Thursday, 21 April 2011
Hello again, faithful readers (including Prince Zucko from the excellent series Avatar according to the name given on a recent posting – we’re honoured). Talking of Royalty, someone actually asked me the other day if I would be doing a special newsletter dedicated to the Royal Wedding – like every other business seems to be (I swear I even saw a repeat of a Fleetwood Mac doc on BBC6 given the sub-heading ‘to coincide with the marriage of William and Kate...I know the weddings a bit of an Albatross for us but?!?) Rest assured we’re not – we only cover proper actual relevant topical news here on this site (which is why this week we’re talking about a record released 26 years ago!) Anyway, ther’ll be another one along soon I’m sure (Harry’s, I mean, I don’t expect William to divorce just yet when he’s not even married, that would be cruel even for me) and most of the AAA songs about royalty aren’t that kind to them either (I will be playing The Monkees’ ‘Zor and Zam’ on the day though for my own amusement, ha!) Why do we care anyway? We don’t need a monarchy, we haven’t for centuries now and they all have more German blood than they do British (Windsor, let’s not forget, is a Germanic name whatever people think of it now). Oh and while I’m moaning, what’s with our Eurovision entry this year? Unlike most music lovers I’m a big fan of eurovision but all the fun’s been taken out of it now that the public don’t actually choose our entry – we get handed it on a plate. And whose big idea was it to reunite Blue, the soppiest boyband of them all. Surely they’ve learnt from the Lloyd Webber and Waterman fiascos by now – if we’re to lose, then we want to lose with a song we chose, not what some panel of ‘experts’ thinks will win. Blue’s song ‘I Can’ really isn’t a winning song – and no surprises that the band have come up with a song that’s ‘all about them’ for what’s meant to be a contest about the best of modern music around Europe. I expect 12 points at best, but even that will be an improvement on the last couple of years. Why don’t we stick to unknown acts for our success – look what it did to Abba, etc – I mean, nobody from Eastern Europe (who make up most of the voting bloc) will know who Blue is anyway. And watching Lulu tell a bunch of 30 year olds who’ve let themselves go ‘you’re gorgeous, so you’re gonna win’ when she looks 10 years younger than they do at 60 may just be one of the surrealist things I’ve seen on television. Ah well, the humiliation will be over again for another year soon. In the meantime, settle yourselves down with a mug of something palatable and peruse our latest news, views and music reviews...
♫ Beatles News: BBC6 are broadcasting ‘Band On The Run: The Story of Wings’ next week (at 3am on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 26 and 27th). I must admit, I’ve never heard about this programme – is it a new one? Seems a bit odd if it is, given that Macca’s already pretty faithfully covered this era with his own telly doc ‘Wingspan’ 10 years back. Or is it a selection from another one, such as the ‘Band on the Run’ 25th anniversary or McCartney on McCartney (another great series recently repeated on BBC6). Hmm, could be interesting...
Also, he only counts as an honorary AAA member, but the Wings progs are followed in the time slot by a rarely heard Johnny Cash two-part doc ‘American’. Full marks to BBC6! (Let’s just hope they don’t change the date at the last minute like they did with the Stones at the beginning of the month!)
♫ The Who News: The latest Uncut Special magazine has just been released, dedicated to everything you’d ever want to know about the ‘Orrible ‘Oo (and haven’t already read on this site, obviously!) The magazine follows equally excellent magazines dedicated to The Beatles, Rolling Stones and John Lennon and is the same mix of new analysis of old albums (the review of ‘Who By Numbers’ is especially spot-on and echoes many of the thoughts we wrote in our review four years ago)and vintage reviews from the vaults of the NME, including the infamous pair of Daltrey and Townshend reviews from 1975 attacking each other (much talked about, rarely seen in full these days). Some great and rarely seen pics as well so keep your eyes out, although the one thing I will say against it is that the ‘solo albums’ section is decidedly skimpy (Pete Townshend’s excellent and important ‘Empty Glass’ – our AAA classic no 77 – is dismissed in a paragraph; sure The Stones’ solo albums were dismissed the same way but aren’t quite as vital to their canon as a whole).
ANNIVERSARIES: It’s that time of year again for AAA members celebrating between April 23rd and 29th: Klaus Voormann (Beatle friend, illustrator and bass player) who turns 69 on April 29th. Anniversaries of events include: The official dissolution of Wings 18 months after their last recordings (April 25th 1981); the Rolling Stones release their first LP imaginatively titled ‘Rolling Stones’ (April 26th 1964); Ringo Starr and his twin Ognir Rrats starr in a rather odd TV special ‘Prince And The Pauper’ plugging the ‘Bad Boy’ album (April 26th 1978); It’s a good week for Ringo in fact – he marries second wife and former Bond girl Barbara Bach on April 27th 1981; Andrew Loog Oldham sees the ramshackle Rolling Stones perform for the first time at their ‘home’ club the Crawdaddy and signs a contract with them to be their manager the next day (April 28th 1963) and finally, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of the Moon tops the American charts – for a total of one week, despite staying in the top 200 charts for a ridiculous 15 years (April 28th 1973).
