Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Kinks' "Anthology: 1964-1971": Music Review

My favorite period of the Kinks begins around 1966 and ends in 1971. So, I was eager to hear this. After their initial hits, a 1965 union dispute barred this fractious band from touring the U.S. for over four years. So, they had to content themselves during this momentous decade crafting assured albums which expanded their lyrical range and musical ambition in deft and literate manner. They left behind their rawer R&B roots, as they blended pop with hard rock, country, music-hall, pub-jazz, and  Appalachian styles. Most of these gain welcome coverage on this box set. Adding twenty-five unreleased songs to total over a hundred tracks, these five discs mark the Kinks' fiftieth anniversary.

On disc one, their first efforts capture well the charm of the British Invasion, but often sound generic, even if pleasing. "You Really Got Me" erupts as the eighth inclusion, with Dave Davies' memorable riff and Ray Davies' growl leaping out. A bit later, a subdued "Stop Your Sobbing" reveals Ray's mastery of the gentler delivery of emotion. Other songs shift from a Beatles to a Yardbirds influence, but the band has yet to leave its own impression on these competent blues-based covers and homages.

"Tired of Waiting for You," in 1965, slows down the speed; it lets Ray's melody find its weary pace. "Everybody's Going to Be Happy" revs up the energy, combining the Beatles' joy with the Kinks' stutter and shuffle, as the band begins to find its own delivery. "Who'll Be the Next in Line" continues this direction, as a slightly sour note, thickened by Pete Quaife's bass, slips into the jaunty rhythms. A wistful "Set Me Free" shines, but "I Need You" recycles their first hit, signalling a need for a re-think.

This arrives as disc two opens with "See My Friends." Its subdued mood hints at Eastern modal melody, amid prescient tinges of psychedelia. The moodier piano and guitar, during a few hushed demos on such as "There's a New World Just Opening for Me," prepare for familiar album cuts like "Well-Respected Man," "Till the End of the Day," and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone." This young ensemble turns to social commentary, melancholy, wit, and nostalgia. This continues as the Kinks enter their reflective period. Suitably, disc three commences with "Sunny Afternoon." Many standout tracks from their first mature set of songs, 1966's Face to Face, complement this transition. Those from the next year's Something Else, mingled with alternate mixes and singles (many of which have been appended to the long overdue re-releases of the band's albums happening the past few years), deepen the Kinks' commitment to record the ambiance when youth fades and regrets increase.

All the same, given disc four starts with the yammer of "Autumn Almanac," its studied stance goes a long way in one or two marathon sittings. That twee song has annoyed me ever since I heard it on a distant predecessor to this anthology, the double-LP The Kinks Chronicles. But that is a quibble. The abundance of inventive riffs, harmonies and poise  dominates as the band, by 1966, learns what it does best. They pursued beauty, and sometimes pain, for the next five years, and they found its articulation in two or three minutes at a time. The albums Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, Lola and Muswell Hillbillies (the last was issued after the end of this compilation) pay tribute to the band's talents, with some of the best music of the later 1960s and the start of the 1970s, no small feat. "This Is Where I Belong" sums up the band's vision, and their preference, as they realized the satisfaction in the quotidian. The bleariness of Dave's "Death of a Clown," the kick of "Village Green," the drama of "Two Sisters," the send-up of "David Watts," the gender-bending of "Lola," the silliness of "Apeman" sustained the band's wry message, rivaling that of novelists, stylists or filmmakers who exploited this era of sudden change, spirited satire, and a flurry of trends and be-ins.

As for the hackneyed subject of a musician's laments from the road, when success exacts its cost, the band managed to create an insightful first-person plural narrative on the concept LP Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround. Sampled on disc five, following the lesser-known and equally intriguing TV series soundtrack Arthur, this 1970 album shakes up the music more, critiquing that industry. "This Time Tomorrow" sums up the excitement and bewilderment of what a rock star's life might be like. "Powerman" finds Dave Davies amplified, supported by Mick Avory's drums, as the band begins to get restive and rowdy, after four years of mostly acoustic and subdued songs. They kept fighting the system which gave to them and took away, and made their frustrations tuneful. The Kinks watched as well as participated, and noted what many of their peers rushed past or paraded as.

Taken as a few songs at a time, the band's determination to convey the happy moments and gloomy times of life satisfies best. Ray's nasal tone, and increasingly affected delivery during this period, as his approach became more theatrical, may distinguish him from certain of his strutting peers in the major rock bands of the later 1960s. It also may have labeled the band's songs from this stretch of their long career as an acquired taste, a set of English oddities, aural curios set on a shelf to dust off and contemplate. Compare this effect to the global tour breakthroughs afforded the Beatles, Stones, Who and Yardbirds. Perhaps forced exile from American concerts hastened the band's insularity. But it also challenged the Kinks to concentrate on their skills, and to examine their homeland closely and honestly. They may have turned older than their comrades, somehow, not in chronology than in outlook, and certainly their words and music attest to a rapid progress into self- and social analysis.

Since then, musicians and songwriters better appreciated the Kinks' achievement. Everyone from Van Halen to The Fall, the Pretenders to Quiet Riot, Yo La Tengo to 2 Live Crew has covered these songs. In this initial stage, covered exhaustively here at last, the Kinks merit acclaim. After this, in the 1970s, they returned to big venues and big hits, when they toured the world (and America) in what evolved after more concept albums on stage into a less ornamented, streamlined arena-rock manifestation. They earned their stadium crowds, but for me, I keep replaying the quieter years after the Invasion and before the megatours and blunt hits. This intelligent, searching and poignant legacy merits this abundant manifestation. These elegant results, first as a series of intricate albums and singles evoking life cycles, villages, the Great War and Australian emigration, musical careerism, local London, and love gained and lost and never had, have pleased listeners like me, all these years.
(Spectrum Culture 12-2-14)

No comments: