Friday 4 July 2008

The Kinks "U.K. Jive" (1989) (Revised Review 2015)

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On which The Kinks get nostalgic and noisy all at once…

The Kinks "U.K. Jive" (1988)

Track Listing: Aggravation!/ How Do I Get Close?/ UK Jive/ Now And Then/ What Are We Doing?// Entertainment/ War IS Over/ Down All The Days (Till 1992)/ Loony Balloon/ Dear Margaret//Bright Lights/ Perfect Strangers (UK and US versions. Only CD copies contained the last two tracks)

"We've got to get somewhere or hit something soon!"

If you've been reading these Kinks reviews in chronological order then you may have noticed a pattern forming across the 1980s: deep pessimism about the world  and the band's place in it. What had started out in 1964 sounding like such fun had by 1986 become a grind, a 'factory' that could never be escaped and this time the narrators didn't even have a 'Sunny Afternoon' to keep them hopeful when they lost their millions. Starting as early as 1965 the battle for supremacy between the two halves of the Kinks kanon - the sadness, bitterness and anger on the one side and the hope love and humanity on the other - had raged across the next twenty years and the last time we heard the Kinks on 'Think Visual' it was the darkness that was definitely winning, seemingly on for victory. Survival and head-shaking weariness is a theme of many Kinks records - this is the band that gave us Where Have All The Good Times Gone? in the peak years of the 60s after all - and yet UK Jive is something of an oddity in the Kinks’ heavy canon because the characters here are for the most part surviving with a smile on their face, putting up the worst that life has to throw at them in the hope that soon, surely, honestly, definitely maybe it will get better. Most songwriters on this list allow experience to triumph over hope in their old age and turn in some decidedly crotchety middle-period albums whatever the bright and sunny tunes they started out their career with. Typically, Ray Davies pulls that same trick in reverse on albums like this one, a record where hope really does win out over expectation and experience and this album wins by a nose over its almost-equally fine successor Phobia because of the hidden feeling of future joy that runs through UK Jive. The Kinks were also firmly in danger of becoming the anonymous American rock band with transatlantic accents that simply sounded like every other band out there - at least judging by their recent singles. But The Kinks have always been a band of surprises and so it proves again with 'UK Jive', the penultimate Kinks album bucking the trend of everything that's going on around it to become the band's most decidedly anglo-centric album since 'Muswell Hillbillies' in 1971 and their happiest in a lot longer.
The two are probably not un-connected. This is the era when Thatcher's grip on turning Britain into the faceless money-making monstrosity of the last record's 'Welcome To Sleazy Town' was beginning to loosen (see 'Dear Margaret' in particular), when the cold war was thawing and the Berlin Wall was being torn down and  'UK Jive' was released in a relatively rare moment of peace and prosperity (in between The Falklands the Gulf War). More specifically, this album celebrates the UK’s growing place in a gradually uniting Europe and its move away from being the self-contained uninfluenced island Ray berates on albums like Arthur, perhaps accounting for the rare optimism and hope in many of Ray’s lyrics. England suddenly seems to have a future on this album – and the Kinks, perhaps the most quintessentially English band of all, seems to be dreaming of the future too. Englishness is a strand of The Kinks we thought we'd never hear again after a decade spent catering to the tastes of the band’s growing American market, with a welcome lyrical return to decidedly ‘English’ phrases like ‘talisman’ and ‘never never’ to go alongside old friends like village greens and waterloo sunsets. Note the fact that this album is 'UK Jive' though - it's a celebration of Britain as a union rather than just treating England as if it were a separate county and here the UK doesn't just dance, it jives a jig of happiness (just check out that front cover where some very English suits belonging to the band dance 'out of the wardrobe' - how small was Jim Rodford's by the way?!)

