KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

THE KINKS Part 9 – Still Searching / In Conclusion

It’s hard to believe that more than two decades have passed since The Kinks last released a new studio album. When you consider that all four original members were still alive and active until the death of bassist Pete Quaife in 2010, it’s a shame that they simply faded away and didn’t stick The Kinks Photo (circa 1993)together (with the then-current lineup of Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Bob Henrit & Jim Rodford) or even reunite with Quaife and Mick Avory (their drummer for the first 20 years). Sure, their commercial fortunes had been on the decline since the mid-‘80s, but for a band of their stature to just give up is an unfortunate way for their story to end. While many of their contemporaries kept their respective catalogs in the public eye with reunion tours, “classic album” performances and other publicity campaigns, the only Kinks activity has been CD reissues by various labels and a handful of separate solo albums & tours by Ray and Dave that simply preached to the converted rather than inspiring new generations of music lovers to discover their unique discography. Many Britpop bands in the ‘90s sang their praises, and they remain one of the most respected artists of the last half century, but I don’t think they’re as beloved by the general public as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, etc. Hopefully something happens to change that, as they are inarguably one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Columbia Records was probably hoping for a career resurgence when they signed The Kinks, who released just one album for that label: Phobia (1993). Sadly, it was a commercial dud. After all, how could a 30-year-old The Kinks - Phobiaband fronted by a pair of bickering brothers in their late-40s compete with the new breed of young, post-grunge rock bands of that era? I probably played the album a couple of times when it was released and, until last week, hadn’t listened to it since. It’s actually an excellent record with a few minor flaws, yet for anyone who didn’t like their so-called “arena rock” years Phobia was not going to get them back on board. Before discussing my favorite songs, I should point out the aforementioned flaws. Of the 15 full-length tracks (“Opening” is merely a brief interlude to begin the album), 9 are 4-1/2 minutes or longer, and the total running time exceeds 71 minutes. I’m sure Ray felt he was making a bold statement about the state of the world, but in succumbing to the trend of utilizing the full capacity of CDs his message gets diluted. A band that used to subscribe to the adage of “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” was now guilty of padding things a bit, and I feel that some judicious editing would have made this a much stronger (and more easily digestible) album. With that said, more than half of Phobia stands up to repeated listening and could hold its own against the rest of their catalog. It may not be a lost classic but it’s certainly an underrated gem.

The Essentials:

♪     “Still Searching” – A slow, moody song with light chiming guitar on top of a deep synth bed. The highlight is the gorgeous vocal melody (“Lookin’ at another sign for another town, wondering if I’m ever gonna settle down”) which is as good as nearly anything Ray has ever written.

♪     “Hatred (A Duet)” – A fun & funny vocal “battle” between Ray & Dave which playfully acknowledges their volatile relationship, all set to a bouncy rockabilly shuffle groove. The interplay between their voices is incredible (“Hatred, hatred, is the only thing that keeps us together…the only thing that lasts forever”).

[The Kinks – “Hatred (A Duet)”]

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Wall Of Fire” – The first full song on the album is a big, bright & loud midtempo rocker that focuses on the environment (“Nature gave us all these toys to play with, but we’ve abused them, each & every one”). For such a downbeat theme, the music is exceptionally inviting, with stinging lead guitar & powerful vocals.
  • “Drift Away” – Begins as a continuation of “Looney Balloon” (from their previous album, UK Jive) before giving way to a driving rocker with cynical lyrics about the state of the world.
  • “Phobia” – Their version of heavy metal or hard rock, with a stomping beat & fuzzy power chords. Although it sounds like they were trying a little too hard to sound relevant in the musical climate of 1993, it’s catchy & well-played, and I love the shift to a shuffle rhythm at “Images of long ago, memories that you hardly know.”
  • “Only A Dream” – Ray half-speaks the verses but delivers a beautiful melody for the chorus: “I must be dreaming if she looks at me, I gotta be dreaming, is it a fantasy?”
  • “The Informer” – Amid all the bombast, it’s nice to hear a Ray Davies ballad in the “Don’t Forget To Dance” mold, with subtle guitar work & light drumming above a bass & synth groove. It’s not quite on the same level as previous songs of this ilk, since it’s lacking a big melodic hook, but it deserves notice for standing out from the rest of the album.
  • “Scattered” – With the addition of what sounds like accordion & banjo, this peppy song has a distinctly country/Americana feel, and lyrically it’s distinctly a Ray Davies composition: “Now my life is all scattered, ever since she’s been gone, I feel older, I feel fatter, I feel the blues coming on.”