You’ve read the books, you’ve heard the music, you might even have read all our reviews. But where else can you look for the best footage of the bands you love? This week – our top five documentaries on AAA bands and artists:
5) Paul McCartney and Wings “Winsgpan” (1999): This documentary rather caught fans on the hop near the millennium when it was first screened on television (it came out on DVD the following year). ‘Wingspan’ doesn’t have the depth, the drama or the footage of the Beatles’ Anthology project from three years earlier(see below), but in many ways it’s better. Very much a McCartney home-made production (Paul’s daughter Mary presents and there’s not much input from ex-members), this film has a charm and tongue-in-cheekness that’s very refreshing after sitting through 10 hours of Paul George and Ringo pontificating and arguing. Best of all, it works as a great tribute to Paul’s late wife Linda, a key member of all five Wings line-ups who’d died two years before,and there are lots of great snippets of home videos and rare music footage for fans to go alongside the usual stories. What with daughter Mary’s involvement (and production by her then-fiance, now husband Alastair MacDonald) it’s as if the Macca family is trying to make sense of recent events and has invited Wings’ biggest fans into their grieving. Aaah. One question though – the person who made Wings more than just another McCartney solo project was the great Denny Laine whose comments are curiously absent from this project – was he not asked or did he not want to take part? A shame too that the badly missed Jimmy McCulloch (who died of an overdose age 27 months after leaving the band) isn’t given a better send-off. Still, all round, a very good doc, accompanied by still the best McCartney solo CD compilation around (even if a quarter of the tracks are by McCartney solo and not Wings at all!)
4) The Beatles “Anthology” (1996): Much ballyhooed before it was on (with four television networks competing to show it in the UK), there was overall a bit of disappointment after the whole project died down (the ratings dive after episode one and the embarrassingly small amount of viewers still around by week eight). On the plus side, you get masses of terrific footage you can’t see anywhere else and the production team take the sensible decision to show it more or less complete (unlike the bastardised records that went with it!) Highlights: a breathless Beatles at Shea Stadium going quietly mad, the unaired psychedelic promo to ‘A Day In The Life’ and some classic little seen TV gems plugging Hey Jude, Paperback Writer and many more. On the other side, you get Paul, George and Ringo as they were in the 1990s, aging before your eyes thanks to the years it took to finish this project and they alternate between being forgetful, argumentative, disrespectful and genuinely moved. It’s the moved moments that work best as you see all the remaining Beatles struggle to come to terms with the importance of their past and there are some great quotes, such as George’s comment that ‘the world used us as an excuse to go mad’. But, to be honest, without Lennon around to give his input (and the quotes used to represent him add little to the story) the producers might have been better off re-creating the magic of the 1982 doc ‘The Early Beatles’, stringing footage together with captions and letting the story speak for itself. Most people on the planet know the story so well already anyway– and if Anthology was meant to attract newcomers then there are simply too many long passages where nothing really happens, hence the dive in viewing figures. For all that, though, it’s worth owning the 11 hour set for the hour’s worth of really good 1960s footage alone.
3) The Beach Boys “Endless Summer” (1998): If ‘Anthology’ was too long long long then this later Beach Boys doc was too short, cramming 37 years worth of continuous music into two hours. By and large it’s better, though, thanks to a cornucopia of really good early footage (especially the mid to late 60s) and a sensitive handling of Brian Wilson’s very public breakdown (and Mike Love’s less public one). People come and go, collaborators disappear without a backward glance and there are too many great Beach Boys songs to squeeze into the programme’s two episodes to fit them all in, but despite the breathless rush this does feel like a full and rounded story being told, with everyone’s point of view being represented well. There’s an excellent ‘soundtrack’ CD out as well featuring a treasure trove of outtakes, rarities and curios that puts the six volumes of Anthology to shame too, although only a handful are heard properly on the soundtrack doc itself. Movingly, too, we hear the last thoughts of a clearly ill Carl Wilson, who died from throat cancer just before this programme’s first broadcast. The only downside is – the extras on the DVD are disappointing, with the chance to see the rare footage in full restricted to just a few of the more obvious bits of footage fans will own 20 times over already. Surprisingly, perhaps, this pretty much definitive doc caused a wave of Beach Boys docs (‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ ‘Classic Albums: Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile: Beautiful Dreamer’, all of which are worthy additions to the canon but not quite as far-ranging and exhaustive as this one).
2) The Grateful Dead “Classic Albums: From ‘Anthem’ To ‘Beauty’” (1993): There have been a few AAA albums covered in the much-missed ‘classic album’ series and they’re nearly all good and recommended (‘Pet Sounds’ ‘Who’s Next’ ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Graceland’, ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’, even Lennon’s weakest solo album ‘Imagine’ suddenly sounds like a lost epic). But it’s this doc, also available on video, that’s a nose above the rest. The reasons are numerous: firstly, we hardly ever get any Dead docs in the UK and when we do they’re usually squeezed in with someone else vaguely appropriate, like the Airplane (good choice) or The Band (you’re having a laugh!) Secondly, the band are pretty much all involved in this one, with one of Jerry Garcia’s last interviews finding him on fine form, pontificating on the hippy scene with his usual mix of earnestness and self-deprecating chuckles. Even lyricist Robert Hunter comes out of hiding and his interviews are some of the best of all – confounding, confusing, memorable and moving in equal measure. Thirdly, there’s lots of great footage not just of the chosen 1968-70 period but before and after too, rare early clips of the band looking like wayward teenagers and later in concert footage of the band looking like wayward OAPs. Lastly, dedicating the programme to not one but two albums – completely different and desperately under-rated (and both covered on our ‘review’ pages) – gives the documentary a much wider scope than normal, with a cyclical story. I learnt masses from this documentary, with anecdotes I’ve never found anywhere else, while enjoying every second and that surely is the sign of a classic programme. When is this great series coming back?!