The Kinks had good reason to feel optimistic for more personal reasons. Ray's gloom across 1986 may be accounted for by a mystery illness that left him poorly for much of 1987 and 1988. After several mis-diagnosis the problem turned out to be a blood clot and a build up of fluid on Ray's lungs that saw him confined to hospital in Dublin for treatment (Ireland will play a major role on final Kinks album 'Phobia'). Uncharacteristically Ray had struggled to write for much of the time when he was poorly - but more characteristically was buzzing with ideas while in hospital and eager to start them all at once on release. One of them is this album, a second a planned autobiography (abandoned 100 pages in and re-started in more adventurous form as 'X-Ray' for release in 1996) and the third a project that will overshadow the making of much of this album: a musical named '80 Days'. Based, naturally enough, on 'Around The World In 80 Days' the project shares much of the same humour, pathos and hope of this album, which starts with stuffy narrow-minded upper class Englishmen making a silly bet and ends with the narrator's world journey having opened his minds to the glories of other worlds, a discovery that's far more valuable to him than winning any wager. Ray will end up writing 18 songs for the musical which runs between late August and October 9th 1988 and suffers a typically Kinks-like fate  unloved and neglected fate, closing after a few weeks with little publicity despite getting some encouraging reviews from theatre critics who usually hate pop artists messing around with their genre on sight. This musical is a project that more than deserves a revival in these days of ‘musicals featuring songs made famous by the artists’ frivolities and might have a better chance of success now than it did the first time round (dare I say it, it's a lot more interesting than 'Sunny Afternoon', the disappointing musical based on The Kinks' life that skips all the interesting story in favour of singalongs and where none of The Kinks look like the 'real' band - why is this project so popular with fans when they didn't bother seeing Ray's original Broadway handiwork beats me! It's still a lot better than the awful 'Mama Mia' that kick-started this craze though, so I'll let it pass...) With the musical closing early and The Kinks waiting for an album, inevitably the one informed the other - both in terms of practicalities ('Loony Balloon' was an unfinished song from the sessions and uses an out-of-control hot air balloon as it's big metaphor) and in the sense of theme ('UK Jive' and 'War Is Over' date from after the musical but sound at one with it, thanks to their tales of middle Englanders widening their horizons at last and the peace that could equally apply to the inter-war setting as much as the late 1980s).

As for the rest of the band, they too were hopeful, up to a point (well, at the beginning at least). The mid-1980s tours had been hard work but the rest across 1987 and much of 1988 had done the band good and they were eager to get back together again after their longest period away from each other. Moreover, the Kinks knew that UK Jive would be their last record under their old contract with MCA and had already been approached by Columbia for a deal that sounded very promising and supportive at the time - they weren't to know just yet that this deal too will go sour. In a way this fifteenth anniversary album sounds like a tying of loose ends, The Kinks returning to their past themes in order to wave goodbye to this turbulent part of their lives and enter the 1990s much more hopefully. Interestingly 'UK Jive' is much more of a joint project than 'Think Visual' et sequence has been - though even this came at a cost. Dave for instance gets a record three songs on the album - his most since 'Something Else' way back in 1967 - and his brother's material has lots of space for his nicely aggressive cobweb-blowing guitar.