Just because Phobia was their most recent studio album doesn’t mean this series is over yet. For To The Bone (1994, 1996), they recorded their own version of MTV Unplugged without the backing of that music channel which had no interest in the band by that point in their career. Combining The Kinks - To The Bonean intimate performance in front of a small invited audience at their own Konk Studios with a scaled back mostly acoustic show in front of a larger crowd, they revisited highlights of their back catalog and presented a couple of new songs as well. It was originally released in ’94 as a single CD in the UK, and expanded in ’96 to a 2-CD set for the American market, although for some reason they excluded two tracks from the re-release: “Autumn Almanac” and “Waterloo Sunset.” I wasn’t able to find a copy of the former, but I did manage to hear the latter online and it’s very good; the slow, languid pace & stunning harmonies are a delight. Then again, it would be very difficult for The Kinks to do a bad version of possibly their greatest song. I love the intimate nature of these recordings, and it’s nice to hear them slow down a few numbers since they’re usually known for speeding up their songs in concert. There’s nothing revelatory about the majority of these versions, yet it’s a pleasure to hear a 30-year-old band sounding so engaged & still at the peak of their powers. Below I will focus on the two new songs (which are both noteworthy) as well as some key performances that stood out from the rest.

The Kinks - To The Bone (Original UK Version)Notable New Songs:

♪     “Animal” – A bright, bouncy Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne-type song with a catchy chorus (“It was really animal, truly animal”) that slips easily into Byrds territory at, “It could not compare to times we cared & were in control & less emotional.”

♪     “To The Bone” – I love the muted verses with fingerpicked guitar & tender vocals, and how it becomes a little more taut & bluesy for the choruses (“She rocks me to the bone, knocks me to the bone”). The groove is slinky & very cool.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “All Day And All of The Night” – A full-on rockin’ version that’s every bit as strong as the performance from their killer 1980 live album, One For The Road.
  • “Apeman” – This acoustic version adds a Cajun vibe with the addition of accordion.
  • “Tired Of Waiting For You” – Taken at a slower tempo than the original. It’s darker & heavier as well.
  • “Do You Remember Walter” – Love the slow, loping jazzy feel, with the accordion adding a Parisian flourish. Tender & pretty.
  • “Set Me Free” – Slower & bluesier than the original, with soaring lead guitar from Dave.
  • “A Gallon Of Gas” – Another track that benefits from the slow jazz/blues arrangement. The tasty Hammond organ elevates it even further.

