Posted in Album Reviews

The Kinks – Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (50th Anniversary 2CD Edition) (2019)

51f+iTwVbgL._AC_UY327_QL65_ML3_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

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Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2019

5. Ken Burns – Country Music (Documentary): Several years ago, I loved the Prohibition documentary that Ken Burns produced for PBS so was excited when the country music one was announced some time ago.  It did not disappoint. Covering the inception of country music through 1996, Burns hits the major highlights of the genre and successfully ties it into the larger music scene and American society in general. All eras are fascinating. A review of the two-disc soundtrack will be posted soon.

4. The 1975 – TooTimeTooTimeTooTime (Song):  The 1975 album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships had several bangers but this lighthearted romp was the one that really caught our ear and who’s video was played almost nightly for a few months. Sounding like an updated version of a Sugar Ray track, it’s hard not to sing along to the chorus of this infectious single from 2018.

3. Otha – I’m On Top (Song):  Otha’s “One Of The Girls” was our 2018 track of the year and in early 2019, we heard this one that was released towards the end of last year. If we had heard it last year, Otha may have had our top two favourite tracks of 2018. Never changing her bored, deadpan vocals to sing the lyric, “right now, it is time to have fun” adds a layer of detached cool to this terrific dance pop song.  Otha’s 2019 single, “Tired and Sick” narrowly missed our top 10 this year.

2. The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (Album):  We finally put our money down for a compilation from The Rolling Stones and picked this tried and true classic. We discovered some new favourites such as “Mother’s Little Helper” and were reacquainted with the greatness of tracks such as “Paint It, Black”.  The run of tracks from “Get Off My Cloud” to “Street Fighting Man” is breathtaking.  This isn’t just some of the best rock n roll ever made, this IS the best rock n roll ever made.

1. The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society (50th Anniversary) (Album) – We picked up the two disc anniversary version of The Kinks classic even though we already had a version from a few years ago that covers mostly the same tracks.  For some reason, the first time around I liked it but didn’t really love the album. Upon, hearing it again I was completely knocked out by it and listened steadily for several weeks.

The title track, “Village Green”, “Starstruck”, and “People Take Pictures of Each Other” are all standouts on an album that covers rock, psychedelia, whimsey, nostalgia, and British music hall. Looking back, I followed a micro version of what happened to the album upon release.  Mostly unloved when new, The Village Green grew in stature over the years and is now considered a classic and an album to truly cherish.

Posted in Album Reviews

The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society (2018)

The 1968 concept album was The Kinks’ sixth and a total flop upon release.  Ray Davies crafted these tunes around a loose theme of an English dream world that didn’t exist. Harkening back to a simpler time as the leader of the band was going through a rocky first marriage and the band was banned from touring the US. It was also the last to feature the original line up of Ray & Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, and Mick Avory. In 2018, the 50th anniversary of the album was a perfect time to re-release in various formats. The version reviewed here is the two-disc edition while a whopping eleven-disc super deluxe set is available for those needing a deeper dive with deeper pocketbooks.

“Village Green” was written for the previous album Something Else but held back.  The track looks to a time of the village green with the simple people and “the church, the clock, the steeple”. The title track sings of being the preservation society of little shops, china cups, strawberry jam, draught beer and the smartly named – “custard pie appreciation consortium”.

Character sketches abound in “Do You Remember Walter?”, the rebellious “Johnny Thunder”, and village prostitute on the calypso styled “Monica”.  Two highlights both feature lyrics about photos in “Picture Book” and the nostalgic “People Take Pictures of Each Other”.  Immediately catchy “Starstruck” with its vocal harmonies was the first track pulled in the US as a single but did not chart. Varying the style throughout the album, “Wicked Annabella” is decidedly darker in tone than other tracks with a dirty guitar while cartoonish “Phenomenal Cat” is pure psychedelic whimsey.

Similar to other re-releases of The Village Green Preservation Society, this two disc version offers both the stereo and mono versions of the album. Preferences will be left to the individual but to these ears the stereo versions work better for the more cinematic efforts such as the title track while the mono versions hit a bit harder on the up-tempo rockers.  At the end of the both discs a wealth of extras which could easily have been collected on an album at the time and not seen a dip in quality.

1968 single “Days” is one of the best tracks The Kinks released while “She’s Got Everything” is a rough and ready blast of 60s garage rock.  The “Preservation Mix” of the title track with different lyrics is more uplifting and celebratory of the village life than it’s original.  “Picture Book/People Take Pictures of Each Other” also in “Preservation Mix” foresees a significant portion of blur’s mid 90s output where a piano lead gives way to music hall horns.  “Village Green Overture” sounds like a blast from an England that actually did exist earlier that century. With this new release, the Village Green finally sold over 100,000 copies.  In the midst of Britpop, it was finally deemed that classic that it is but it was worth the wait. This album needs to be in every rock and roll collection and is one of the true wonders of the late 60s.

10/10!