However the lyrics to much of 'UK Jive' proved to be wishful thinking and the old tensions quickly resurfaced inside the Konk studios. Despite the 18 month gap relationships between the brothers were at their frostiest at the time – Dave says in his book Kink that his songs were edited, messed around with and ultimately left off the LP without his knowledge, an event that led to the first known physical fight between the brothers since their teenage days (and Dave's emotional quitting of the band he'd helped found, till being slowly persuaded to return).  If true (which seems likely), then it seems a sorry state of affairs for this record in particular – musically the two Davies brothers had never been closer than on this album (Dave too deals with politics and  people coming together) and the younger Kink’s songs are more than worthy of inclusion; indeed this album’s final track Perfect Strangers, is a candidate for the best song here. Eventually a compromise was made on the condition that two of Dave's songs were relegated just to the CD, back in an era when vinyl continued to be (just about) the main format for rock and roll. That meant that the original album ended on the uncomfortable spoof of 'Dear Margaret' - a great song and a welcome chance to hear the political side of The Kinks, but an uneasily bitter and depressed finale to an album that until this point had been largely hopeful and looking forward to the future. This ends up with the unusual result of giving Dave his own 'mini EP' attached to the end of the main record, with Ray perhaps distancing himself from his brother's work.  These brotherly issues apart, The Kinks really do sound like a band again on this album and that makes it a doubly criminal shame that this most settled of Kinks line-ups folded so quickly, due to record company shenanigans and falling sales. Keyboardist Ian Gibons then became the latest casualty of trying to keep the peace between the brothers and quit the band after the sessions were done (he isn't credited on the sleeve as a form of 'revenge' - though interestingly the keyboards play fare less of a role than they had on 'Think Visual' suggesting that tensions may have been running before the album was even started). Gibbons is the last member of one of the longest running turnovers in rock - from here-on in the rest of the band will limp through to the final shows in 1995.

Perhaps as a result of all this 'UK Jive' seems oddly aggressive for such an uplifting LP. For some reason the few fans who know it take to calling 'UK Jive' a 'pretty' LP. Presumably that's for the Beatley twang of 'War Is Over' and ballads 'How Do I Get Close?' and 'Loony Balloon'. However to my ears I would have said the opposite - that this is the rockingest, feistiest Kinks album in some time. The album starts with 'Aggravation', a song that starts loud and gets louder with every passing verse, whilst the 'Give The People' leftover 'Entertainment is full of that period's snarled hard-edged taunts and 'Bright Lights' and 'Dear Margaret' sock a powerful rock punch. Even the quieter songs on the album (like the near calypso 'What Are We Doing?') come with a sonic crunch the last couple of Kinks albums could have done with more of.  What with the likes of poignant songs such as Waterloo Sunset, Dedicated Follower, Dead End Street et al, its hard to forget that The Kinks started their career as angry zeitgeist early heavy-metallers, complete with ungrammatical choruses, slashed amplifiers and a guitarist who makes Led Zeppelin sound like the Spice Girls. It’s fitting, then, that as The Kinks headed into the end of their long career (29 years as a recording act between 1964 and 1993 barring minor bust-ups!) they should return to the sound that started things off for them. UK Jive sounds super-aggressive when you’ve grown up on the Kinks’ music-hall and rock opera records, with more up-tempo songs than usual.

The result is a quiet triumph, a rewarding record that's a sort of nice find for fans loyal enough to hang on to the bitter end. 'UK Jive' sounds much like the other Kinks records of the 1980s but taken to the maximum: 'Aggravation' rocks harder than anything the band had done in years, whilst songs like 'Loony Balloon' see a return to that timeless magic of years gone past that could have been recorded in any era (with less trappings than most). Of course you still have to make allowances: neither 'Now and Then' nor 'Bright Lights' are up to the rest of the album, while the 80s production (despite being an improvement on 'Think Visual') doesn't give the right amount to this set of songs to breathe. The cover is tacky and should have been better. Good as it is 'Entertainment' doesn't belong on this LP - and having Dave's songs stuck together at the end makes for rather an unbalanced listening experience too. However there's a lot more to love about this record than loathe and for a post-Pye album 'UK Jive' is remarkably consistent album and barely puts a foot wrong - in sharp contrast to the rollercoaster ride that is 'Think Visual'. It's also arguably the best place to hear the old Kinks favourite theme of disliking the present while looking forward to the future - and as such  is the (near) perfect place to (nearly) end the kanon. To think though that this record could have been even greater judging by two popular fan favourites first started at these sessions:  Scattered, later released on Phobia, is known to have been written in this era and started at the sessions but left unreleased for four years – an early version with alternate lyrics from the late 1980s is known to exist but has yet to be released (while less 'English' than the rest of the album, it would have fitted the album's smile-through-tears-concept nicely). Also there was the more jovial and dark yet decidedly English The Million-Pound Semi-Detached, a track recorded early on in these album sessions but left unreleased till becoming part of Ray Davies’ Waterloo Sunset collection of Kinks offcuts and rarities included as a ‘bonus CD’ with the Kinks’ Singles Collection compilation CD (circa 1998). Some of the better '80 Days' songs (such as 'Ladies Of The Night' and the writers-angst song 'Let It Be Written') could have adapted for this record too - in fact all of Ray's unreleased demos for the hard-to-find musical (there never was a soundtrack album) would make fine additions to a 'deluxe' CD release one day (*sigh* one day...) 'New World', as released on the 'Did Ya?' EP of 1991 dates from this period as well, although let's not go there in terms of suitability...