My most recent Kinks purchase was BBC Sessions 1964-1977 (2001), a 2-CD set that collects a number of recordings made for that British broadcasting institution over the years indicated in the title. As with most other BBC collections, the sound quality is stellar and the performances…especially the ‘60s recordings…are more raw & direct than The Kinks - BBC Sessions 1964-1977their studio counterparts. In some ways they capture the essence of the band, without studio musicians & producers tinkering with their sound. It’s also fun to hear the interview segments with the DJ’s interspersed between many of the songs. They weren’t as cheeky as The Beatles (a tough act to follow) but you can hear a confidence & maturity in their replies, even from an early age. That maturity also extended to many of the performances, especially the subtler songs like “See My Friends” (listed here as “Friend”) and the only version I’ve heard of “This Strange Effect,” a hypnotic tune with mesmerizing lead guitar written by Ray & released by Dave Berry in 1965 (it was a hit in a handful of countries). This song might be the highlight of this collection for me. I also like the upbeat swing/blues of “Good Luck Charm,” which features only Dave with Nicky Hopkins playing barrelhouse piano. It’s nice to hear them do the bossa nova-lite “Monica” (originally from The Village Green Preservation Society) and a fantastic chugging version of Dave’s under-heard minor classic, “Mindless Child Of Motherhood.” The songs from the early-‘70s that feature a horn section, mostly taken from Muswell Hillbillies and the Preservation albums, really rock & swing in equal measure. That era is certainly a career peak for them as live performers. I’m glad they included “Mirror Of Love” (a favorite from Preservation Act II) and this version gives us a nice taste of New Orleans romance. Then there’s the subdued 1977 arrangement of “Get Back In The Line,” which is sparser than the original & is highlighted by John Gosling’s church organ. I can’t find any fault with this set, and even though it was aimed at dedicated followers of The Kinks it also functions very well as an early-career compilation which should appeal to anyone who likes their music. It has since been surpassed by the 2012 The Kinks At The BBC: Radio & TV Sessions And Concerts, 1964-1994 box set that includes 6 CDs & 1 DVD of BBC recordings. I’ve heard great things about that collection but haven’t purchased it (yet) due to the high cost. Perhaps I’ll change my mind one of these days, but until then BBC Sessions 1964-1977 will have to suffice.

The Kinks Photo (at the BBC, mid-60s)That concludes this immensely enjoyable trek through The Kinks’ discography. Over the past two months I’ve gotten acquainted or re-acquainted with every officially-released album by this band that was once very important to me until their CDs began gathering dust on my shelves nearly 20 years ago. I can’t explain why I lost interest for such a long time, but this series has reinvigorated my love for their music and I won’t ignore them again. I think I’m now a bigger fan than I’ve ever been. In fact, last week when I watched the 2007 Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited for the first time, I was pleased to recognize three Kinks songs that I otherwise would have had trouble identifying prior to this series (“This Time Tomorrow,” “Strangers” and “Powerman”). Hopefully a possible 50th anniversary reunion tour &/or album will happen while Ray, Dave & Mick remain in relatively good health. Even if they miss that opportunity, I hope something positive happens to remind music fans of all ages that the timeless music of The Kinks is still there waiting for them.

Thank you to everyone who has visited my blog during this series, and especially to those fans who shared their comments & insights. This process of listening to each album multiple times and sharing my thoughts on them wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without comparing notes & discussing these albums with people who are also passionate about their music. I can honestly say that this has been as much fun as I’ve ever had covering an artist. I hope to hear from you once again regarding the records discussed above, and maybe we’ll chat about another artist down the line. Cheers to you all.

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22 comments on “THE KINKS Part 9 – Still Searching / In Conclusion

  1. thomasjford
    March 12, 2014

    Wow Rich, even I would be sick of The Kinks by now, haha! That is one extensive overhaul!!

    Like

    • Hi Tom. Nope, not sick of them at all. After 3 years of doing series like this, I’ve gotten used to being saturated with the music of one artist for a month or two. Some are easier & more enjoyable than others, and my time with The Kinks was about as good as it gets. I think only my David Bowie series was more rewarding.

      Like

      • thomasjford
        March 12, 2014

        Oh, well that’s good to hear Rich! So if push come to shove, what is now your favourite Kinks album would you say?

        Like

      • It’s impossible to narrow their discography down to one favorite. Heck, I’m not even sure what my favorite era is. Certainly the run from Face To Face through Muswell Hillbillies is pretty untouchable, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Low Budget, Give The People What They Want and State Of Confusion since they were the ones I listened to when they first came out, during my teenage years.

        For someone just checking them out for the first time, I would probably recommend The Village Green Preservation Society and Something Else as great entry points.

