The Kinks have been around for quite a few years now, but unlike many other groups who have lasted as long as them, they are still producing fine pop music. Not only do the lyrics of Ray Davies become more impressive but the group’s playing improves with each record they release.
Whilst the singles of The Kinks usually make the ‘top twenty’ charts, their albums don’t receive as much attention. I thought that their last LP, Muswell Hillbillies, would have rectified that situation, but it was sadly ignored by the majority of record buyers and music paper critics.
The group’s new release. Everybody’s a Star, hopefully should put matters right. It is a double album, of which one record is a ‘live’ set. The first record though, which is a studio recording, contains nine of the best songs Ray Davies has ever written and one good offering by his brother Dave. Also the group’s playing is vastly more together than before, and the addition of brass and organ has given their sound a greater depth.
But it is the songs that make these two sides so stunning, along with the vocal style and delivery of Ray Davies. The sympathetic arrangements and production also add much to the success of this record.
Most of the songs are concerned with reflections on the life of a successful pop singer and the star system that supports him. Motorway, for instance, is basically about the low quality of food and conditions available in main highway restaurants and service stations, and the sort of existence one leads if ‘on-the-road’ for long periods.
Sitting in my Hotel is a subtle, cynical, introverted look at someone who has risen to ‘hit parade’ stardom. The group’s latest single, Supersonic Rocket Ship, is also included. The words are rather tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time cheerfully optimistic without becoming embarrassing. The lyrics tell of a future time when equality of all kinds is a reality aboard a ‘supersonic rocket ship’.
The outstanding track of the record is Celluloid Heroes. It is a funny/sad series of comments and observations about the stars and unrealities of Hollywood. The movie stars, and the cinema audiences dreams and fantasies are fused into a collection of images that try to be honest about the film-capital and its heroes.
There is a sincerity and understanding in the words, although sometimes gently mocking, that shows a fine awareness of the need for and reasons why idol-culture has become a necessity for so many in today’s urban, industrial societies. For example:
“I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain And celluloid heroes never really die.”
The descriptions of the stars and the casualties of the Hollywood star system are particularly sensitive and realistic. This becomes obvious in Davies’ comment on Marilyn Monroe:
“She should have been made of iron and steel,
But she was only made of flesh and blood.”
RCA has thoughtfully provided all the words of the songs on the first record on an insert.
The second record is made up of taped live’ performances whilst The Kinks were recently touring in the States. The recording quality is not always good, and some of the songs are noticeably weak especially after hearing the first record. But many of them contain the wit and charm that makes Ray Davies songs such good listening. The ‘live’ version of Lola (a gay anthem?) is well worth hearing and the treatment of standards like Baby Face are camp if nothing else.
The double set is reasonably priced at £2.98, and the excellence of the studio album more than makes up for the weaknesses of the ‘live’ record.