The Village Green Preservation Society (The Kinks) – Album Review

Issued In 1968, “The Village Green Preservation Society” Was The First Album Over Which The Kinks Had Full Creative Control.

Issued In 1968, “The Village Green Preservation Society” Was The First Album Over Which The Kinks Had Full Creative Control.

Freed from the onerous contract they once had signed with American expatriate Shel Talmy, The Kinks finally could begin pursuing Ray Davies’ vision to the full. The year was 1968, and by that time the band had been banned from entering the US owing to their unmanageable onstage behavior. (The incident in which Mick Avory trounced Dave Davies with his hi-hat and fled as the guitarist lay in a pool of blood was most likely the final straw for the detractors of the band with the risqué name.)

Being barred from playing in the country where the big income was for any performer invariably made Ray look for his themes closer to where he was. And (as I think I have said elsewhere) the man was an all-out nostalgic in any case. There was nothing more coherent to him than looking back and romanticizing. And while the band’s previous record (“Something Else”) had actually indicated that his vision of England was just too settled, it also showcased what a deft describer of characters and incidents he was.

That was the context in which The Kinks’ next album was gestated. Ray took his romanticism to the extreme and single-handedly wrote an album mourning the passing of all these traditions he saw as decidedly British. He focused on the nominal village and turned the whole band into protectors of these traditions, painting one sketch after the other of small town characters and the fate that befell them as they either remained where they were (“Johnny Thunders”) or tried to break into the larger world (“Do You Remember Walter?”) . Of course, the weight of the world was felt on the delicious title track, which (like many others such as “Phenomenal Cat” and “Animal Farm”) had a truly startling childlike quality to it. More than often, you feel as if the narrator has chosen to remain in the verge of innocence, and that he is never going to venture a single inch forwards. And both the songs “Village Green” and “Picture Book” make it clear how disheartening the way ahead is, with the protagonists becoming unable to enjoy either the places they have arrived at, or the places they have come from.

Ray wrote everything this time around (brother Dave had no writing credits, but he had a devilish cameo on “Wicked Anabella”) and he even acted as the record’s producer. If “The Village Green Preservation Society” makes you feel like you are listening to a Ray Davies’ solo album, then that is because you are. That is, you are listening to a single voice throughout. Ray Davies was to begin running the show from this point onwards, and the band was to produce some of its better works under his aegis.

Musically, the album is very delicate, and (personally) I find it quite adorable. There are acoustic guitars aplenty, flutes, droning organs on “Sitting By The Riverside”, a hazy harpsichord that washes over “Village Green”, a number in which Ray opts to recite rather than to sing (“Big Sky”)… Continue reading

UK Jive (The Kinks) – Album Review

“UK Jive” Was A Major Commercial Failure When It Was Released In 1989.

“UK Jive” Was A Major Commercial Failure When It Was Released In 1989.

An ignominious flop, “UK Jive” (1989) was the penultimate album The Kinks were to issue. It suffers from the problem that also bogged down The Who’s “It’s Hard” and several other ‘80s albums, namely just too much social observation in lieu of real melodies.

The biggest offenders are arguably “Entertainment”, a quasi-punk song that lacks all articulation and “War Is Over”, one meditation on war too many (and one lacking the brave wit of “Arthur” at that). The title track is also routinely derided, owing to its abusive ‘50s mannerisms (reminiscent of acts like Sha Na Na) and the sampling of the Who’s “My Generation” during the fade.

The rest of the album, now, is not really that unapproachable. “Aggravation” is heavy metal that works (unlike most of the cuts on “Phobia”, the final studio album by the band), as does the emotion-high “How Do I Get Close”. Granted, Dave’s riffing on that one is a bit predictable, but the song has a nice vocal arrangement and a great flow on the whole.

And “What Are We Doing” is a minor gem, if only because the melody somehow sounds so fresh. Maybe it is the punctual horns that keep things going, maybe it is the original rhymes Ray employs. The fact is the song just works, and it is one of the cuts that will drive you back to the disc.

I must admit I am not that thrilled by “Loony Balloon”, a shuffly number about the doomed fate of the planet. Maybe the problem is its actual duration – it is almost as long as “Aggravation”, but whereas the album opener intelligently combined many different sections (a la “Another Brick In The Wall), “Loony Balloon” is virtually five minutes of the same. And the first minute alone is not that engaging, the harsh truth be said.