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      • thomasjford
        March 12, 2014

        Good choices. I would go mid sixties to early seventies too. Amazing albums

        Like

      • Thanks for the feedback, Tom. You certainly can’t go wrong with that period of their career, and I’m happy that I finally got to know them after all these years.

        Like

  2. ianbalentine
    March 12, 2014

    Really enjoyed this series, Rich. Your enthusiasm really came through. The best part for me was getting inspired to check out those albums that I wasn’t familiar with; it’s been a real positive eye-opener! a couple of decades in the vault can do wonders for records, especially those from the ’80’s! Kinks fans are an obsessive lot and care very deeply about their discography—as you mention the Face to Face-Muswell era being the most revered.
    Again, thanks so much for taking the time to compile this series, and all the others. Kamertunesblog is now at the top of a very short list of ‘must reads’ for me! Cheers!

    Like

    • That means a lot coming from you, Ian (aka Uncle E and the purveyor of all things that were great about the 80s). I’m glad my enthusiasm was evident throughout this series. Most artists with such a lengthy discography have at least a handful of albums that are a chore to get through, but that’s not the case with The Kinks. Even their so-called “lesser” albums are still full of essential songs, which is unsurprising considering how good a songwriter Ray is. I’m very pleased that you re-discovered many of their songs after reading these posts, and thanks as always for the support & kind words. Please reply with links to your blogs so anyone stopping by can enjoy them.

      Best wishes,
      Rich

      Like

  3. Craig
    March 12, 2014

    Thanks for this. I was kinda following along until the Vaudeville albums then I moved on, not having heard them before I’ve heard Preservation Act 1 and a few cuts off Act 2. Agree that the run from Face to Face to Muswell Hillbillies is pretty much beyond compare with anything that was out at the time. Aside from the late 70’s trio and live album I’m afraid my love affair with the band pretty much is confined to those run of discs. They have better all around catalogs than the Stones or the Who imho and the strength of that first run is on par with what the Beatles did, though the Beatles overall impact was greater. Heck if not for the Beatles we would never had an original (musical) British Invasion.

    Now if only I had the dough to shell out for the BBC boxed Set…

    Like

    • Hi Craig. Sorry to hear you don’t really enjoy most of their albums from the “Vaudeville” era & after, but we can’t all have the same tastes. You’ve obviously given them a shot and they didn’t resonate with you, but at least we agree that their classic run from the mid-’60s through the early-’70s is one of the greatest sequences of albums by any artist.

      Yep, I would love to get that BBC box set but I can’t justify the $70+ it would cost….yet. One day I hope to own it.

      Like

  4. mikeladano
    March 12, 2014

    The later albums like Phobia are the ones I used to see sitting in my store all the time, unfortunately. Your average Joe Bob comes in looking for the Kinks, and they want songs they have heard of. I sold a lot of copies of Come Dancing, but not a lot of Phobia. Which of course was not a reflection on the quality as you’ve illustrated. But it was one of the albums I got to hear and from what I recall I didn’t mind it.

    Like

    • As someone who also worked in record retail (back in the ’80s) and spent countless hours shopping at dozens of stores until most of them closed over the last 10 years, I’ve probably seen the same titles that you have sitting in the racks waiting for someone to take the plunge. So many times there would be something I consider a classic, or at least a solid overlooked album, but without any recognizable songs the casual fans would pass them by.

      I’m not sure your appraisal of “I didn’t mind it” would be much of a selling point for Phobia. Haha. It’s certainly not the first Kinks album someone should listen to…there are at least 10 individual albums that should be explored first…but for a “last gasp” it’s very good.

      Like

  5. Wayne
    March 12, 2014

    I am O.K. with Ray and Dave walking into a Waterloo sunset and not slogging away on rehash tours wallowing in nostalgia. I was lucky to catch them in Saratoga around the “Come Dancing” era and they did not disappoint. They are a band that needed to stay relevant or just pack it in. Like I could see Tiger Woods putting the clubs in the garage for good when he knows he can no longer win.