Yet for all that hard work, for all that optimism, for all that togetherness, for all that hope, UK Jive still flopped on first release. It wasn't all that much of a surprise I suppose - to put this album in context, back in the 80s the Kinks’ sales dropped badly and the band ended up on MCA in Britain and the smaller London label in the US which couldn’t – or wouldn’t –give the band a lot of help in terms of publicity - but it's a surprise given that 'UK Jive' became the poorest selling Kinks studio LP until 'Phobia; trounced it, despite being far more commercial than the last two. Sad to say that UK Jive all but disappeared from the shelves before most fans knew it was out and to my knowledge has yet to re-appear on CD after its brief release in the late 80s. Yet you wouldn’t know that by listening to the record, which is full of that same hope that like their home country the Kinks might one day re-claim their old status again, with their next ‘breakthrough’ release just round the corner. Fed up and disappointed by the album’s fate, UK Jive was almost the last roll of the dice for the Davies’ brothers, who put so much effort into this album that they could only bring themselves to try again just one more time after this. Ray and Dave did go on to make one final patchy but generally good album though (Phobia, 1993 – check out Still Searching, Surviving and Close To The Wire, classics all) and both Davies albums continue to make strong solo albums to this day; albeit Dave is still recovering from a stroke that has taken him out of commission a bit in recent years. But this album makes a fitting near-final bow all the same; a last run through all the themes, inspirations and power-riffs that made The Kinks the great little band they always were, played mainly in the style that brought them fame and fortune 25 years earlier in 1964. It may have been cruelly ignored at the time but for those in the know UK Jive is a fitting (near)-end to a wonderful career.

The Songs:

The album begins teasingly with gentle acoustic strumming, a haunting Ray Davies vocal and the lightest 30 seconds on the whole album. That doesn’t last long however – [328] Aggravation! is one of the band’s heaviest full-adrenalin rockers since Till The End Of The Day. Ray uses one of his favourite themes for this song – the mundanity of life and the lengths people go to in escaping it – but instead of singing a longing ballad as normal, Ray’s latest character is determined to fight back. A panic attack set to music, it follows a character physically stuck in a traffic jam and gradually realising that he is stuck in other ways too: in a dead end job, in a dead end relationship and in a life that seems to have got out of control. Many latter-day Kinks songs like using the metaphor of the car: once a sleek ‘desired’ object, by the late 1980s cars have become metal death traps, ugly production assembly jobs that look much the same, representative of our repetitive frustrated modern lives. Listen out for this song’s close cousin Somebody Stole My Car on Phobia where Ray isn’t cross about the hassle or the loss of property so much as he is about the idea that his car, his own personal home on wheels, will now become just like all the other cars out there in the hands of his robber, shorn of the trappings Ray has been keeping to make his car unique to him. In short Aggravation! sounds just like its title: a tightly controlled burst of anger, with a fierce riff and some pounding drums that twists and turns through several different melodies but can’t quite shake off the threats of a life of boredom and conformity that hovers throughout the song. Anyone who has been brought up on Waterloo Sunset will probably be running their copy of this album over with their car about now – but for those of us who had been waiting for years in vain of hearing a true Kinks rocker Aggravation! is a promising start for the record.