1) The Paul Simon Story (1991): Perhaps the best AAA-related documentary series of all didn’t come out on television but radio, with eight whole episodes dedicated to a scholary and respectful analysis of one of the best back catalogues of all. Paul Simon has never been the most prolific of artists and altogether this series covers just eight solo albums and five Simon and Garfunkel albums – and yet, despite an eight hour running time, it barely seems long enough to cover the history of all those great songs. Paul Simon is the perfect host, offering up nuggets of little-heard information without pretending to know all the answers or have perfect insight. He also has several enthusiastic interviewees including drummers Hal Blaine and Steve Gadd, S and G engineer Roy Halee and, oddly enough, Art Garfunkel himself, who reveals not only why the pair butted heads so many times over so many little details but why he kept coming back for more. Honest and articulate, with songs played in full for the most part, this is an excellent series that badly needs to be re-issued or given a repeat broadcast (how about it, BBC6?!) which only lags in the episode for the over-rated ‘Graceland’.
Well, that about wraps it up for another seven days. In the meantime remember all things must pass and even coalitions and furore over royal weddings cannot last forever. See you next time!
You can buy 'Maximum Consumption - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Kinks' by clicking here!
The Kinks “Word Of Mouth” (1984)
Do It Again/Word Of Mouth/Good Day/Living On A Thin Line/Sold Me Out//Massive Reductions/Guilty/Too Hot/Missing Persons/Summer’s Gone/Going Solo
Psssst. Have you heard about The Kinks’ ‘forgotten’ album? I just had to review this album. ‘Word Of Mouth’ isn’t my favourite Kinks album by any means, it does n’t have the wit of ‘Arthur’ or the pain of ‘Face to Face’ or even the fire and fury of other lesser known gems like ‘Give The People What They Want’ and ‘UK Jive’, but if ever there was a missing relic in the Kinkdom then this is it, an album that truly has been reclaimed from obscurity by the word of mouth of fans. The poorest selling Kinks record of all on release, this album’s reputation has grown to the point where most fans now consider it the last great Kinks album, for better or worse. In short, it’s been reclaimed from history and transformed from a failure into a hero – how very Kinks. And how very Alan’s Album Archives. There’s even a line in the CD sleevenotes to this album that more or less sums up our site and all you good readers out there. Speaking in 1993 Ray said ‘I’m constantly surprised by the turnover of the new audience as well as the older audience and the way they know the history of our stuff. Sometimes they weren’t even around, so that interests me and I’m fascinated by that...People who buy records now are like rock historians. They want to delve in, they want to know what these guys did before. And they go into bargain bins and find all these gems.’ Ray Davies wasn’t thinking of us when he said it but, heck, he probably was thinking about you and all the fans out there who own more than just a Kinks greatest hits collection. I love the hidden gems in collections that come out of nowhere and belie their reputation to become your best friends, something this site is all about and there are more unexpected treasures in The Kinks’ lengthy canon than most.
How perfect, then, that sleeve-writer Dawn Eden should choose ‘Word Of Mouth’ to raise the subject – not only for the name (Ray has clearly given up trying to crack the mainstream by 1985 and has gone back to writing to his core audience by this stage), but because ‘Word Of Mouth’ is now a much better known album among fans than it was at the time. Now, I don’t buy the idea that this album is head and shoulders above the rest from the same period – personally I’d take ‘Give The People What They Want’ over this album, for instance, as it is a much better mood piece – or should I say moody piece – with Ray snarling at modern day life and the lack of humanity in modern day politics. There’s only one track on this album that bears anything like the same sort of weight – and unusually it’s by Dave nor brother Ray – but I can see why this album has become so loved and respected. ‘Word Of Mouth’ really isn’t a mood piece, its a series of vignettes just like ‘Village Green Preservation Society’, a series of cameos by a variety of characters, some of whom are closely modelled on the Davies brothers and some of which clearly aren’t.
In other words The Kinks, that most English sounding of bands, have finally given up aiming for the American market (a policy they’d been following since the 1970s, after the lifting of a ban that saw them deported from the country for most of the 1960s) and gone back home to their original 60s fanbase, albeit still with a largely contemporary sound. The guitars still mesh in a very American rock stadium way, Ray still thinks he’s a new wave artist at times rather than a man in his early 40s and the backing is still genetically closer to what was in the charts in the 1980s rather than Kinks Klassiks of old. But the lyrics are now closer to what The Kinks made their name with, especially Dave Davies’ compositions which mention ‘Kings’ and ‘England’ rather than ‘JFK’ and ‘CNN’. This idea will hit its peak on 1988’s ‘UK Jive’, an album that’s the perfect mix of American modernity and English eccentricity, but for now – in 1984 – it’s the closest we’ve come to hearing ‘our’ Kinks’ for a decade or so.There’s far more variety on this album than there had been for a while, with a bit of calypso, pop, balladry and even a sprinkling of jazz that’s more appealing on first listen, if slightly less rewarding in the long run (just two albums before, the whole of ‘Give The People’ had been played at a brisk angry jog all the way through).
