Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Other People's Lives

I'm a huge Kinks fan. Phenominally huge. I've got bootlegs and imports and multiple copies of their albums on CD counting all the remasters and bonus tracks. I've got books written by and about them, and have various solo efforts by the brothers Ray and Dave. In short, I worship their musical genius.

So Ray Davies' first solo studio album, Other People's Lives, hit the stores a few days back. I finally picked up my copy today. It's a very... interesting listen. To some degree, it's over-produced in a way not unlike Colin James Hay's first solo album apart from Men at Work, Looking for Jack, was. It's as if Davies is extremely self-conscious about his first Kink-less effort (Storyteller was live, and relied heavily on Kinks tunes, so that doesn't count) and is pulling out all the stops to show he's not some British Invasion version of David Lee Roth, dependent on his bandmates for his success. Of course, Ray's always had a sort of insecurity about him, evidenced by his famous battles with brother Dave.

Pete Townshend once said Ray should be named poet laureat of Britain, and listening to this disc, that's in evidence. He's revisiting themes of isolation and dysfunction in these songs, which have been hallmarks of Kinks songs since almost the beginning, but the approach and style comes off as fresh. This is a melodic album, with less of the awkward music phrasing that characterized latter Kinks albums such as Phobia. There's also less of the meandering, jazz-inspired story-song types that showed up on Storyteller and Waterloo Sunset: The Singles Collection, although some of that atmosphere carries over to the new tunes.

While the music and vocals are evocative of the Kinks, it's not that much of a Kinks album. Dave's rampant guitar is nowhere to be found. And much of the production lifts from styles of 70s singer-songwriter releases, particularly the use of horns (much more effectively employed here, I might add, than in the over-the-top RCA catalog from the Kinks). The opening track, "Things are Gonna Change (The Morning After)," dealing with the fallout of alcoholism, even sounds to me like recent U2, if you can believe it. Musically, it takes a cue from the last official Kinks single, "To the Bone." The closing "Thanksgiving Day" is a wonderful bittersweet piece of nostalgia and redemption. "Is There Life After Breakfast?" is becoming a favorite.

Ray has an amazing talent for taking the bleakest, most morose subjects and grafting them to powerful, even uplifting melodies. The juxtaposition is brilliant, far more so than your run-of-the-mill rock dirge would be. I doubt any single off the album will chart, but it may well get a good deal of AOR airplay. I'm not entirely sure how I'll like this album overall a year from now--it usually takes a while and many listens for me to absorb all of Ray's lyrics--but again, musically it's far more consistent than the tracks on the last few Kinks albums, which ranged from brilliant to stunningly mediocre. My only complaint is that there are several songs that would've probably benefitted from a stripped down, almost raw acoustic interpretation rather than the "Wall of Sound" approach Ray's taken instead. But overall, it's a very encouraging not-really debut from Ray, and I look forward to seeing what future efforts of his entail.

Go buy Other People's Lives. It's not the Kinks, but it's good stuff.

Now Playing: Ray Davies Other People's Lives

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