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The Kinks "State Of Confusion" (1983)
State Of Confusion/Definite Maybe/Labour Of Love/Come Dancing/Property/(Noise)//Don't Forget To Dance/Young Conservatives/Heart Of Gold/Cliches Of The World (B Movie)/Bernadette
Well, it's taken a long time to get here but somehow, against all the odds, The Kinks seem to be in a good place at last. All those teething troubles with record label Arista seem to be a thing of the past now that The Kinks are shifting vinyl again with 'State Of Confusion' the band's fifth studio album for the label. The problems with the band's own London recording studios 'Konk' - experienced during the making of last album, the refreshingly strong seller 'Give The People What They Want' - seem to be sorted now. Dave Davies finally has the time and material to follow up his first two well-received and fairly strong selling solo albums for Warner Brothers. Plus best of all The Kinks have scored their first really big hit since 'Lola' 13 years earlier with the catchy 'Come Dancing', a Kinks single that manages to look both backwards and forwards in a style no other band can match. Surely the 1980s are going to be the band's golden years after night on 20 years of watching our favourite band lose their way over accidents, broken promises, bad luck and more than a little bit of abuse...
But what's this? The first thing you hear on playing this album isn't a witty pithy couplet but a blood-curdling angst-ridden scream. Just in case you were blinded into thinking this was a bit of atmospherics or possibly an attempt to keep up with those new wave romantics doing off-the-cuff things in comes that first line, dripping with even more self-loathing and misery than normal: 'Woke up in a panic, like 'somebody find a gun'. For some years now Ray Davies has been making the mundane constraints of the common man the outlines for his sketches and their dreams about a better life the shades that colour them in and make them seem three-dimensional, with those images gradually becoming more and more brutal with each passing album. Back in the mid 1970s this frustration and anxiety inspired whole concept albums, but now Ray doesn't even have the words any more - the best mirror for what is on his mind isn't some witty comment or illuminating character assassination, but a real despairing howl of pain.
We didn't know it at the time, back in the days when private lives used to be private and the only measure of a band's happiness was how well their career was going (surprisingly well by Kinks standards as it happens), but both the Davies brothers were going through hell in this period. Dave's we've already dealt with to some extent: after drifting further and further apart from his band and his brother he finds himself spiritually adrift and crushed by endless touring and a lack of opportunities to express himself. After pouring his heart out on his third and best solo album released in the States barely a few weeks before 'State Of Confusion' but later in Europe for some reason - the courageous and eclectic 'Chosen People' - Dave was heartbroken to learn that his label Warner Brothers considered his latest album a 'tax loss' and had decided to bury the album so thoroughly that even dedicated followers of Kinkdom still have trouble finding it (the good news it's well worth seeking out when you do). His confidence shattered he'd poured his heart instead into the sessions for 'State Of Confusion', spending more time than normal tweaking his brother's arrangements and making Ray's occasional flights of fancy sound like they belonged in the same place, which in theory should have resulted in the first Davies/Davies co-writes since 1967 and 'Death Of A Clown'. Depending on who you ask the fact that Dave doesn't get a single writing credit for this album is either an 'oversight' (Arista weren't used to giving Dave co-credits during their time together) or a particularly mean trick on the part of Ray, who phoned up the publishers the night before printing and made sure only his name was on each track. Either way, this casts a nasty overglow over this album that for many is the beginning of the end: long-serving drummer Mick Avory, who'd been with the band for 20 years, quits partway through making the next LP after one fight too many between the brothers (and Dave's theory that the drummer was always going to back Ray on important issues) and the brothers are never as 'close' as this again until The Kinks split for good in 1995. As we've seen so many times on this site already, too, Dave suffers a nervous breakdown in 1982 that changes his life forever, leading him into contact with aliens and a realisation that the biggest struggle for humans is materialism and greed versus their spirituality (have a read of the chapter on this in Dave's excellent autobiography 'Kink' and you'll never doubt their existence again). Whilst 'Chosen People' is the natural vehicle for Dave to get all this off his chest (notably on 'True Story', the guitarist's song about this encounter), that frustration with the way modern life seems to be heading is a key theme of this record too and 'State Of Confusion' could easily have been the title of Dave's record as well (not to mention the fact that aliens turn up on 'Cliches Of The World', suggesting that Ray was at least pretending to listen to his brother back then).