I am, however, very keen on “Now And Then”. I think it is the one piece of effective observation yielded by “UK Jive”. The lyrics are not that much better than the ones offered on the songs that don’t cut it, but the stripped beginning which eventually gives way to a full flourish makes it stick clearer (and truer) in your mind. And the sardonic “Down All The Days” (a poke at the upcoming elections) is also a nice distraction. Continue reading

Radiohead – General Introduction

Radiohead Are: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood & Phil Selway. All Five Members Met While Attending School At Oxfordshire.

Radiohead Are: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood & Phil Selway. All Five Members Met While Attending School At Oxfordshire.

Innovators in the truest sense of the word, the name of Radiohead is synonymous with the best music that came from the ‘90s. Conformed by five school friends from Oxfordshire, the band led by Thom Yorke mutated from a grungier outfit into electronica linchpins over the course of just three albums, writing the rule book as they went along with the songs they chose to release as singles.

Radiohead is also remembered as one of the biggest emotionally-tumultuous bands this side of Joy Division, The Sisters of Mercy and related acts. Yorke’s recurrent themes of paranoia and self-loathing surfaced as early as their first single, “Creep” (from “Pablo Honey”, 1993). The song was actually banned in England by Radio One on grounds of being too depressing, but when “Creep” became a surprise hit in Israel and then in San Francisco the band gained recognition in their home soil. They were thrown into an onslaught of live shows that left everyone dour, and the subsequent album was to be named after the mental condition that affects drivers that have risen to the top too quickly

The Bends” (1995) included the desperate “Street Spirit”, the turmoil-weighed “High and Dry” and the we-have-fucking-had-it title track. But nowhere was the frustration expressed as clearly as in “My Iron Lung”, a song in which the music could barely sheathe the vitriol. Also included was the turbid yet beautiful “Fake Plastic Trees”, composed by the band the night after they attended a Jeff Buckley gig.

None of those songs managed to make them feel better as a performing unit (or as individuals, for that matter), and the sessions for their next album were the most trying ever.

But the struggle was worth it. “OK Computer” (1997) quickly became the best album not only of the year but also one of the most celebrated LPs of the whole decade. The band managed to beat lots of acts who had broader appeal like Oasis, whose “Be Here Now” was rebuffed by the public and found its way into the used racks pretty quickly. Continue reading

Chris Rea (General Introduction)

Chris Rea Was Born In 1951 in Middlesbrough.

Chris Rea Was Born In 1951 in Middlesbrough.

There are only two guitar players that make me stop whatever I am doing and listen as if each note they are playing were nothing short of irreproducible both technically and sentimentally by anybody else.

As you already know, Richard Thompson is one of them. And now I’d like to introduce you to the other one. Like Thompson, he is also from England. But their styles couldn’t be more different.

Chris Rea is a slide guitar player that spent the first part of his career playing rock & roll until a miraculous recovery from pancreatitis made him decide to devote the rest of his studio life to the blues.

And unlike Richard Thompson, Chris Rea did have hits. His 1989’s album “The Road To Hell” brought him out of cult obscurity across the whole of Europe. “The Road To Hell” will always stand as one of the most meaningful works in a decade that was not that remarkable otherwise. The album offered a razor-sharp study of the stray ways of modern life without ever stooping to the gratuitousness of other contemporary acts.

And the commencement of Rea’s career in 1978 was actually quite auspicious: the song “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” almost cracked the Top 10 in the US, and remains his most popular song in America to this day. Both that album (named “Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?”) and its follow-up were produced by no other than Gus Dudgeon. Rea has always bemoaned that Dudgeon’s approach was unsuitable for his blues-derived material. The truth is that Dudgeon made one thinly-disguised attempt after the other to have Rea sound like pop acts that had given him worldwide recognition such as Elton John. Chris was to eventually record some of those songs anew later on. Continue reading

One For The Road (The Kinks) – Album Review

“One For The Road” Was Released In 1980. It Showcased The Kinks As True Stadio Warriors.

“One For The Road” Was Released In 1980. It Depicted The Kinks As True Stadium Warriors.

To many, this live album is the one that incarnates The Kinks’ glory days during the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. It acted as a sort of story book in which the band – a true pioneer of “loud” genres such as punk and (up to a point) metal showed how they had helped define those genres, and how it was capable of blending in with current movements without really losing its touch, and without Ray Davies’ legendary eye becoming blurred at all. Thus, we have a version of “You Really Got Me” that is done in the vein of Van Halen, and a rendering of “Lola” that has a disco-inflected ending.

The contemporary album “Low Budget” is the one better-represented here. Many songs are extended both instrumentally and lyrically (the title track is one of the clearest examples, and “Wish I Could Fly Like Superman” is done as a straight up rock song – it loses the disco edge). “Pressure” is the one exception, with the song being abridged (and it was a short song to begin with). Just when you are becoming drawn to it, it finishes – but rather explosively, I must say. And “National Health” was one of the most played songs from the album here in Uruguay and in Argentina.