Talking of jogging, Ray Davies seems to open up not his heart but his life to us more than normal here and many of the events outlined on the record really did happen to him – there’s his mid-80s fixation with jogging and fitness, his breakup with Pretender Chrissie Hynde and the fallout that was splashed all over the papers, the mid-1980s recession (yes, people, we have had them in the past – about every 12 years or so and The Kinks have covered each one in some form or another) and three intriguing tracks taken from Ray’s extra-curricular film project ‘Return To Waterloo’. Now, I’ve never seen this film except for bits and pieces on YouTube but I have read Ray’s (extremely loose) novelisation of it and various other writings on it and very odd it sounds too: of all the film projects planned by The Kinks at one time or another (‘Arthur’ ‘Village Green’ ‘Preservation’ etc) this is the one that sounds least likely to be made, a strange little film about teenagers leaving home and running away. Of the three songs recycled for the project, only one is a real ‘true’ Kinks song (ie with Dave Davies taking part) and that sounds much like the other band songs of the 1980s – the other two are curio ballads that sound arch and scripted to me, without the depth of Ray’s best work. The other tracks, however, find Ray on good form, mixing the band’s recent 1980s Americana rock arena work with the lyrical subtleties and heartfelt lyrics of old.ynde an
Best of all, we also get Dave Davies on peak or near peak form with his first songs for the band in some six years, finally giving The Kinks a secondary voice that adds depth and soul to the proceedings (even if Dave had to fight like hell to even get his songs on the album, not for the first or last time – ironically his songs are much closer to the original spirit of The Kinks than Ray’s in this period). We’ve talked elsewhere about Dave’s revealing autobiography ‘Kink’ and his claim to have been visited by aliens in this period – and his anguish when, after 10 years of minor nervous breakdowns that nobody noticed, everybody around him became really concerned just at the point when he felt better than he ever had before. Spirituality was always in Dave’s work, hiding, throughout the 60s and 70s but its not till 1983 and his cruelly ignored solo album ‘Chosen People that the younger Davies brother finally finds his own ‘voice’. After years of angry rock and roll, Dave finally lashes out at the world leaders and capitalist businessmen he sees as moving mankind in the wrong direction and shows a sympathy for the manipulated ordinary man that is moving indeed. In fact, of all of Dave’s songs for The Kinks I’d go so far as to say that the two on this album are his best, even with ‘Death Of A Clown’ in the band’s oeuvre (his solo ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’ might still be his best individual song, though, in my opinion and well worth seeking out by curious Kinks fans).
The fact that The Kinks are going at all in this period is something to celebrate. When The Who called it a day in 1982 that left just The Beach Boys (whose last halfway decent recordings came out in 1981) and The Rolling Stones (who are in something of a ‘lost decade’ between 1979 and 1989) still going as The Kinks’ main competitors from the good old days. If you’d have said that to a fan circa 1964 they’d have laughed their heads off – this is the band who were always turning up late, always accidentally (and sometimes intentionally) insulting the sort of people you really didn’t want to insult to get on in life, with copious dramatic arguments on-stage and off to the point where nearly all of The Kinks’ first dozen singles were greeted by the fear that it might be their last. (Ironically when the band do call it a day finally in 1995 barely anybody notices that they’re still around anymore anyway). Even more incredibly, three of the original four members were still in the band in 1984 although original drummer Mick Avory is about to call it a day. There are many versions of what happened: that Dave – who had been butting heads with him since 1965 when Mick famously knocked him unconscious live on stage with his cymbal – finally snapped and ordered him out of the band; that he couldn’t keep up with the sounds that Ray had in his head; that after 21 years of long service he’s simply been worn by the Davies feuding (probably a little of all three). Good as later Kinks albums are I for one am unbelievably sad to see him go – Mick might not be the best technical drummer in the world but I can’t think of any other drummer solid enough to record ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and loose enough to enjoy Ray’s more esoteric works like ‘Arthur’ (where Mick particularly shines. Much as I like and admire Charlie Watts, the Stones must have been kicking themselves that Mick had somehow been dropped from their 1961 line-up as his run with The Kinks is among the best by anybody. Replacement Bob Henrit (like bassist Jim Rodford a refuge from the Zombies spin-off band Argent) does his best, but he doesn’t have the feel that Mick has – and even if he does only play on three tracks on this album this is truly Avory’s last hurrah. If you get a chance, do look out for The Kinks’ rare promo for ‘Do It Again’ (available on the promos collection ‘Come Dancing’) where Ray and Mick perform down a subway dressed as tramps – Mick’s ‘I’ve had enough, I’m going home’ confrontation while Ray stares sadly after him is moving indeed to those who’ve travelled the journey with this band. No wonder this record took 15 months to make from start to finish – a horribly long time by Kinks standards!
Still, we’ve been here before as far as The Kinks and disintegration are concerned (they’ve been through so many bass players in their time they could open up a rent-your-own-rhythm-section shop) and there’s no denying that the tension and difference in opinion was always a key part of The Kinks’ sound. What makes ‘Word Of Mouth’ so moving for Kinks fans then and now is the way this album manages to sound fully contemporary and yet somehow a fitting farewell to the band’s line-up all at the same time. After all, it is the band’s last record in their troubled contract making records for Arista before an even more troubled era with London/MCA begins in 1986 and like all the band’s ‘farewell’ records before and after it (‘Percy’ ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ and ‘Phobia’), ‘Word Of Mouth’ is more like a summing up of the band’s earlier years than a complete album in itself.