And Ray? The second really important relationship of his life (excluding the one with his brother, for now) was over and the end came as unexpectedly as the first. This time around it wasn't childhood sweetheart Rasa abandoning him via note and house evacuation but Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde deciding that Ray wasn't really her idea of a lifelong partner after all and - after an admittedly fractious but still fairly long-serving four year partnership - dumping Ray to marry Jim Kerr, guitarist with The Simple Minds. Ray never mourned losing Rasa by song as he was going through his 'character' rock opera phase of the mid 70s (although the character of 'The Tramp's song of guilt 'Sweet Lady Genevieve' on 'Preservation Act One' is a heart-breaking song when you understand the story behind it), but he makes up for it here. The album starts with a song dreaming of suicide and the very un-Davies line 'I can't cover up - because it's obviously showing!', passes through songs about marriage between a 'two-headed transplant' that ends in violence, a song about detachedly dividing up 'property' between two people who share so many memories and ends it cursing a mysterious woman who takes the narrator for a ride but still painfully admits 'I don't want to leave!' Hynde's spectral presence hangs heavy over this album, which is both rockier and angrier than most (if not quite up to the sheer aggressive 'arrrggghhh' of 'Give The People What They Want') and - dare I say it - very Pretenders-ish, with those growling guitars and mid-tempo thrashes of noise (particularly my favourite Chrissie Hynde song, the under-rated 'Message Of Love', which goes through grief, anger and sadness after a temporary break-up before ending up at reason: the 1981 release date suggests it might in fact be a rare example of Chrissie singing about Ray instead of vice versa).
All that will have come as a surprise to fans who know this LP as the 'dancing album'. 'Come Dancing' is a fun, novelty song of the sort the Kinks used to do in their sleep but hadn't really recorded since the days of the 'Muswell Hillbillies' in 1971, where the memories of distant dance halls were both long ago for people Ray's age to get nostalgic over and to seem mysterious and exotic to teenage record-buyers in 1983. Fun and funny, with another hilarious music video (The Kinks made some of the greatest of the 1980s and don't get enough credit for them - or for kick-starting director Julian Temple's career), it's the perfect entry for non-fans to the bittersweet lonely-but-hopeful world of Kinks Kharacters (even if it meant the rest of this angrier-than-normal album was a bit of a slap to the chops). The song also cuts far deeper than most Kinks fans realise as we'll be seeing later...For my money, though, the single most gorgeous song on this album is the sequel 'Don't Forget To Dance', which instead of remembering a fun past overtaken by a nasty present instructs all of the band's listeners who aren't 'married, vanished, forgotten or just left alone' that they still have as much right to 'dance' as their offspring. The one truly slow song on the album, together with the single most complete and rounded melody on the LP, means that 'Dance' shines even better as part of the album than it does as a single, a true neglected Kinks gem (even though this - typically - flop single doesn't sound anything like the rest of this bitter and frustrated album either).
Elsewhere Ray continues his long-standing argument with modern society as heard across most of his LPs but especially last album 'Give People What They Want'. Having discovered in the early days of 'video nasties' and 24 hour news channels that so much access to discussion of murderers, assassins, paedophiles and wife-beaters was making us less empathetic towards each other and more blood-thirsty, he now turns his attention to asking 'why?' The answer seems to be yuppies, computers and mundanity. 'The man' that the rebels of the 1960s fought (The Kinks as much as anybody) is still there but even more blatant than before, claiming that in a dog-eat-dog world there are always going to be winners and losers and you should spend your time making sure you win rather than helping those who lose (the antithesis of the real 60s message). The album's second song 'Definite Maybe' is a hilarious account of a system that demands facts from people and claims to know how best to run their lives - as the narrator argues, without understanding their experiences, hopes, dreams, desires or circumstances the 'machine' hasn't got a hope of making things better for everyone. Ray gets even more hands-on in song seven, conjuring up musical memories of the rich kid who had everything except humanity 'David Watts' by comparing the youth of the 1980s against those of the 1960s and finding they come up short ('Young Conservatives' is a remarkably fitting song for now, actually, although ironically it's the teens and twenties generation who are being hurt the most and the 60s' generation who are arguably best off- perhaps all that appeasing Cameron's been doing to OAPs at the moment is because he knows they're traditionally the generation most likely to fight back, not just because they're the age most likely to vote for him). Finally 'Cliches Of The World (B Movie)' is perhaps the most characteristic and inevitable song of them all, mixing the tastes of both Davies brothers (in it an everyman escapes his mundane life when he's picked up by aliens - only to wake up stuck back on Earth and even more disillusioned after finding out how amazing life can truly be). This song could have appeared on any Kinks album from any period, but perhaps makes the most sense on an album that's full of the theme of dreams of escape and frustration at your lot.
Perhaps the most telling song on the album, however, is 'Heart of Gold'. A sympathetic tale of sibling rivalry, that both struggles to understand and empathises with a troublesome youngster, this is a song that the brothers finally sing together about having opposite approaches. In a way it's like an update of 'Two Sisters' from 'Something Else', with the narrator acknowledging that the rather surly, bad tempered family temper is deeply loved because of rather than despite of all the problems this causes and that, deep down, their love runs deep whatever the pair might say. Fans have naturally assumed this song is about the troubled relationship between Ray and Dave, but throw in a middle eight that Ray admits was inspired by contemporary reports about Princess Anne (who - *swoon* - came close to swearing to a press photographer; well, all she actually said was 'naff off' but for one of the Royals this was tantamount to the 'n' word 'f' word 'c' word and 's' word all at once - full marks if you guessed the 'S' word was 'The Spice Girls' by the way, you're catching on now...) and a throwaway comment that Ray once made that the song was about the birth of his and Chrissie's daughter Natalie (and the sibling rivalry this might cause with his daughters by Rasa, Louisa and Victoria) and you begin to have a much bigger picture. Chrissie Hynde, too, came from quite a large family (if not as big as Ray and Dave), whilst this album's other figure of fun Margaret Thatcher was indeed a younger child who admitted that she spent most of her childhood trying to outdo her elder sister Muriel (Ray must have felt some grudging sympathy with her there). It goes without saying, too, that all the characters above did indeed have their problems exaggerated by having 'their private lives always on view' - as we saw on 'Give The People...', the 1980s trend for talking about everything and yet somehow nothing about a celebrity was something Ray particularly hated. So there we have it: 'Heart Of Gold' is a song that is the real 'heart' of the album, successfully linking the outward songs about societal stagnation and personal tragedy, both short-term and long-term.
