Back for round two, although after looking at my stats no one was reading the first attempt. So I am back whether the world wants me or not. Honestly, this is more an exercise in discipline and an opportunity to get my writing chops up to par again so this is mostly for me. It's also a way to sharpen my vision for this series and that vision isn't necessarily to review seminal British rock music from the Sixties, although these first two installments might have you (me?) convinced otherwise. I find myself caught between two powerful forces currently: articulating my complicated feelings for music while toiling away on a Gun Club piece I promised to deliver six months ago and the awe-inspiring beat jive of Richard Meltzer's record reviews. Under these writing influences, I've come to conclusion that I don't really care about track by track record reviews, large arc narratives (usually loaded with a silly leftist, college boy bent), or the history behind the music - other than the basic rundown of who did what on it. What I do care about is something more expressionistic and primal - what a record feels like rather the sounds coming off of it. And to write about the music in such a manner you have to bury yourself in it first. From that perspective, these first two selections are like training wheels, music I have been fully immersed in since childhood. I know what the Small Faces and Kinks feel like because I've listened to all their records so many times that it's like I practically know them.
From a sound perspective the Small Faces and Kinks are practically polar opposites. The only real similarity is that they are both British Invasion bands with a heavy interest in the R&B music of that era. The Kinks started out loud and crazed just like all of the other UK beat bands of the early-to-mid Sixties but quickly became the vehicle for Ray Davies' incredible storytelling. The Small Faces took much longer to develop because they were connected to the same scene as the Stones and Pretty Things, which was unilaterally based in juicing up blues and R&B cuts with a good dose of rock & roll. It took awhile for those bands to move beyond the live crowd energy driving those early belters and discover the SF Sorrows and Ogdens Nut Gone Flakes lurking within them. The Kinks, on the other hand, were from the same musical leanings as the Beatles and Dave Clark Five - high energy and totally English. Had the band not been banned from touring the States during the peak years of Sixties' high musical mass the story of that era might have played out differently for the Kinks. But the reality is that some of the best pop records ever made were made these guys and not a jive muthafucka at the time bought 'em. Arthur is definitely one of those albums and it was made after the horrendous failure of Village Green Preservation Society when founding member Pete Quaife left the band, Dave Davies began work on a solo album, and poor Ray had moved back to the family home in Muswell Hill. That feeling of defeat permeates the Arthur album, with slyly venomous lyrics wrapped around a lot of moody, minor keyed music. These guys are feeling bested by life and wrote a proper rock musical about it in that grand and corny but quintessentially British music hall style. It sold only moderately better than Village Green but really set the stage for the next album, Lola, and the return to superstardom. The album is all about the opening track, "Victoria", one the best songs in the band's entire canon. But there are so many amazing tracks of decline and loss on this album - "Shangri-La", "Arthur", "Yes Sir, No Sir", "Australia" - most bands would kill to have one track as good as any of the aforementioned and here's a whole album full of them. I lucked out and scored a Japanese promo of the 2004 reissue and it's got the entire album in mono, which is a huge bonus. A rocker like "Brainwashed" sounds like the Sex Pistols in mono when Dave gets his guitar revved up. It also includes the mono versions of the singles from the album including "This Man Who Weeps Tonight" from Dave's aborted solo album and "Mindless Child of Motherhood", another Dave tune, which Lance Davis of the Adios Lounge astutely pointed out are really just the same song. Davis was also kind enough to send me the stereo version of those songs for ever more complete Arthur package! In addition, there are BBC Session versions of "Victoria", "Mr. Churchill Says", and "Arthur" tacked on for good measure. It's like I've died and gone to Kinks heaven!
Get Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the Britsh Empire) here: http://www.discogs.com/Kinks-Arthur-Or-The-Decline-And-Fall-Of-The-British-Empire/release/5468106