It’s no coincidence that this album starts with ‘Do It Again’, the band’s last gasp hurrah chance at a successful single (alas, it bombed) and a song that seems to wave goodbye every bit as much as hello. Like Pete Townshend a decade before him, Ray is finding his song-writing technique and all the expectations of what he writes restrictive and that he is repeating himself over and over in his quest to find something new to say. Unlike Pete on ‘Who By Numbers’, though, he doesn’t sound annoyed so much as thrilled at the challenge and sees the idea of getting back to his roots as one that will energise him, as Ray closes yet another chapter of The Kinks’ history. This song is one of the last great Kinks Klassiks, with Ray using a repetitive and very 60s guitar riff to hang together a very 80s song about looking for inspiration and working out your motives. There’s a very clever song construction going on in ‘Do It Again’ – not only does the song repeat itself as a cycle throughout (taking the listener back to the beginning of the song every time it tries to turn somewhere new), but each verse Ray has to ‘re-boot’ the song, his vocal plugging the energy back into the band just as the song seems to be either spinning out of control, slowing down or – at one point – modulate to an uncomfortable minor key. It’s as if Ray is keeping this song – and the band – going by sheer will-power, using every last ounce of his strength to keep the song upright (the sheer weight of the opening and it’s slashing chords is a sound that hasn’t been heard a for a long while in the Kinks Kanon).
Dave Davies may be wishing he was anywhere but at the sessions, but his sound is truly integral to this track – the meshing guitars offer the perfect accompaniment for Ray’s desperate attempts to re-assert himself in the pop market of 1984. Full marks too to Ian Gibbons on keyboards, whose subtle fills do much to update the band’s sound without getting in the way of the guitarwork and adding an urgency to the track that sounds like a ticking time-bomb (he even adds a bit of boogie piano into the last verse, using the riff like a signpost to where Ray’s very Chuck Berry-ish retro riff really come from). Best of all, though, are the lyrics – Ray starts in the first person, looking for the strength to carry on before making the song more universal in the next few verses and questioning why any of us carry on doing what we do. There’s even a classic last verse offering up that old Kinks theme of how we have to be true to ourselves – we can change our house, our car, our job, even our nose (cosmetic surgery was a very 1980s subject – and a very un-Kinks one!), but it won’t change who we are or what it is that motivates us to get on in life. It’s the same message as The Beach Boys surfing song of the same name, retruning to what made you successful to see how you can move on in the future, but an awful lot deeper. A great message, well performed, it’s sad that this song didn’t even make the bottom of the charts because in many ways its the last great Kinks hurrah, both to their audience and to themselves. If only they would ‘do it again’.
The title track starts with a guitar riff so violent it’s as if the dying embers of the ‘Do It Again’ power-chords have spitted it out into our faces. A very Jam-like song about rumours wrecking a relationship (via The Who’s equally in denial ‘It’s Not True!’), this song is clearly inspired by the very public falling out between Ray and Chrissie Hynde. Their partnership has been in trouble for many a long year before this to sensitive Kinks fans with lyric sheets (as early as ‘Give The People’ Ray’s singing ‘add it up what I think about your worst qualities – or subtract me from your life), but this is the first song since the fallout between the pair made the papers. Dave’s angular spiky riff is joined by one of Ray’s most acerbic vocals for a song that updates The Kinks’ usual themes of mis-communication to embrace media lies and untruths. Interestingly, it’s not what the papers have revealed about the narrator’s life he objects to, but the fact that they’ve interfered with his relationship, colouring a situation that was bad anyway but might yet have been resolved amicably. Take away the angry performance and arrangement and read the lyric sheet and it seems that the ‘word of mouth’ getting Ray’s message through is more of a desperate hope that Ray’s fans won’t think badly of him, once he tells us that everything is ‘exaggerated’ and ‘rumours’. There’s even a hint that complaints about the band’s contemporary sound –ma big adjustment for English fans who only knew the band’s pastoral albums – is getting to the Davies brothers, with the line ‘The word of mouth is that I’ve gone insane, that wine and women have affected my brain...The word of mouth is I’m round the bend, it’s all over, this is the end’. The end result is an uncomfortable, shriek song that is understandable and easy to sympathise with, without being a good enough song in its own right.