Which is not to say that the other Kinks don't get a look in. 'Give The People' felt like very much a 'world view' of one person and it somehow made sense that for third time in four albums it should be Ray on the front sleeve, this time jogging his way past the album title graffitied on the band's own 'Konk' recording studio wall. This time around, though, the whole band are pictured, perhaps reflecting the fact that Ray was less hands on with this album and Dave especially was more involved. Mick Avory is on particularly good form here, on his last full LP with the band he co-founded, and as ever with Ray's most personal songs and emotional songs, he gets them spot on (he struggles more with the ragged rock of 'Bernadette' where he seems to slow down partway through, but he nails the tricky and unusual drum part for 'Come Dancing' so all is more than forgiven too). The capable Jim Rodford and Ian Gibbons also get more to do than normal, especially on 'Property' and 'Cliches Of The World' where synths have never been more welcome on a Kinks song. Fittingly, the cover is also the perfect depiction of five people running in different directions but in the same direction too - not a bad analogy for what's going on in the music. Presumably the band are running away in case they get 'caught' scrawling graffiti on the side of their own studio (again!); normally repeating a cover trick wouldn't work but this album has such a close bond with 'Give The People' that repeating it makes a sort of sense (musically this album is a sort of 'part two' in a way that, say, 'Village Green Preservation Society' isn't simply a 'part two' of 'Something Else', with both albums analysing the world outside the studio door and the sense of very urban decay and betrayal hangs heavy across both LPs in a way that they never do so thoroughly on any Kinks LP again).
For once on this site it seems, this album's off-cuts aren't up to the standard of the record. Both 'Noise' and 'Long Distance' were included on cassette versions of the album - an unusual move and the only time this happens to The Kinks in the pre-CD age (although 'UK Jive' is both longer and better on CD thanks to two 'bonus songs'). Neither of these songs are classics, so it's surprise they weren't simply left off altogether the way so many of the band's 1970s and 1980s recordings were ('Sleepwalker' went through so many discarded songs it could have been a triple LP, despite ending up one of the shortest Kinks albums of all!) 'Noise' is quite fun, though and casts another critical eye over modern-day living by sending his hapless narrator round the twist working in a noisy factory, being surrounded by screaming kids on the way home and trapped with a noisy radio at home. His comment 'there ought to be a law...' pre-dates ASBOs by some 15 years, although you sense the modern-day Ray Davies would be crosser at their mis-use by scheming curtain-twitchers than their absence in this day and age. 'Long Distance' is a cute song in search of a melody that sounds like it belongs from happier, sunnier times and offers a neat twist on the theme of 'Arthur' (English relatives leaving for Australia in the hope of a better world than what England offers post-WW2) by having Ray stuck in Australia 'such a long way from home', desperate to get through to some reminder of his English roots. Finally, 'Once A Thief' didn't even make the cassette version of 'State Of Confusion' but is well worth looking out for, a moody angsty song more like the ones coming up on 'Word Of Mouth' where everyone assumes the worst of the narrator because he's been caught out once before (it's tempting to see this song as an update on 'Sweet Lady Genevieve' where the lovable rogue did indeed let his beloved down again - if so this seems to be Ray's angry statement that Hynde is to blame not him; perhaps that's why this rather bitter song was never released at the time? Ironically it's easy to hear this as a Pretenders song, what with the short jerky guitar riffs and the 'flourish' with which Ray sings many of the words). All three songs - plus an ever-so-slightly extended version of 'Don't Forget To Dance' - make for one of the better collections of bonus tracks on the Kinks re-issue CDs on Velvel, although none of them are quite up to the high album average on this LP.
