Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: The Next Wave of Kinks Deluxe Editions

The Kinks entered 1966 as a radically different band. Power-chord pile drivers such as “You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night”, and “Till the End of the Day” gave way to sensitivity and social observation. These ingredients had already seasoned the more sedate moments on their earlier records, but they became The Kinks’ raison d'être on Face to Face. The band could still whip up a froth on stuff like “Party Line” and “House in the Country”, but the heaviness had dissipated. So had trivial lyrics about hand holding and all that follows. Ray Davies’s literate tales of self-pitying layabouts, wayward teens, and vain bounders placed him in the same league as Britain’s top composers. In his own way, Davies nearly matched Dylan in terms of influence on his mid-‘60s peers. He was single-handedly responsible for spearheading the wave of music-hall nostalgia and unapologetic Britishness that made London swing in ’66 and ’67. It is impossible to imagine The Stones’ Between the Buttons, Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, and even Sgt. Pepper’s without The Kinks’ inspiration. Yet few beyond their fellow musicians and hip music critics were aware of the full breadth of The Kinks’ greatness during this period, because they were still generally regarded as a singles band. A Musician’s Union ban from the United States further damaged their commercial potential.

Still The Kinks soldiered on, crafting an L.P. that should have been their masterpiece. Arriving in late 1967, Something Else by The Kinks develops upon Face to Face to formulate a perfectly realized microcosm of English life populated by a particularly vivid cast of characters. Peculiarly, Ray chose to tell his stories not from the perspectives of these golden boys and girls, but from drab, envious bystanders. As such, “David Watts”, “Two Sisters”, “Lazy Old Sun”, and “Waterloo Sunset” are among his most humane and finely detailed character sketches. Meanwhile, brother Dave—the Sybilla to Ray’s Priscilla—was developing into a fine songwriter in his own right with the comparatively extroverted rockers “Funny Face” and “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” and the sublime Dylan-pastiche “Death of a Clown”.

Something Else should have been The Kinks’ masterpiece because no band should have it in them to make a record of greater beauty or depth. That did not stop them from conjuring The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society a year later, and a more perfect pop creation is impossible to imagine. So magnificently realized, the album made decline an inevitability, and though Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire is wonderful, it does feel like The Kinks’ had passed the rainbow’s peak. Recorded as the soundtrack to an uncompleted television film, Arthur drags slightly because of the extended jams cut to fill out dramatic sequences. Yet Ray’s compositions continue to astound—“Victoria”, “Shangri-La”, and “Yes Sir, No Sir” certainly rate among his finest—and the band sounds positively elated to be back in harder rocking territory.

Village Green received an extraordinary sonic upgrade and expansion way back in 2004, but the other records that komprised The Kinks’ most kreative period were only available in poorly mastered, hard-to-find editions. Sanctuary/UMC’s new kampaign to refurbish The Kinks’ back katalogue (OK, I’ll stop with the K’s …) has finally bestowed the definitive editions of Face to Face, Something Else, and Arthur on a patient public. Well, as definitive as we’re likely to get. The sound of these discs cannot be improved. Like the double-disc editions of The Kinks’ first three records released this past Spring, these latest releases are dense and detailed. Each album is presented in both mono and stereo mixes, which is slightly redundant on Face to Face since several tracks on the “stereo” album are actually in mono. These numbers are given all-new stereo remixes as bonus tracks, though a quick listen will reveal why they were left in mono in the first place. Something Else is the record on which The Kinks were well represented in stereo for the first time. The mixes are unusually well balanced and full-bodied for the era. The mono version is still worth hearing for its fascinating alternate details, particularly apparent in “Lazy Old Sun”. Arthur was recorded after the proliferation of stereo, and the mono mix sounds lacking in comparison.

The compilers did a good job of sweeping together a bundle of bonus non-L.P. sides, alternate mixes, BBC cuts, and oddities (collectors will be pleased to discover “Sand on My Shoes”, an early version of “Tin Soldier Man”, and an acoustic version of “David Watts”). Still, it isn’t nitpicky to note that several great, lost Kinks classics still have not received official release. The scuttlebutt is that Ray blocked the inclusion of “Pictures in the Sand” and “Till Death Us Do Part” from the deluxe edition of Village Green Preservation Society for some reason, so he may be blameworthy for their non-appearance on these latest discs, too. Those divine songs would have been preferable to the alternate mix of “Drivin’” and backing track of “Shangri-La” included on Arthur. So would orphans such as “There Is No Life Without Love” and “I’m Crying” from Dave’s abandoned solo record featuring The Kinks as his backing band. Oh well. There’s always hope that these tracks may find their ways onto a deluxe edition of Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round sometime in the future. Keep your fingers krossed.

Obtain these fine Kinks deluxe editions at here:

Face to Face

Something Else

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