‘Good Day’ is one of the more unusual songs in the Kinks canon. Ray claims, again in the CD liner-notes, that he hates thinking up where his songs are going and loves to leave his sub-conscious to do all the work – in which case his sub-conscious must have been on over-time for this track! It’s another of those Kinks epics that don’t sound like epics, with three or four distinct parts strung together in a whole that would jar in hands any less skilled. The song begins with the teasing of a beeping alarm, as if echoing ‘Do It Again’ that Ray doesn’t want to continue and is getting on with his work out of habit. The alarm is, noticeably, a then-modern day beeping digital alarm that seems to get it’s batteries kicked in by an aggressive drum lick (not Mick or Bob Henrit but, famously, a drum track for the first time on a Kinks record when Ray couldn’t get the former to play the song the way he wanted it). The song then quietens down into a downbeat song about Ray wondering how on earth the weather can be so lovely when all he feels inside is cold, dark, gray thoughts. We seem to be heading for one of those occasional Ray Davies rant songs a la ‘All Of My Friends Were There’ but no: the song widens out in the second verse into the news that actress Diano Dors has died – Ray, after offering the observation that ‘I used to fancy her a long time ago’, moves on to think that perhaps his troubles aren’t so bad in context (many modern Kinks fans assume that ray’s talking about Princess Di but he’s a bit early, even if the lines about ‘she couldn’t act much but she put on a show’ are even more fitting for her than Dors). The song then tries desperately to rise above it’s melancholy, with a sweet reggae-ish singalong of how today ‘better be a good day, gotta be a good day, gonna be a good day’.
We know that it won’t be, however. Much as Ray’s narrator tries to convince himself otherwise, there’s still too many problems in his life to cope with and the song soon descends into one of the most morbid pieces of all: after sighing jokily that he better get things in order because ‘someone just said that the world’s gonna end’, the whole song turns serious and ominous with the lines ‘If we blow away the past with a bloody great blast, make it fast, so have a good day today because it might be your last...’ Ray’s looking back over past mistakes here, wishing that the world would end and save him from the weight on his conscience in the present – note too this album’s on-off theme of the past infusing the present which will make even more sense by the end of the album. Ray then twists the song back again to its uncertain optimistic air before ending the song with one last plea that, despite acknowledging that the world as a whole has problems far worse than his, he doesn’t care – all he can cope with are his own dark murmurings because those are overpowering enough (‘they could blow a small atom bomb on the city today, but if you walked through that door, it’ll still be a good day today’). This song is all about second chances and missed opportunities – Diana Dors no longer has any chances left to make her mark on the world (Ray very sweetly says he’ll do it for her, ‘put on my make up and make the world take notice of you’ – presumably in this song because she’s never mentioned again by Ray in any media), but Ray hopes that he does have one small chance left, if only he can get someone (presumably Chrissie Hynde) to listen to him one last time. A fascinating complex song about regret and purpose, this song was too convoluted to be the hit single the band wanted (and why did he say in interviews it only failed because it came out in Summer not Spring? This is an Autumn record if ever I heard one!) but it makes for a fine and neglected album track. There’s an ‘extended edit’ of this song on the CD, by the way, but it doesn’t offer much apart from a longer fade featuring more of the song’s chiming belles from the fade and a band falling apart while trying to perfect the take.
The song then segues into Dave’s ‘Living On A Thin Line’, perhaps the best link between songs on the whole album, as Ray’s depression is again pushed back out of focus to let bigger world thoughts come in. I love this song, my favourite on the album and by rights you should all love it too, were it not for an unfortunate incident involving a record company contract, signed without Dave’s knowledge, which said that all singles released from album had to be ‘Ray Davies originals’. The band really shot themselves in the foot with that one, although I’m surprised that having two big radio hits (‘Do It Again’ was the other one) didn’t help with the albums’ sales. I feel almost mean talking about sales and money, though, because that’s exactly what’s gone wrong with the world in this song, with world leaders failing to take heed of what their people want, time and time again throughout history, ‘blaming our future on our past’ as Dave succinctly puts it. I can only guess what Dave would make of our current situation, where those on welfare are paying with their income whilst big businesses run up off-shore taxes of millions which they don’t have to pay (let’s hope there’s another Dave Davies album soon!) The song was originally written by Dave for Ray to sing (perhaps as a means to getting the thing on the album – John Entwistle did the same on the last batch of Who albums) but Ray refused (odd seeing as he turns in some great backing vocals here), with Dave singing in a much lower and subdued key than normal which actually suits him well.
The song is very in keeping with his solo album ‘Chosen People’, dealing with the idea that there are some in society who always think themselves better than the rest. The peace of us, the ‘ordinary’ human beings, is always being disturbed time and again throughout history as the powers that be haul us up to fight their wars and re-enact their grievances, even though wars are rarely anything to do with the public. As the 20th century heads to a close, Dave finds himself wondering if anything really has changed for the better during his lifetime, that it’s a ‘crime’ that the social structures the 60s fought to kick down are still in place and as rigid as ever they were. ‘I see change, but inside we’re the same as we ever were’ is one of the best Kinks lyrics of all, a kind of summing up of their status as protectors of the ‘Village Green Society’ and all the parts of our heroic past that need protecting. And ‘when they’re gone’ as all powers must at some stage, that leaves just me and you, scratching our heads over how we were made to fight each other when the wars and divisions had nothing to do with us. To write such a song now would be brave and ambitious – to have written it in 1984, when the Iron Curtain still showed no sign of coming down, is downright amazing. One of Dave’s best works, with a moody peace and solitude making a change from his usual noisy rockers and a catchy downbeat chorus to boot, I cannot credit this song enough. Simply superb.