Overall, then, 'State Of Confusion' is another good-bordering-on-great LP from a band who have now worked out how to combine occasionally eccentric material with commerciality. Many fans brought up on the band's more melodic 1960s and early 70s material will find the songs too similar and the recording too brutal, but there's actually more eclecticism and changes of tone here than on any album since 'Misfits' five years earlier and to the uninitiated this album sits a close second to 1989's 'UK Jive' as your best introduction to the Kinks during perhaps their most troubled decade. However, this more mainstream rock sound was exactly what the Kinks needed to evolve into to survive (they made far more money between 1979 and 1985 touring the USA than they ever did confined to Europe in the 1960s) and if you hear these albums in order it makes perfect sense (although ironically 'Come Dancing' - their biggest hit of the decade by far - is arguably one of the very few Kinks songs of the 1980s that doesn't rely on this 'heavier' sound).'State Of Confusion' isn't perfect, then. 'Definite Maybe' and 'Young Conservatives' lack the depth of the songs around them. 'Labour Of Love' conveys the weariness and bitterness at the heart of the song all too well for many listeners. 'Bernadette' is my least favourite Kinks album closer of all. And even though it makes for a fun change to what they've done before, even the title track ends up sounding like a lot of huffing about nothing if you play this album for long enough. But oh those other songs: 'Come Dancing' is a welcome bit of light relief, with an arrangement that manages to both sound contemporary and nod it's hat to golden eras past, whilst the nostalgia at the heart of the song is so wonderfully 'Kinksy' this song marks a perfect line between this album and the tales of 'preservation' on golden albums past. 'Heart of Gold' is prettier and sillier than normal, with a lyric crying out for the kind of analysis we provide on this site (usually Ray either wears his heart so much on his sleeve everyone knows what he's writing about or, occasionally, plays his cards close to his chest). 'Cliches Of The World' might well be the best arrangement on the album, powerful and believable (well, right up until Ray starts using his B-movie voice, anyway). Finally, 'Property' and 'Don't Forget To Dance' are amongst the Kinks' best works of the 1980s, poignant and emotive, without being all sickly or artificial or allowing the emotion to get in the way of a good melody or structure. I still place this record slightly below 'Give The People...' (the diluting of textures and styles means that 'State Of Confusion' doesn't quite have that album's brash bravado), but it's still a very good and unfairly forgotten album from a very good and unfairly overlooked band. Like the title track, the 'house' the Kinks built might be falling down, but it's falling down in style.
'State Of Confusion' is an intriguing song. It sounds to me as if it started off as a comedy song, a sort-of-sequel to 'Predictable' from the last album in which the hapless narrator's life falls apart around him no matter what he tries to do (further explored in the glorious video, which sees the same narrator in the 60s, 70s and 80s, older and differently dressed but clearly no wiser whatever the technology of the day). Only this song sounds much more 'real' somehow, losing the slightly tongue-in-cheek calypso of 'Predictable' in favour of almost heavy metal rock and that opening guttural scream. The narrator truly is having a terrible time and also doesn't know where to turn to put his life back together: his basement's flooded, the ceiling just collapsed, the tumble dryer, video player and television have all packed up and even when he leaves his dilapidated house to go outside he's stuck trying to cross the road for hours, literally lost 'in the middle of an island', unsure where to turn. However all that is clearly just a smokescreen for the real problem in this narrator's life: it's hidden away at the end of the second verse but this, surely, is a song about Chrissie Hynde ('My girlfriend packed her bags and moved out to another town - she couldn't stand the boredom when the video broke down', a pithy couplet which says a great deal about their relationship before she left). We're used to hearing Ray as a drama queen exaggerating his woes for comic effect and yet even if you didn't know the full story you'd surely pick up on what a dark time this is for the elder Davies brother. Even when one of those traditionally uplifting Kinks middle eights tries to reach out a helping hand it gets rudely squashed ('Should be happy, should be glad, I'm alive and it can't be bad - but meanwhile back on planet Earth...') as if Ray is too tired and disillusioned to promise his fans that it will get better and we'll survive the storms. Again the key line of the song - indeed of the whole record - is 'Can't cover up because it's obviously showing' : Ray might want to write a 'funny' song to add a bit of range to this often depressing album, but he's too emotionally involved to care right now. The music is a neat double for the taut, tension-filled lyrics too, the musical equivalent of someone beating their head against a wall in sheer frustration at their lot in life. Listen out too for the song's central guitar riff, which is like 'You Really Got Me' being played through gritted teeth, all that sheer joy and energy of something good leading you on to exciting new places turned into stabbing accusing staccato guitar punches that leave us in no doubt that the narrator is trapped. The trouble with this song, then, is that it still sounds in places like a comedy song (are having a pile of 'dirty dishes in the sink' really cause to ask for a shotgun, irritating as they are?) and can leave the listener puzzled. Should we be laughing at this narrator, with this narrator or sobbing on his behalf? Not the best on the album, but a strong song nonetheless.