    Like

    • I know what you mean, Wayne, but instead of simply rehashing the old stuff it would’ve been nice to hear new material from them every few years. That’s better than just throwing in the towel because the sales aren’t what they used to be. Plus, if their music is going to remain relevant & appeal to new generations of listeners, they have to keep it out there. Ray & Dave can tour all they want separately but it’s not the same as the two of them convening as The Kinks.

      Like

  6. 1537
    March 12, 2014

    Wow – that was an epic journey! Well done.

    Like

    • Thank you, 1537. This was certainly an epic journey and I literally enjoyed every second of it. Now it’s time to catch up on some recent purchases for a week or so before moving on to my next artist series. Hope you & your Legos are doing well.

      Rich

      Like

  7. stephen1001
    March 12, 2014

    Almost 5 decades in 2 months, well done Rich! I hadn’t realized their discography was so extensive – it was neat hearing your take on the ones I knew & learning about the rest.
    Enjoy some recreational listening as we await the next series!

    Like

    • Thanks, Geoff. When you put it that way it does seem like I covered a lot of ground, but since they really stopped recording by the mid-’90s, it’s really only 30 years. Now if I had included Ray’s & Dave’s solo releases it would be a different story, but I’ll save those for another time.

      I’ve already begun my “recreational listening” (well stated), and I have an idea what I’ll be covering here next. Expect another brief “B-Sides The Point” post before I delve into another large discography.

      Thanks again for your input throughout the series, even when I discussed albums you weren’t familiar with. It’s always fun talking about music with you.

      Like

  8. Deke
    March 16, 2014

    Unfortunately Rich the record labels in the early to mid 90s preferred bickering younger brothers In bands ie…Chris & Rich Robinson and Liam & Noel than Ray & Dave like you said…..
    I read all of this ..great history lesson in Kinks music…..
    Excellent job chap!

    Like

    • Hi Deke. Excellent point about the younger vs. older bickering brothers in the ’90s. It’s a shame because The Kinks were the originals at that & still the best. Even though UK Jive and Phobia weren’t the best albums they ever released, they were still in top form at the time & didn’t deserve to be tossed aside by radio & the music press. I’m glad you enjoyed this series and I really appreciate your feedback. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

      Rich

      Like

  9. Michael
    March 19, 2014

    That was a pretty great recap. Its funny. I had Preservation Act 1 on my phone (it was on the Amazon cloud app and I didn’t realize it) and one day last month after a pretty crummy day at work I decided to put it on … “Daylight” and “Sweet Lady Genevieve” just got to me.

    I just saw on YouTube an interview that Bobcat Goldthwait is actually working with Ray Davies on the “Schoolboys in Disgrace” movie. The stories are pretty funny – Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show – this bit is towards the end.

    Anyway, to deal with every post would be absurd. I’ll always love Village Green Preservation Society (have the box set), but I also know it is definitely an acquired taste for today’s casual listener. I think I got heavily into the Kinks in the early 90s because so much of their material would end up in the bargain bins. And, of course, my music friends would decry the fact that I thought UK Jive was good record and that I, frankly, didn’t like the “Low Budget” (or as some author called it “their drunken lout phase.”)

    But, hit me with “Father Christmas” or “Autumn Almanac” and or “I Need You” or almost any classic and I’m zipping away on my “Loony Balloon.”

    Good stuff.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for the feedback, Michael. I’m glad you enjoyed this series. I’m finding that most fans have preferred eras of their discography, and in general the mid-60s through early-70s is loved by just about everyone (and rightly so). Nice to know we share a couple of favorites from Preservation Act 1.

      Hmm, Bobcat Goldthwait working with Ray on a Schoolboys movie? That could be interesting. I know Bobcat isn’t taken seriously by a lot of people, but I always thought he was funny and I remember loving his movie Shakes The Clown (not sure how it would hold up all these years later).

      Nicely played with your “Looney Balloon” comment at the end.

      Cheers!
      Rich

      Like

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