I don’t have to tell you that the remaining of the disc is made up of a smattering of old tunes. Hey, we are talking about Ray Davies here. He takes his nostalgia seriously. The band performs “Stop Your Sobbing”, “Where Have The Good Times Gone”, the ultra-popular “All Day And All Of The Night” and even “Till The End Of The Day”. That particular song receives a bizarre reggae treatment that is as disconcerting on subsequent listens as the first time around. And they also do “Victoria”, but the CD version is (sorrowfully) abridged.

The same happens with “Celluloid Heroes” and “Misfits”, but speaking of the latter I prefer this version to its studio counterpart – even if it misses a key section, the sound is less furnished on the whole and it truly reflects the sincerity that lies at the nucleus of the song.

I must tell you that the CD edition of the concert originally omitted one of the best tracks found on the two-LP album, “20th Century Man”. That was thankfully set to right in the Konk/Velvel reissue. Continue reading

Leather Jackets (Elton John) – Album Review

"Leather Jackets" Was Issued In 1986, And It Is Regarded As One Of Elton John's Biggest Failures. It Was The First Album Since "Tumbleweed Connection" To Yield No Top 40 Singles.

"Leather Jackets" Was Issued In 1986, And It Is Regarded As One Of Elton John's Biggest Failures. It Was The First Album Since "Tumbleweed Connection" To Yield No Top 40 Singles.

It is generally accepted that the ’80s were spotty years for the vast majority of artists that had careers which had commenced in the previous decade (or decades). The other day I was talking with a fan of Bowie that made some of the most venomous comments I had ever heard in my life about anybody regarding Ziggy Stardust and his output during that decade. And from an entirely objective viewpoint, I can’t speak much better about my favorite bands – The Who released only two albums back then, and they are traditionally considered artistic dead ends in themselves. Although I am fond of “Face Dances” (and quite fond of it at that), if you were to look at it objectively the disc is just an intermittent reminder of what used to be, whereas “It’s Hard” is inexcusable. For its part, even XTC (a band that is characterized for not stepping out of line) missed the boat with the release of “The Big Express”. And there is Elton John.

The decade had started on the wrong foot with the release of the “Victim Of Love” album, and it was to be a bumpy ride from that point until he (sort of) reinvented himself in the ’90s as an adult entertainer. Some of his worst-selling albums ever came during the ’80s, and while some of these discs weren’t really that bad (The Fox), some deserved all the stick they got. And this is one of these.

“Leather Jackets” is the kind of album that can only be listened to with one finger on the fast-forward button. It produced no hit singles at a time in which Elton was known for churning them out quite easily, and Elton was later to disown the album completely. The album was also the last Gus Dudgeon would helm for Elton – he was given a second chance after “Ice On Fire”. Sadly, the soft rock approach he applied just buried the bits that could have been interesting (like Davey Johnstone’s guitar), driving another definitive nail in the coffin and ending a truly memorable partnership in an unnecessarily low note. Continue reading

The Kinks (Compilation Album)

This 20-track Anthology Was Released By Disky In 1996. It Gives A Very Good Overview Of The Kink's Early Successes.

This 20-track Anthology Was Released By Disky In 1996. It Gives A Very Good Overview Of The Kink's Early Successes.

Issued by Disky in 1996 and named merely “The Kinks”, this CD anthologizes their early hits right up to the “Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1” album. There is not a lot to dislike and not that much to change either.

The CD has everything from their early smashes “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” to cuts like “Waterloo Sunset”, “Lola” and “Apeman”. Moreover, non-album sides that are key to the band’s appeal like “Days” and “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” are featured. The one and only blemish is the inclusion of “Dandy” at the expense of tunes like “See My Friends”, “A Well Respected Man” or “Set Me Free”. Continue reading

The Kinks – General Introduction

The Kinks Were Ray Davies (Guitar, Lead Vocals), Dave Davies (Lead Guitar), Pete Quaife (Bass) & Mick Avory (Drums).

The Kinks Were Ray Davies (Guitar, Lead Vocals), Dave Davies (Lead Guitar), Pete Quaife (Bass) & Mick Avory (Drums).

Some call the Kinks “the original punks” because of the dirty sound of their early records, others go as far as to call them the fathers of heavy rock. They were a quartet in which tensions were constant among its members, with the two brothers that led the band eventually becoming estranged from each other. The Kinks were actually banned from performing in the States owing to their riotous onstage behavior. And people like Pete Townshend have said that Ray Davies (the band’s main composer) should have been a poet laureate. And I think most people who listen to “Waterloo Sunset” is inclined to feel the same way.