'Definite Maybe' is clearly not as deep as some of the other songs on this album, but in many ways it's a forgotten minor gem of the Kinks catalogue. The narrator - perhaps the same one was in the last song - has just been told through the post that he 'doesn't exist': as it turns out the central Government computer doesn't have enough 'facts' about him for their records. 'Head office thinks I'm dead, but I'm not even ill', wisecracks Ray on a song that's clearly meant to make us think about what it really means to be alive: is it a list of dates and events or a 'Picture Book' style collection of memories, many of them of boring routine things not thought 'important' enough to write down? A philosophical discussion of this thought might have made for a powerful song, but sadly Ray's more intrigued by the endless round of trying to solve the problem, being carted round and round offices who then send him elsewhere. Anyone whose ever been in a similar situation (which, no doubt, is almost all of us) will sympathise with the frustrated narrator who has better things to do with his time than do the council's job for them, but sadly this makes for a song that's a little too keen on repeating itself to exaggerate the effect and ends up going musically as much as lyrically in circles. There is a great repeat of that Kinks klassik 'Get Back In The Line' in the lyrics, though, with the narrator stuck back in the same sort of pointless, random queues his unemployed counterpart used to suffer in the earlier song (people say The Kinks are a quintessentially English band because they talk about English places and faces, but I reckon it's because they understand the very English art of queuing better than any other band). AAA fans might have noticed the similarity between the song title and Oasis' debut album: the Gallaghers are Kinks fans (if not as much as they are Beatles, Stones and Stone Roses fans) so may have nicked the idea from here, although that album's clear sense of vision and direction is very at odds with this unsettled, confused album.
'Labour Of Love' is one of the weakest songs here, with the band returning to their no-frills aggressive stance of 'Low Budget', but for personal rather than social reasons. Opening with a wonderfully distorted and aggressive guitar version of 'Here Comes The Bride' (almost certainly Dave's idea and probably based around Hendrix's similarly unusual reading of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock), this is Ray getting Chrissie Hynde's 'betrayal' out of his system once more. A tale of a 'two headed transplant' named Mr and Mrs Horrible who can't stand each other, no one but Ray could have written this song (well, maybe the guys in 10cc now I've said that) and Ray is in a miserable, grumpy mood even for him ('When the sex wears off it's all give and take and goodbye to all your dreams'). The story of the song is that the two such opposite people should never have ended up with each other in the first place, but due to their circumstances had no choice: Ray might well be feeling better about the way Chrissie 'pursued' him here (even in her music journalism days she was a huge Kinks fan - and rightly so). There's a neat twist in the song, though, when it's revealed that the couple can't live apart either and that, however far apart they are, 'they're made for each other to have and to hold'. The title, too, is a clever and very Ray Daviesy pun on love seeming like hard labour, but that people often labour at something they really love to try and make it work. Ray is clearly using his writing to get things off his chest on this album and never more than here. Unfortunately his knack for writing glorious melodies seems to have temporarily deserted him in his frustration and clever as the lyrics are musically 'Labour Of Love' is as lumpy and leaden a piece of music as he ever wrote. Ray's vocal is curiously mixed too, as if he doesn't want to hear the 'truth' in what he's singing and it's not one of his best, trying too hard to sound 'sarcastic' and 'mean', two emotions that don't really suit him. Dave's snarling guitar tries to lift the music and his opening swirl is the best thing about the song; however otherwise this performance does rather too good a job at picking up on the nasty, unfair, fed up vibe where every relationship is doomed and however close couples are at the start of their marriage they're guaranteed to be at each other's throats by the end.
'Come Dancing' has always sounded like it belongs on a different LP, being the one bright and happy moment on a record that's awfully down. In true Kinks style, having so many difficulties in the present has turned Ray to look at the past, at a more 'innocent' time when all you had to do if you liked a girl was dance with her. Perhaps feeling guilty at the way the popularity of 60s rock and roll bands like The Kinks slowly closed down the dancing circuit in the days before 'Strictly' made dancing compulsory again, Ray looks back to his childhood and his many elder sisters' exotic sounding encounters at the local palais dance hall. Although this song is cute and happy for the most part (especially the twinkly comical riff, played here by the horns but actually worked out by Ray on an early casio keyboard), there's an underlying current of sadness at its heart, with the 'Village Green' like theme that nothing last forever and all great institutions get pulled down in the end no matter how fondly remembered. That might be, too, because Ray was undoubtedly thinking of his elder sister Rene when he wrote this song. A sickly child with a heart condition, Rene loved her music and refused to give up dancing, eventually dying in her 20s in the arms of her beloved on the dancefloor (it was she who gave Ray his first guitar - moments before her death if Ray's 'unauthorised autobiography' 'X-Ray' can be believed - although like most of this fascinating but infuriating book it probably can't!) Although Ray's never really spoken about this song (murmuring something about memories of being paid off when he spotted his elder sisters snogging at the front gate, something that ends up in this song too), he was surely thinking about Rene here, backing up her motto that doing something you love is worth paying the ultimate price for ('Why not come dancing? It's only natural'). No wonder, then, that Ray feels a part of his childhood 'died' when he saw the palais - the place of his sister's death - knocked down for something as mundane and unromantic as another anonymous supermarket (surely the enemy of the Village Green Preservation Society full of local little shops with character). Indeed, if you study the song without this understanding it doesn't make sense: as the video makes clear, the young lad narrating the song was too young to ever go there himself - it's his sister's childhood he mourns, not his own. Of course the narrator's sister doesn't die in this song: instead she grows old, has kids of her own and sits anxiously waiting for them to come home while her brother thinks about asking her to dance for old time's sake. Delivered with just the right lightness of touch and a backing track that manages to sound both like the period band tunes that would have been played at the time and the slightly mysterious calypso-reggae feel that was so much a part of the music scene in 1983, 'Come Dancing' deservedly became one of the Kinks' biggest hits (their equal best in the USA in fact, where this song peaked at #6, matching what 'Tired Of Waiting For You' had achieved 19 years earlier). Catchy but deep, full of Kinks themes of nostalgia, romance, comedy and mourning, 'Come Dancing' was exactly the song they needed to release in 1983 - although sadly it's jollility does sound slightly forced when heard on the album in between two of the most fed-up songs in the Kinks canon.
