Last October, The Kinks continued their 50th anniversary reissues with 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Forgoing the 4-disc super deluxe edition, we plunked our money down for the 2CD edition that features a remastered stereo version of the album, various extras, and a second disc of what could have been a Dave Davies solo album. Unlike 1968’s Village Green album, Arthur actually got The Kinks back into the US album charts, peaking at #105! The concept album was inspired by Ray and Dave Davies’ brother in law, Arthur as him and sister Rose decided to move away to Australia. The album theme was intended to also be a Granada television play that was never made.
The third single, the upbeat “Victoria” about England in the 19th century peaked at #62 on the US singles chart, their highest charting single in years. Well-deserved as “Victoria” is a great 60s rock track and the only song from Arthur to appear on The Essential Kinks disc. “Drivin’” was released as a single in the UK and speaks to life at home while wars are waged in lands far away. “Some Mother’s Son” is a stunning track on the realities of war when it touches closer to home where, “back home they put his picture in a frame but all dead soldiers look the same”. “Mr. Churchill” is Arthur’s understanding that when politicians call citizens to war, that call must be answered with no questions asked.
“Brainwashed” is a more typical 60s rock number before “Australia” plays like an advertisement for moving to Oz and enjoy the surfing like they do in the USA. After a couple OK songs, the title track summarizes Arthur’s life to a great bit of a guitar playing. Closing out the disc, mono versions of “Drivin’” and quiet to loud single “Shangri-La” appear. Failed single “Plastic Man” appears alongside it’s harder edged B-side “King Kong” with several other B-sides included as well.
The second disc turns the singing over to brother Dave for several power pop tracks. Two of the best appear right away in “This Man He Weeps Tonight”, originally a B-side to “Shangri-La” and another great guitar lead in “Mindless Child of Motherhood”. Several of the Dave songs take on a more folky feeling with the best being “Hold My Hand”. A few songs are repeats from the 2004 bonus version of Something Else by The Kinks including one of their best singles in “Lincoln County” where the man has “been doing wrong but now I’m going home”. A similar story appears in “Mr. Shoemaker’s Daughter” that has a nice swing in the chorus and adds a few horns. “There Is No Life Without Love” is similar in style to The Beatles “Her Majesty” and clocks in at two minutes.
The first half of Arthur is a quirky master work with an almost as good second half. Hard to follow up the transcendent Village Green but Arthur forges ahead with several creative peaks in addition to the wonderful singles and B-sides included at the end of each disc. This anniversary series will hopefully continue later this year with 1970’s Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround Pt 1.
Arthur – 9/10
Dave Davies Lost Album – 8/10
Over the past couple of years, Pet Shop Boys have re-released all their albums up to 2013’s Electric. This website has been going back and reviewing all these releases with the last being 1990’s Behaviour last December. In the midst of this, the new Hotspot album appeared online so we jumped in for a listen.
Several of the tracks have a harder hitting dance sound like first song “Will-o-the-wisp” that could have been released in the 90s or “I don’t wanna”, a dance track about not wanting to dance before the protagonist finally relents. Second single “Burning the heather” features Bernard Butler on acoustic guitar is a wistful track where Neil Tennant sings “the seasons are changing, time’s moving along” which is in stark contrast to the house-y dumb fun of third single “Monkey business” about 50 year olds out for a night on the town.
The best tracks here are the slower more atmospheric sounds that Chris Lowe creates on “Only the dark” where “only the dark can show you the stars” and second song “You Are The One”. The album closes with another highlight that was a gift for friends many years ago about their “Wedding in Berlin” that uses parts of “The Wedding March”. Pet Shop Boys have said that this is the last of a trilogy with Stuart Price producing. It’s dance music for 50 and 60-year olds that shows that there is still plenty of life left in the duo.