Saturday, February 27, 2016

What Ray Wants, Ray Usually Doesn’t Get

Life is unfair. Or at least pretty random.

You get ignored after years of brilliant work. And then, due to a fluke hit single, you ride out out the rest of your career veering between the occasionally very good and the mostly disappointing.

Ray Davies has been quite curmudgeonly of the years, and would have trouble admitting to the latter half of my scenario. But let’s face it. For the Kinks, “Lola” is that hit single.

Anyway, in early 1970 the Kinks have a big hit with “Lola” - their first in years. So what does Ray do? He bites the hand that (finally) feeds him by doing a concept album about the hardships of stardom. (Of course, Ray’s the kind of guy who’d do a concept album just because he had a really good sandwich.)

The full title is Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One, and as good as it is, I’m glad he quit while he was ahead and didn’t go for a Part Two.

Once an underappreciated band gets some love, every new record is hyped as some kind of masterpiece. Having been burned by this more than once, I held off on getting Lola for many years, finally giving in once they remastered it.  And they throw in the soundtrack to Percy as a bonus!

So how is the sandwich, you ask?

Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One

Lola has a very good batch of songs, and a couple of brilliant ones. Even after his peak Ray was always smart enough to have at least one brilliant song on each album.

And with the remastering, we get to hear the resurgence of the band itself, and how the banjo and piano complement the guitar on “Lola”, and how Little Brother Dave’s sometimes grating harmonies are spot on here. And no horns, thank god.

On that count, this could be their best record.

Other highlights include:

“Apeman”, of course.

“Get Back In Line” Even though Ray must have just seen “On the Waterfront”, it’s undeniably beautiful.

The funny, cynical “Top of the Pops”:
Might even end up a Rock and Roll God! 
Might turn into...
A steady job!

Dave’s sweet, soulful “Strangers”.

Ray’s not as sweet, but just as soulful “A Long Way from Home”.

The band interplay on “Denmark Street”.

And how Ray sings the lines We are right, And they are wrong on “Got to Be Free”

So how does this sandwich compare to other Kinks sandwiches?

Well, here are my favorite Kinks albums:

  1. Face to Face - One of the best albums of the 60s
  2. Something Else - Almost as good
  3. Village Green Preservation Society - Almost as good
  4. Muswell Hillbillies - Many excellent songs but too much music hall orchestration
  5. Everybody’s in Showbiz - Songwriting a little weaker worse, but a great live set
  6. Preservation: Act 1 - Songwriting a little stronger, but those damn horns again!
  7. Arthur - A bit overrated, but with two undeniable masterpieces ("Victoria", "Shangri La")

As for the Compilations:

  1. The Kinks Kronikles - One of the greatest compilations of all time.
  2. Greatest Hits - surprisingly hit or miss, but mostly hit
  3. The Great Lost Kinks Album - B sides and singles, and surprisingly excellent

So if Lola doesn’t hit the stratospheric heights of their best early stuff, it is still entertaining from beginning to end, and thus nudges out Muswell Hillbillies slightly.

“End of the Line”

The soundtrack to Percy - a dated exploitation film - should really suck but when looked at overall it almost holds up. Again, Ray comes through with three excellent songs, and then pads it with variations of “Lola” and “Apeman”. The instrumentals are a bore of course but it's not a terrible album by any means.

“All God’s Children”

The overall package still gets an A- because you came for Lola, and the good cuts on Percy should be considered a bonus.

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