After this, the most dramatic start to a Kinks album in years, placing the album’s lovelorn ballad single [329] How Do I Get Close? would seem an obvious way to cool the album down. But pretty as the song and Ray’s gentle vocal are, this sweet little ballad is turned into another rock and roll monster courtesy of more pounding drums, one of Dave’s most out of control guitar accompaniments and a hollered middle eight from brother Ray. Very Kinks lyrically, with its tale of a person trying to get close to his partner but never quite managing to ‘break through’ the walls of silence between them, it features some touching musical observations set to a delightful sighing chorus melody and a spiky heavy metal guitar riff. This album’s pass at the Kinks’ long hoped-for hit single (it flopped miserably, like its half-a-dozen or so predecessors since Come Dancing became a small hit in 1983), its one of the band’s more commercial efforts despite the wailing guitar-work. Think You Really Got Me meets Lola, Waterloo Sunset and some terribly noisy modern band with a name you can’t pronounce all mixed together in one song (if you can!) Unfortunately, even though Ray has dropped his fake-American accent by this album, the Jamaican patois he sings in on this song’s middle eight is twice as annoying as any vocal crime he committed in the rest of the 1980s, especially given as this is the most traditionally ‘English’ of songs on this most ‘English’ of albums by the most ‘English’ of bands, concerning warm desire hidden behind a reserved frosty shell.

[330] UK Jive itself is just as noisy, but its performed with such laissez faire abandon that it sounds quite gentle compared to the songs before it. A fun song with a mocking exaggerated cockney accent from Ray, the song is despoite how it sounds and how critics have read it, actually less about Britain than about the 60s and the swinging London scene in general, at the beginning at least. Most of the song is a subtle dig at insular UK politics and its extreme veering between conservatism and liberality in the 70s and 80s, although while the Ray Davies of old might have exploded his top at the ‘island policies’ running out of synch with the rest of the world, here he is content to make a joke about how a hard-working man ‘blew all his wages by half-past nine’ because he forget about the tax inflation across the rest of Europe that year. However, the song sounds very 60s-ish, especially the way it ends with a burst of The Who’s My Generation (a cheeky riposte from Ray who always reckoned The Who nicked The Kinks’ early sound – listen to I Can’t Explain and You Really Got Me back-to-back and its clear he had a point!) Britpop five years early, this song’s very English groove will be mined endlessly by bands like Blur and Pulp in a few years’ time, sounding just as retro but somehow refreshingly contemporary to boot. Fun isn’t really a word you associate with the Kinks and their records from the troubled 80s, but with UK Jive’s swaggering rhythm, its gabbled 100-lines-a-minute vocal and its joyful woo-hoo backing, its hard not to laugh at the song’s tongue-in-cheek exuberance, even if the message is just as harsh and angry as it ever was. I say chaps, jolly good show, what?

In keeping with the ‘career retrospective’ feel of this album, [331] Now and Then sees a return to the wordy and thoughtful Kinks that kept philosophy alive during most of the 1970s, being nothing less than a three-minute discussion of mankind’s evolution and progression to date. We haven’t really changed all that since we came out of the oceans, says Ray, putting into practice business and political structures that exist to this day on a grander scale, philosophies obediently followed but still not completely clear to us even now. Seeing the past as a ‘garden of Eden’, Ray believes that all of our societal trappings in the modern industrial age are a sign of stupidity not wisdom and throughout the song he yearns for a much more innocent age when we actually seemed to understand life much more than we do now. Even with the song’s obvious melancholy, however, Ray ends the song on an unusually optimistic note, seeing a future time when ‘enemies are friends’ and paradise is once again within our reach. A nice idea for a song, unfortunately the rather boring tune can’t hope to match the majestic lyrics and the whole thing is marred anyway by an irritatingly poor 1980s production - ear candy floss that’s pretty, but in fake and distracting way – on a song that would have been more suited to just the voice of Ray and a piano or a guitar. Still, its nice to see the Kinks trying for something new and a subject so impressively big here and this most forgotten of songs is surely a contender for being revived in Ray’s solo live career and being given a second chance to shine.