‘Sold Me Out’ ends the record with a surprisingly retro rocker, one that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Low Budget’, as Ray sings yet again about how a new generation have been taken to the cleaners by the powers that be messing around with their money. Hah, to think people still believe this is the first recession we’ve ever had! The song is the first on this record to be ‘borrowed’ from Ray’s ‘Return To Waterloo’ project with some Dave Davies overdubs added later and it’s welcome to hear Mick Avory’s simple but grooving drum parts at last, although it arguably sounds more like The Kinks than any of the previous songs on the record. To Ray, though, the main problem isn’t betrayal, as the title suggests, but the fact that being ‘sold out’ reduces the poor narrator to a nobody in life, ‘got no dream, got no ambition’ – as we heard in ‘Do It Again’, without a dream to keep us going, life is nothing. The band do their best and it’s nice to hear so many touches of old (like Ray’s harmonica, Dave’s 1950s guitar licks and Mick Avory’s playing), but as a song ‘old Me Out’ is one of the weakest on the album and of the band’s 1980s output as a whole, stealing wholesale from the late 1970s new wave bands that in turn stole pretty much everything from The Kinks (I’ve recently been listening to Ray’s old protégé Tom Robinson and his two enjoyable ‘TRB’ band records are dead ringers for tracks like this one, angry, basic and impassioned whilst speaking out on behalf of those whose voices have been crushed by the wheels of industry, to employ a metaphor from another band entirely).
‘Massive Reductions’ is more of the same, this time attacking unfeeling companies who ‘sacrifice’ their workers in order to make profits, despite their employees giving them all. However, this song has far more fun getting to where it needs to go. There’s a fascinating ‘false opening’ that’s caught many critics out over the years, as we hear a bunch of outtakes (mainly Dave going ‘pardon?’), over a muted saxophone player rehearsing and an insistent keyboard riff that pummels away at the track until it gives way to a typically 80s Kinks catchy angry riff-fuelled stadium rocker. Most fans are disappointed by this song when it starts, but I think its one of their better songs on the subjects – Ray’s vocal is nicely angry though tongue-in-cheek as well, the chorus (with Dave on backing vocals at last) is catchy without being insincere and above all The Kinks sound like a band grooving together, rather than overdub-heavy ships passing in the night. I think the beginning sort of fits too – this is a song about the work going into something being unrecognised, not the brilliance of an end project and in this context it makes sense to hear The Kinks ‘working’ and putting the song together, even if annoyingly there is no saxophone solo on the song (it sounds like a great idea to me). Chances are Ray or someone else was listening to the playback, heard the chatter before the piece and thought ‘that sounds good, wonder if we can get away with adding that?’ then getting Ian Gibbons to overdub his keyboards. Either way, it makes for an intriguing opening to one of the band’s more under-rated songs of the era.
‘Guilty’ is a no-prisoners-taken heavy-metal-ish rocker from Dave that mixes both his outrage at his discovery that solo spin-off record label Warner Brothers used his record as a ‘tax write-off’ (not giving it the publicity and money it needed and effectively sinking it’s chances of success) and his outrage at the world in general. It’s another of his ‘awoken’ songs from 1983 onwards, inspired by his contact with ‘higher beings’ who showed him that the world isn’t necessarily the way he always thought it was and that humans are controlled by others from the cradle to the grave. The narrator urges all those on Earth to metaphorically ‘stand before your maker’, to see if they really would stand by what they are doing now in their lives after death (Dave might have been influenced by Egyptian lore, too, which has the God of Ra weighing up each person’s ‘good deeds’ against their ‘bad’ ones to see which is ‘heavier’). In Dave’s opinion, most of the powers that be in the world would fail the task, ‘blinded by the light’ if they gave us the truth so they keep us in the dark instead, ‘TV, media, lies and deception blinding us’. Dave uses his old shrieking falsetto voice for the verses, before cutting in with a punchy chorus about how most humans are being encouraged by those in charge to set upon each other for every little difference or action, ‘guilty until you’re proven innocent’. It’s a scary song, this, for all it’s good humour and winning performances and it would have made a fine addition to one of Dave’s solo records. Alas here it sounds a little out of place (and it may well be that Dave and new drummer Bob Henrit are the only members of the band playing on it).
‘Too Hot’ is one of the weaker tracks on the record, a Ray Davies track that repeats an old trick of comparing the state of the world to some metaphor or another – alas this time, his idea that like athletes in a gym the people of the 1980s are getting ‘too hot’, too tense and aggressive is no substitute for past gems like ‘catch Me Now I’m Falling’ and future gems like ‘Loony Balloon’. There’s a keyboard riff that sounds like ‘Come Dancing’ here and a magic middle eight (‘The city lights are shining at the end of the day...’) that would have been a better bet for a song all round – alas the main part of the song is an irritating, march-like fiasco with Ray and Dave’s voices pushed into keys they really weren’t made to sing in and a chaotic backing track where instruments and voices change round without any warning. The lyrics too are weird at best: we follow three very different and yet very 1980s characters, Julian Arthur and Sara Jane who are, respectively, a macho muscle man, a war-mongering rebel and a cash-strapped student with a bad diet who works in her spare-time as a stripper. I’ve just passed all of those three in the street - who said the 1980s were dead?! Anyway, the idea of the song is that each of them are getting too aggressive in their ways for Ray’s taste as the 1960s idealism turns into 1980s dog-eat-dog competitiveness and, as in 1979’s ‘Nervous Tension’, all three of them need to relax and calm down. However, that’s a better idea on paper than it is as a song as the three characters are all ciphers at best, with Ray’s line about his ice cream cone ‘melting in the heat’ a nomination for the worst Kinks couplet of all. Ray really would have been better working on the middle eight of his song – the first of a quartet on this album dealing with runaways – which offers much more promise in 10 seconds than the rest of this song does in four minutes.