Having poured out his confusion, anger and sense of betrayal across the album already, Ray now turns his attention to sorrow on 'Property', one of the greatest songs about divorce ever written. The song sounds contemporary once more, complete with a vocoder mouthing the title line like an extra from Star Wars, but for once this is a masterstroke, with a typically 1980s alien landscape sounding as cold and unemotional as The Kinks have ever been. Ray tries to sing the verses without emotion too, as he packs his bags, determined to move on with his life because although it's hard to do that 'it's harder just to stay here knowing that I don't belong'. In a sort of anti-Picture Book Ray's narrator gives his photograph albums to his partner because he can't bear to remember them being happy and even adds that unlike the natural snapshots in that song most of them were forced anyway, 'posing' for their respective families in an attempt to cover up the truth from each other about the fact they aren't close any more. It's the last verse that really packs the punch though: all those little daft souvenirs from holidays and days out the pair always meant to throw away have in fact 'outlasted us', collecting dust on a shelf as if reminding the narrator how long ago it was that they were happy. Ray's masterstroke, though, is to add a chorus that's full of all the emotion the couple can't bear to show to each other - at the exact same point the narrator starts discussing the couple's life together in the impersonal terms 'property'. Even more than 'State Of Confusion', this song successfully conjures up the helplessness and confusion of this period in Ray's life and his eye for detail is particularly strong in this song. The melody for 'Property' too is beautiful in a kind of ice-maiden kind of way: graceful and poetic but firmly detached and aloof, it's the perfect match for the lyrics. The rest of the Kinks excel themselves here too with one of the better performances on the record, with Ian Gibbons' haunting keyboard riff easily his best work during his short time with the band. Really, though, this is Ray's song and delivers to us what must have been a very hard song to write, without hiding the real-life element of this track behind 'characters' this time (as per 'Preservation') or comedy as per some of the other songs on the album. 'Property' is one of the most poignant songs he ever wrote and is easily one of the album highlights.
Better still, though, for my money is 'Don't Forget To Dance'. Most fans assume this song is a 'sequel' to the Kinks' biggest hit of the decade (and indeed it was released as a single after 'Come Dancing') but actually this song was written earlier and is the only recording to have been kept from some aborted sessions the Kinks made at the end of 1981 (along with a total of seven other songs all of which remain unreleased - a record even by Kinks standards). Wondering out loud why no one seems to dance any more (this is before 'Strictly', remember when 'Come Dancing' was facing the axe and ballroom dancing was about as uncool as boy bands, mobile phones and Dr Who; how times and perceptions change!), it's as if Ray's recent split has reminded him of how many of his peers are in the same boat, encouraging them all to 'dance' one last time and take centre stage whatever the youngsters of the day might think. One of Ray's best melodies, oozing longing and melancholia, encourages one of his best lead vocals too, dripping with empathy. Ray is at his lyrical best when he's encouraging others too and comes close here, reflecting on those who have suddenly found themselves 'left alone' in uncomfortable middle age, all of their friends 'either married, vanished or just left alone'. The key line here is 'that's no reason to just stop living' and like he did on the title track of 'Misfits' five years earlier encourages his audience to go out and be themselves, oblivious to what people might think ('A nice bit of old' the youngsters yell - leading Ray to conclude 'It goes to show what you can achieve with the right attitude'). There's actually comparatively few words to this one, certainly compared to the rest of the album (two verses, a chorus and a long middle eight), but Ray chooses them carefully, conjuring up a song that manages to be both sad and uplifting at the same time - very Kinks in fact. Another clever video, returning to the same place as the hilarious one for 'Come Dancing' should have scored the Kinks another big hit in 1983, but sadly this song was yet another Kinks masterpiece not to chart. Some thirty seconds were chopped off 'Don't Forget To Dance' before release for goodness knows what reason - they've been restored on the CD re-issue but don't really add much to the song to be honest (the instrumental section in the middle runs slightly longer, that's all). It might amuse you to learn that Ray's next wife, Yvonne, was indeed a dancer and used to choreograph The Kinks' shows from 1985 on. Easily the best song on the album, it makes you wonder whether the Kinks are sitting on a gold mine from those late 1981 sessions or whether this song is simply a single beautiful one-off.