[332] What Are We Doing? is even more original, the closest Ray has ever come to putting on record his concert trick of singing calypso favourite The Banana Boat Song chorus at every possible opportunity and in the middle of the most inappropriate songs. In retrospect its surprising that it took until 1989 for the Kinks to record their first true originals song in this style, given that even You Really Got Me ended up sounding like the Banana Boat Song for a time in the mid 70s. Lyrically, this song is another of Ray’s cries against the madness of the world and the doomed bravery of the people in it. It’s half-protest song and half tongue-in-cheek comedy, with some rhetorical questions sung by Ray at his most vocally powerful (his ever-changing accent really does suit the lilt of calypso, although Dave’s rocky riffs stop the song becoming too tongue-in-cheek, a problem many calypso songs have). The lyrics make it clear that Ray’s narrator cannot understand why mankind is unthinkingly marching towards his fate without even a second glance – joining a ‘merry queue’ who are standing around for no reason while acid rain falls and industrial waste trickles into the atmosphere (and this is in 1989?!? – why has nobody in power been paying attention to songs like this; even now there are a large minority of politicians who don’t believe in global warming at all!) Despite the jolly backing, Ray hasn’t been this lyrically worked up since the days of Give The People What They Want (see review no 81) and this track is so typically beautifully Kinks it becomes an album highlight.

Side two is back to the career retrospective, but this time with a genuine recording from the early 1980s. This song’s answer to the question ‘how to Give The People What They Want’ – [333] Entertainmentwas even set to be the title track of that 1981 LP at one point (see review 81) before Ray got cold feet (fair enough given the sheer uncompromising lyrics and performance here – but the title track he replaced it with is surely twice as provocative as this song ever was?) Most commentators, when they bother to mention this album at all, dismiss this track as UK Jive’s weakest link, a stodgy out-of-place song sarcastically goading the audience further and further into bad taste just as the band often did in the early 80s. To these ears, however, this song sounds like the conscience of the album, the finger-wagging track that all great Kinks albums have, reminding us that suffering and unnecessary hardship shouldn’t be dismissed as fodder for the 10 o’clock news bulletins that no one seems to pay any attention to anymore anyway. It’s bare-bones rock and roll and over-strained vocal from Ray also help juggle the different styles that make up most of the second side of UK Jive and the song at least sports a catchy chorus and some spiffing Dave Davies guitar-work, even if Ray’s written much better lyrics than this in the past.

[334] War Is Over is another rare hopeful Ray Davies song which seems to be the reply to What Are We Doing?’s question, telling us that changes are being made and even though some aspects of modern life are worse than the days of old, a few things at least are getting better. A terribly commercial song, complete with sound effects and a singalong chorus, it could be about either the tenuous peace that has existed in the world at large since WW2 or a more personal look at a couple’s life over a similarly long period (or, as is probably the case, both). A typically yearning Kinks chorus (edging up key by key, line by line and with the harmony vocals added singer by singer) is the highlight of a surprisingly catchy song that might have been a better bet as the album’s single than How Do I Get Close? However, underneath all that jollity, the unexpected last line jars: ‘the unknown soldier can’t be saved’, returning to a land he barely recognises from the one he left when his country went to war and abandoned by the politicians who sent him there. With conflicts brewing in the middle East, leading to the Gulf War in just a couple of years’ time, it seems that Ray is pleased about some of the differences between the 1960s and late 80s – and yet is puzzled by the similarities which he believes should belong to a more backward and primitive climate.