‘Missing Persons’ really takes up the theme, a refugee from ‘Return to Waterloo’ that sounds a bit too twee and emotionless for a Kinks song. This is one of many ‘conversation’ songs in Ray’s catalogue (1988’s ‘How Are You?’ being the best example) which tailor the song’s melody to fit the unusual lyrics, with Ray also speaking rather than singing it. Ray isn’t talking to us, though, for once, but to ‘his’ runaway offspring who left home, half-dreading half-waiting for a phone call that could put him out of his misery about her whereabouts or give him final peace. This song is a pale substitute of others on the same theme, without the depth or emotional tug-of-war of The Beatles’ ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and in truth might have been better left on the film soundtrack as it doesn’t really belong on a Kinks record. Above all, the song is terribly short at just under three minutes, especially for a track with such a meandering, confused melody that really needs some form of release to make our patience worthwhile. But, like the unfortunate parent waiting by the parent, there is no answer and the track just kind of fizzles out.
‘Summer’s Gone’ is sandwiched between two tracks where it doesn’t really belong, but when heard out of context is one of the album’s great lost moments. A true Kinks pop song in the mould of ‘Autumn Alamanac’, this is a simple song whose lyrics tell us a completely different story to the one we hear from the performance. ‘When I think about what we wasted, makes me sad’ sings Ray, with a great audible grin all over his face, with the tune of a summery effortless pop hit married to one of his most hurt and vulnerable lyrics. Ray switches between the past and present liberally in this song, switching from a recent regret (presumably Chrissie Hynde again) to a memory of his huge family (six sisters, one brother) packed in a car, making a lot of noise before his mum tries to cheer his dad up by saying how quickly they’ll grow up. There’s a lot going on for what sounds at first like a simple little pop song – there’s a return to the runaway theme of the two tracks either side of it, a memory that suggests that generations all have the same teething trouble as each other, rubbing them up the wrong way and finally a return to ‘Good Day’s surprise that good weather and long sunny days can continue when all the narrator sees is deep dark gloom. Ray turns in one of the vocal performances of his life on this track, yndeHa sighing desperate plea that nevertheless sounds happy and joyous before you focus on what’s really going on here. Personally, I’d have liked a bit more in this tack – there’s a great middle eight that doesn’t last anywhere near long enough and a very Kinks idea that we never appreciate what we have at the time, which is why we have so many memories (a theme going way back to ‘Picture Book’ and ‘People Take Pictures Of Each Other’ in 1968). But, stills, this is an under-appreciated track that suggests that both Ray’s adventurous and pop-hook filled subconsciousnesses are working overtime in this period. There’s a neat ending/cross-fade too, that sounds as if its taking the song a whole new different way before it fades, sounding not unlike a melancholy version of ‘Singing In the Rain’! There’s another ‘extended edit’ of this track on the CD which is more interesting than for ‘Good Day’, adding a missing verse about the missing loved one making it feel like summer by ‘brightening up the view’ and accumulating a full minute to the running time.
‘Going Solo’ ends the album on a teasing note, a third track from ‘Return To Waterloo’ that’s the best of the three and an attempt to wrap up the ‘runaways’ theme of the album’s second half. If ‘Missing Persons’ is a song about denial, then this song is some form of reconciliation, recognising that warring generations is a ‘pattern’ that’s been going on since god knows when and always will. For the most part, this is Ray on the side of the parents, echoing ‘She’s Leaving Home’ again in their bewilderment that their children can ‘walk out’ after all those years (and all that money being spent on their welfare). Ray changes his mind in the last verse, telling the youngster ‘just because they gave you life, they can’t stop your grow’ and that too many ties can become suffocating however well the intention. The result is an uneasy compromise, as if The Kinks are acknowledging both sides without really coming to a conclusion. The hybrid music, too, is something of an uneasy compromise on this track, on the one hand it’s poppy and a bit wimpish, with a gawky awkward chorus (‘Solo!....Solo!...My little child is going solo!’) and on the other quite genuinely moving understated verses that accurately portray the narrating parents’ fumbling grasp trying to work out what’s going on. More than one critic has hinted, too, that this song title is a tease, Ray ending one of the most turbulent periods for The Kinks with a clue that after 20 years he really was ‘going solo’!
So that was ‘Word Of Mouth’ and, if I was writing these reviews in order, then it really would mean ‘summer’s gone’ for The Kinks. Shockingly, even today in 2011, there is more chance of me being invited to The Royal Wedding than finding a CD copy of the three equally mixed but generally splendid studio albums that came after it and that is nothing short of appalling considering that The Kinks were, are and always will be one of Britain’s most important bands. Following this album things get even more messy with broken contracts, band arguments and passing musicians (see ‘news and views’ no 37 for more) and this is the end in more ways than one for the band. But even with a handful of dodgy tracks, there’s enough brilliance here to suggest that the band were right to carry on for as long as they did. There are better Kinks albums around than ‘Word Of Mouth’, but there are worse ones too – and as every true Kinks fan knows even the worse Ray Davies songs still have a depth and magic few other writers can touch. In short, the word of mouth from this site is a cautious thumbs up...