'Young Conservatives' finally moves away from all that soggy clutter to Ray's state of the union address for 1983. Despite selling millions more units in the USA than in the UK these days, this song is clearly aimed at British youth, seen by Ray as money-grabbing yuppies who can't wait to get rich. Bemoaning the loss of the 60s spirit of youth and revolution, Ray scratches his head at the new breed who are polite and well-dressed but will happily stab each other in the back in Margaret Thatcher's dog-eat-dog world. In one of his cleverest verses Ray moans at the way universities are turning out business students rather than revolutionaries ready to shake Britain to the core: 'The establishment is winning, now the battle's nearly won...All the urgency and energy has turned into complacency'. Just as Ray mourned the loss of 1950s values on 'One Of The Survivors' and called The Kinks 'The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains' in the wake of diesel rattle and roll, so Ray mourns the true 'death' of the 1960s, sounding as lost and confused here career-wise as he did personally in 'State Of Confusion'. To quote another Kinks song, 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' There's another Klassik Kinks song in there too, when Ray re-uses the riff from 1967's 'David Watts'. That song was a damning study of the rich kid who has everything except sense - the re-use of the 'fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa' riff suggests that Ray now thinks all the youth in the 1980s are a bunch of privileged David Watts and worries about the people less fortunate who get left behind. Singing with the same venom and sarcasm he used on 'Dedicated Followers Of Fashion' and 'A Well Respected Man', this is Ray puncturing the world around him when everyone is too scared to comment or too blind to notice. Unfortunately, although the band give a fine performance (Dave clearly 'agrees' with this song more than most on the album, given his commitment here) there's not much of an actual song to get their teeth into here and too often this song sounds like the bland, slick kind of pop filler Ray Davies is venting against. Still, the faux Beach Boys angelic choir in the background is hilarious and there are plenty of clever touches in the arrangement that elevate this song above the average.
'Heart Of Gold' is a sweet little song and another that sounds rather out of place on this harder-edged album. As we've seen, this is a song about sibling rivalry that could have been about Ray and Dave, Chrissie and family, Ray's daughters or the Royal Family (the only thing we do know is that Ray wrote the song after news reports about Princess Anne having a hissy fit at a photographer). Certainly the family 'lay out' (the girl in the song has an elder brother and a younger sister, getting lost in the middle) suggests the Royals (Ray is 7th and Dave 8th in their families after six girls). Taking the line that 'growing up is never easy to do', Ray empathises with the 'middle child' whose always doomed to be 'less important' than her elder brother (Prince Charles? Or - sneakily given the seemingly sweet context Ray talking about himself and Dave?) and less coveted than her younger sister (again, remember Ray's just had his third child in this period). The narrator then turns his sympathies to her life in the public eye, understanding her frustration but quietly ticking her off when she goes too far ('jealousy never really suited you') and being less than kind in the line 'so aloof and so superior'. A middle eight (sung from the point of view of a photographer this time - Ray hasn't switched characters mid-song like this since 'Preservation'!) amazingly sympathises with the paparazzi who are only there to do a job (see the title track of next LP 'Word of Mouth' for why this isn't Ray's usual take on the subject!) This, surely, is the photographer Princess Anne told to 'naff orf' - although you doubt a hardened photographer would have been 'shocked' by that sentence, even in 1983 and even from a Royal. There are shades, though, of Ray being an elder brother' trying to coax his younger sibling on to the straight and narrow too and there are more than a few shades of 'Long Way From Home' in this song filled with love and reprimands, a song Ray now admits was written about his brother's partying lifestyle circa 1970. Like all good Kinks songs this one has a happy ending after troubled beginnings, when the 'little princess' falls in love and her husband does indeed love her for her 'heart of gold'. Chances are this song is a muddle of all sorts of different characters, both known and unknown to Ray and is about the universal theme of sibling rivalry the world over rather than any set relationship (interestingly, despite being one of three instances of brothers in bands on this website neither The Beach Boys nor Oasis ever deal with their 'rivalry' as head-on as The Kinks so often do). Cute and memorable, with a distinctive acoustic guitar riff unusual for the 1980s Kinks and a neat 'second riff' ('watch out she'll give you a broadside' - cue crashing guitar chords) just to hook this song even more into your memory banks, 'Heart of Gold' might not be the greatest song Ray ever wrote but it does its job. It's sweet too to hear the brothers singing together for the first time since, ooh, 'Sleepwalker' I think on a song that might or might not be about them.