[335] Down All The Days (Till 1992) takes the concept a stage further – ‘I’m losing all my bitterness, think its time to find some happiness’ sings Ray at one point, which will come as a great surprise to anyone whose ever sat through whole albums like the acerbic Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround! Apart from this couplet, the song’s lyrics are quite obscure and we never quite learn what is making Ray Davies smile. However, the clue might lie in the title – it was taken from a book about the UK’s proposed entry into the European Union and in the context of the other songs on the album it sounds as if Ray is delighted that Britain’s dishevelled empire is at last trying to build itself up by reaching out for the help of others (1992 was meant to be the day that Europe became properly integrated – although it seems to be taking much much longer than that as pretty much all the countries involved seem to agree, disagree and then agree again with proposals in turn. Despite Ray’s hopes, Britain seems to be the worst country of all at coming to a firm decision and has been sitting on a fence about the Euro question since the time of this record). There’s also a clever middle eight that suddenly adds a great deal of edgyness to this otherwise rather straightforward song, with Ray rattling off lyrics about how great things are going to be in some other European languages (although the word ‘tragique’ still ends up in there somewhere to spoil the happy mood). It’s only guesswork if the EU was the real motive behind Ray writing the song though, despite most commentators taking that view as gospel truth – perhaps Ray just hoped he was going to have a very good year in 1992! The song itself is another pretty and catchy composition that does much to dilute the anger and vitriol of the album as it nears the end of the second side. There’s another delightful nod of the head to the Kinks’ past on this song too: the song’s coda uses a sound effect similar to the church-bell last heard on B-side Big Black Smoke from 1966, the smog-filled country vs town song that was regarded at the time– by fans anyway – as one of the most quintessentially English/Victoriana Kinks tracks the band ever recorded before this late bloom in 1989.

Ray is not quite finished yet though – he returns for an encore with the lovely walking-pace ballad [336] Loony Balloon (somehow transformed into a rocker for the similar track Drift Away on the band’s last album Phobia). Despite his prowess on electric guitar, Dave Davies is always much more at home on sensitive ballads with real emotion he can click into and he does his brother proud on this song, with a particularly spine-chilling guitar introduction. A strong candidate for the album’s best track, this song uses the delightful metaphor of the Earth as a balloon floating uncontrollably in space, despite the attempts of its leaders to steer it, wrongly believing they are important enough to have an impact on its natural aimless flight. The refrain ‘drift away’ sounds at once comforting and despairing and onomatopoeically this track really does sound like it’s drifting gradually further and further out of reach of the listener, shifting keys as the mood takes it as it drifts solemnly past your speakers. Then again, you can also view this track as an attack on voter apathy in the context of the other political post-Thatcher songs on the record, with the leader jumping overboard ‘with a lunatic look on his face’ and the refrain reminding us of all the other people left defenceless on board unsure of what to do, acknowledging that ‘its so easy to just drift away’. This song is the most obvious album selection from Ray’s musical Around The World In 80 Days where possibly it would have accompanied Jules Verne’s characters on their first flight into the air (though ultimately it seems to have been left unused during final performances). In truth, though, this classic song is less about plot than about atmosphere, with some typically witty yet also warning lyrics and a beautiful Ray Davies vocal pitched somewhere between off-handed fatalism and genuine despair.

The rest of the album is handed over to Dave, who gets one track on the LP version of the album and three on the CD. Although the noise levels have increased another tenfold, these songs show that the younger brother is every bit as much of a craftsmen as Ray. [337] Dear Margaret is a stirring protest song aimed squarely at Thatcherist Britain and those who ran it, for once playing the pessimist to his brother’s optimist. Dave makes the many 1980s reforms of Britain sound like a personal attack (he goes into several anti-Thatcher rants in his autobiography Kink, although probably no fewer than she deserved). Dave uses as his narrator a hardworking man who became rich through his own hardworking efforts earlier in the century only to see his fortune drop again after the whims of unfeeling politicians in the 80s. There’s no doubting Dave’s real anger in his vocal, especially the wailed ‘Dear Margaret I trusted you’ over the song’s curious fade, but he still finds the space to giggle through lines such as ‘I like your wiggle when you walk’ which is directed at Mrs Thatcher herself, an offhand comment which somehow manages to sound like the most vitriolic line of the song, dismissing Margaret’s politics as meaningless compared to her voter appeal as a ‘woman’ first and politician second (alas at the time of writing it looks as if Hilary Clinton might now get the chance to prove how intelligent and clear-thinking female politicians can be when they’re given a shot at power - how times change between eight years of review writing - although to be fair Thatcher looked just as promising until she actually got into power and proved us all wrong).
The fact that Dave didn’t get his two fine songs onto the original vinyl version of UK Jive (editor: they're coming up next in this volume, though, so don't go away!) speaks volumes about the state of The Kinks at the end of the 1980s. 