Aggression, volume, wit, profoundness and delicacy. These are the adjectives you can extract from the above. And these adjectives apply either in part or in whole to my favorite bands, and to every band that has marked me – The Who, The Jam, Oasis…  The Kinks were simply one of the most influential bands in the history of British music.

They were part of the initial wave of British Invasion bands, with their third single being a hit everywhere it started spinning. Dave Davies’ guitar insinuated the power that harder-rocking outfits were to unleash a decade later into the airwaves. He had sliced the amplifier with a blade in order to get the gritty sound. The song was called “You Really Got Me”, and it was to influence The Who both structurally and thematically, and the most realized punk and new wave acts of the late 70s such as The Clash, The Jam and XTC always expressed that they either dearly respected or even worshipped The Kinks. Continue reading

The Fox (Elton John) – Album Review

Elton John Issued "The Fox" In 1981, At A Time In Which His Original Band Was Coming Together Again. Dee Murray And Nigel Olsson Were Already Back And Davey Johnstone Was To Join In The Action Again In "Too Low For Zero" (1983)

Elton John Issued "The Fox" In 1981, At A Time In Which His Original Band Was Coming Together Again. Dee Murray And Nigel Olsson Were Already Back And Davey Johnstone Was To Rejoin Them For "Too Low For Zero" (1983).

To my mind, Elton did only release two “truly” essential albums in the ‘80s. Obviously, “Too Low For Zero” (1983) was one of them – the album saw him reunited with Bernie and his classic band in full for the first time, and many successful singles were released – “I’m Still Standing”, “Kiss The Bride” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”. The other album I hold in true esteem from that period, though, did not produce any radio hit. I suppose that is the reason it is always neglected on “Best Of” packages, while other (inferior) albums from the ‘80s at least have one or two cuts in. I am talking about “The Fox”, issued in 1981 after “21 At 33” and the tepid “Victim Of Love”.

The previous disc saw Elton reunited with both Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson, and they were carried into this release and into succeeding albums. Guitars were to be handled by Ritchie Zito (who you might know for his work as a producer for bands like Cheap Trick, Heart and Poison), and lyrics were penned both by Gary Osborne and Bernie Taupin. One track (“Elton’s Song”) was co-written with Tom Robinson – the song was banned in some countries on grounds of homosexuality. Well, the video was just that little too explicit, wouldn’t you say?

The disc also marked Chris Thomas’ first collaboration with Elton. Thomas was to occupy the producer’s chair for a considerable number of records, effectively becoming the second main shaper of John’s sound after Gus Dudgeon. Continue reading

Fosssil Fuel: The XTC Singles (Compilation Album)

Virgin Released "Fossil Fuel" As A Way Of Bidding Farewell To XTC. All The Singles Released Within Their Career Were Featured.

Virgin Released "Fossil Fuel" As A Way Of Bidding Farewell To XTC. All The Singles Released Within Their Career Were Featured.

At roughly the same time that Geffen issued “Upsy Daisy Assortment” (a collection of hits and some noteworthy tunes from the Swindon’s outfit that was a bit whimsical to say the least) Virgin issued this 2-CD compilation. In the case of the British company, the focus was solely on singles. No track strayed from that conceit. The one exception was “Wrapped In Grey”, the song that caused the rift between XTC and Virgin way back in 1992, and which resulted in the band going on strike for the best part of the decade. Virgin decided to include it either as a way of burying the hatchet or as a final insult, a way of saying “there you go, take the goddamn song, it is now officially a ‘single’”. Which is which depends on the astute listener.

So, the album goes all the way from Andy’s much-despised “Science Friction” (from their debut EP) to Andy’s beloved “Wrapped In Grey” (from “Nonsuch“, their final album for Virgin).

The compilation is frankly phenomenal, and I don’t say that because I am a hardened fan. Over the course of the two CDs you get to see the band’s transformation from spiky new wavers (“This Is Pop”, “Are Your Receiving Me?”, “Making Plans For Nigel”) to pastoral tunecrafters (“Love On A Farmboy’s Wages”) who could still rock if they wanted to (“Wake Up”). The disc culminates with the best from both worlds, as the material from “Skylarking”, “Oranges & Lemons” and the aforementioned “Nonsuch” surfaces. This includes hits and quasi-hits like “Dear God”, “The Mayor Of Simpleton” and “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead”. Continue reading