'Clichés Of The World (B Movie)' is another 'State Of Confusion' song that doesn't seem to know whether it's deadly serious or playing for laughs. In this song one of Ray's typical down-on-their-luck everymen, trapped in a dead-end job with no escape or release, yearns for something better before being abducted by aliens. Unfortunately for him, seeing a bigger greater understanding of the universe only makes his return to the Earth and his mundane job all the worse. This is a terrific song, one of Ray's best out of the many on theme of mundanity, with a tune that manages to create both drama and frustration as well as mind-numbing repetition. Personally, however, I find the live recording of this song on the 1986 concert LP 'The Road' better still - you really feel every lurching twist and turn of this song and every sudden stop whereas this studio recording seems just that little more over-worked and artificial. Ray's having great fun with the vocal, though, doing his best 'mad voiceover' impression on the verse about an alien takeover (which is just vague enough to be real or a figment of the narrator's frustrated imagination - again see Dave's experiences before dismissing this song as pure fiction). As so often with The Kinks, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, although if this is a fantasy then, unusually for Ray, his character seems just as unhappy imagining than he does back safely in his narrow little life. Ultimately even the narrator's imagination is tired, with everything a 'cliché' from a bad 'B movie' - although it may well be, too, that the irony of this song is that it's real but no one listens to the poor narrator and assume he's re-hashing clichéd tales of abduction to get attention when actually all he needs is help and understanding (again see Dave's experiences). We may have heard similar lyrics to the ones in this song before but Ray's at his sharpest and cleverest here, bemoaning the need for excitement in all our lives and cursing 'another uneventful end to a wasted day' and how 'I'm going to do tomorrow what I did yesterday'. There's even a hint that the 'note' the man writes at the start of the song is a suicide note (certainly this narrator shares more than a little in common with the suicide attempting one of 'Life Goes On'), 'expressing his doubts and his fears' (is the 'note' this song perhaps? Ray wasn't immune to suicide attempts, especially in the mid 1970s which is what inspired 'Life Goes On' in the first place, although he seemed to be in a loosely happier place in the mid 80s, Chrissie Hynde not withstanding). The build up to the finale of the song is momentous, more like something Pink Floyd would do than The Kinks before the song finally over-reaches itself and collapses in a sodden heap on the floor. A clever song, which is quite unlike most Kinks tracks, 'Clichés Of The World' is anything but a cliché, filled with new ways of doing what the Kinks have already spent most of their career doing - it's sad, in fact, that the band didn't end up recording more songs in the vein of this one.
The album should have ended there - but instead we get a rather noisy and unwelcome return to simple 50s nostalgia that's so close to 'Lucille' I'm amazed Little Richard didn't sue. 'Bernadette' is clearly a punning name for a mysterious girl who does indeed 'burn debts', sucking the narrator dry for every bit of money she can get. Written by Ray though sung mainly by Dave, could it be that this song is another sly dig at Chrissie Hynde but was given to the younger Davies to sing as a kind of smokescreen? (Even so, the Ray sung middle eight about 'being taken for all you can get' is dripping with venom and his closing remark 'I think you're sad!' makes more sense if directed at Chrissie). Unfortunately Ray's already been round the emotional houses across this album and has run out of things to say to some extent, substituting a noisy saxophone solo and a tired cliched (B Movie) rock and roll riff that's a lazy substitute for a proper song. Dave's vocal is also more wild and woolly than ever, more of a screech than a proper vocal, which is a tragedy given how well Dave sings across his lesser known 'Chosen People' record of the same time. he's clearly doing his brother a favour here, singing a song Ray can't bear to sing himself, but like the way the album started the listener can't tell if the hurt in this song is 'real' or just a joke. Not moving enough to be sad and not funny enough to be a novelty record, this song has to rely on its retro rock and roll riff and a sort of false bonhomie to get by and sadly the mood in the studios simply isn't jovial enough for this to work. Arguably the record's weakest moment and a sad ending for the record given the longstanding Kinks tradition of ending on an upbeat rousing anthem. Hiding real emotions behind a joke that isn't funny? I think you're sad!
Forget that last track though: by and large 'State Of Confusion' is a moving record about troubled times, lost loves and humanity's ability to pick himself up again after a fall. many of the themes of loss on this record can be heard across every other Kinks LP but somehow they make more sense here, as if hearing them here together more or less undiluted (give or take a few digs at the Conservative party) makes the whole seem more than the parts. New fans coming to this album after 'Come Dancing' were annoyed to hear a rather leaden, gritty record rather than a fun collection of songs about dancing. Long term fans see this record as a sad dilution of 'Give The People What They Want', where light poppy filler gets in the ay of what could have been another dark classic. Both sets of fans are right - and yet there's much to admire about 'State Of Confusion', an album that let's Ray show his emotions off more than possibly any record since the 1960s and where the Kinks sound like a proper 'band' rather than simply his backing crew. Yes some of this record doesn't work too well and the angry, gritty sound is far from the gorgeous eclectic mix this band used to deliver in their 1960s heyday. And yet 'State Of Confusion' does exactly what it needs to do, taking the best from previous records and twisting the formula that's served the band so well for the past two albums just enough to offer something new, exciting and vital. The mixture of warmth and coldness on display is as good a balance as the Kinks achieved during this difficult decade and if I'd been privileged enough to be working with this band in 1983 I'd have had no confusion whatsoever as to where the band should have gone and what they could have done from here, building from the best of this album. Alas the ructions from this album's recording sessions (and especially the mysterious switch in credits upon release) mean that the end is in sight for The Kinks just as they've cracked how to deliver upbeat commercial songs in a popular arena rock style that still have the depth, the emotion, the cleverness and the characters of old.