Times were often tough for the band, even more than most bands who lasted 30 years together (every time the Kinks seemed to be on the verge of success something – anything – seemed to come along and spoil it all, no matter how unexpected—never did a band cancel more concerts due to illness, pre-bookings or band disarray than the Kinks throughout their long career together). You could make several claims about what great music was lost when the Kinks received their draconian American ban in 1964 after some curious shenanigans involving Dave Davies, a bottle of alcohol and an air stewardess, when Peter Quaife was badly hurt in a car crash in 1966 or when record company shenanigans seemed to kill off the commercial roll started with the success of Lola in 1970. However, it’s perhaps most heart-breaking that the Davies brothers seemed to throw it all away just as it was becoming good for them again, artistically if not commercially, and at just the point where their ‘visions’ for the band most complemented each other’s. A surging optimistic memorial, summing up everything their many fans ever loved about the many different eras of Kinkdom, UK Jive is a poignant way in which to (nearly) end their long story and in which to (almost) end our list.   

Plus on the CD....

[338] 'Bright Lights' - a 'bonus' track on the CD release of 'UK Jive' - is a noisy and rather unfocussed Dave Davies rocker, not unlike those from his trio of solo LPs earlier in the decade. A rare tale of marital unhappiness (Dave and wife Lisbet - Pete Quaife's cousin - were breaking up and will get divorced in 1990) the lyrics sigh over how something that once promised much and dazzled with starry hope can now be filled with such darkness and dread ('Time's running out just as fast as it can' is the sighing opening line). Dave's narrator is eager to escape married life and go back to being single - but it 'half scares him' too. with a nice nod of the hat to Kinks Klassik 'No More Looking Back' in the way everything seems to be reminding him of his ex. On most other 1980s Kinks albums this average song might have fared better, but it's just not as memorable or passionate as Dave's other two songs either side of it.

[339] 'Perfect Strangers', the final track on the CD version of 'UK Jive', is an unsung Dave Davies classic. The catchy chorus dabbles with contemporary music but handles it in a much better way than many Kinks recordings, with the babble of a synthesiser continually brushed aside by the more traditional sixties verses and a keening middle eight. The lyrics return to a favourite Dave theme - the idea that mankind is part of a wider group that understand each other at a different level. Writing about the sudden connection we sometimes feel to strangers we've never met before, Dave widens the metaphor out to humanity in the wider sense, telling us that deep down none of us are strangers to each other - thus updating his 1970 song 'Strangers' by telling us it's just not true; that man is never truly lonely. A great performance with multiple Daves all singing the classic tune while Dave solos to perfection (like the other two Dave songs on the album Ray probably isn't on it all), you have to wonder why this classic track wasn't allowed on the album (elder brother jealousy?) 'Perfect Strangers' certainly sounds as if it belongs on 'UK Jive' more than the guitarist's other songs for the album: the middle eight's slow scary fall with the lyric 'I know there will come a day...' is particularly right for an album about hitting rock bottom and finding no way to go but up. A cracking band performance - the last with Ian Gibbons in the line-up - makes for a memorable finale to 'UK Jive' - certainly more so than 'Dear Margaret' was on the original.


‘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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