) and perhaps as a result this song is half-angry, half-thoughtful, not quite sure about what solution to suggest but wanting to say something for the best all the same. Ray’s narrator is horrified at the violence it’s true, but he’s also worried about coming right out with what’s on his mind and telling his friend to leave – acknowledging that the couple’s love must be ‘special’ or they wouldn’t keep getting back together. In an interesting update of this album’s theme of hiding our real characters from others so as not to cause upset for them, or for us, this time it’s the character trying to hide the full extent of their bruises from the narrator, but Ray’s prying eyes soon realise the truth. In truth, this song can’t quite match up to the best of Ray’s work because he’s not quite sure what to say never mind have the conviction to pass on his argument to the rest of us, but even for this album the band performance goes some way to making up for any deficit in the song. Ray’s vocal is especially good, as the elder Davies brother sighs, yelps, groans and pleads his way through the song. The closing choral harmonies are another interesting touch and unusual for The Kinks, giving this song a haunting and memorable coda.

The album then closes with [291] Better Things, a brief return to 60s pop, almost as if the past 40 minutes has been an odd dream. However, the song is such a throwback to the sort of songs the band did in the 1960s that in truth it has precious little more to add and lets the album end on a frustratingly dull and, err, ‘predictable’ note. The song sounds musically rather like our old friend Days, that classic last-gasp Kinks single from 1968 (or so it was intended to be when the band seemed on the verge of breaking up - little did Ray know the band would still be going until 1993!), but instead of urging us to look back at our past with fondness, this one urges us to look forward to the future in hope and earnest. The way that the narrator seems to wish the listeners luck in tackling their own personal problems is a particularly sweet personal touch, rather like its earlier twin’s informal thank-you to band supporters down the years. Using a typical Ray Davies trick (he’s given us this advice many many times before, notably on the drop-dead gorgeous No More Looking Back on Schoolboys In Disgrace where Ray waves goodbye to the past so many times it’s a wonder the past doesn’t wave back at him), the band don’t seem to be listening to Ray’s forceful lyrics about ‘moving forward’ and turn in some classic sounds from the past - tack piano, Merseybeat guitars and some very 60s-sounding harmonies (although unfortunately there’s no harpsichord this time around). Comforting as the sentiments are, however, this far through the album it's too little too late and sandwiched between the horror of the earlier tracks and yet more horror to come on follow-up record State Of Confusion, Better Things sounds a lot more hollow than these sort of uplifting Kinks Klassiks usually do.

So, Give The People doesn’t always work, won’t be to everybody’s tastes and will probably appeal to 60s and 70s Kinks fans less than most, but it’s generally a brave, strong mix of songs that find Ray coping with problems as only he can. The Kinks’ later material is hard to get hold of nowadays, brushed under the carpet by all but the most enthusiastic fan, but there’s something about this album’s grittiness and hard edges, its lyrical debates and complex characters, that makes you keep coming back to it for another look. Give The People What They Want? Well sometimes, to quote Mick Jagger, you get what you need.


‘The Kinks’ (1964)

‘Kinda Kinks’ (1964)

'The Kink Kontroversy' (1965)

'Face To Face' (1966)

‘Something Else’ (1967)

'The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society' (1968)

'Arthur' (1969)

'Lola vs Powerman and the Money-Go-Round' (1970)

'Muswell Hillbillies' (1971)

‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ (1972)

'Schoolboys In Disgrace' (1975)

'Sleepwalker' (1977)

‘Misfits’ (1978)

'Low Budget' (1979)

'Give The People What They Want' (1981)

'State Of Confusion' (1983)

'Word Of Mouth' (1985)

'Think Visual' (1986)

'UK Jive' (1989)

'Phobia' (1993)

Pete Quaife: Obituary and Tribute

The Best Unreleased Kinks Songs 1963-1992 (Ish!)

Non-Album Recordings 1963-1991

The Kinks Part One: Solo/Live/Compilation/US Albums 1964-1996

The Kinks Part Two: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums 1998-2014

Abandoned Albums and Outside Productions

Essay: The Kinks - Why This Band Aren’t Like Everybody Else

Landmark concerts and key cover versions

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