It is hard to believe that day seven of The Kinks album-a-day listen-a-thon is already here. Just around the corner the band will morph into something quite different, but on today's listen they melded the top notch songwriting of their last three LPs with a return to being a real rock'n'roll band. Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire was released in October 1969, with John Dalton replacing original member Peter Quaife on bass. This would be the first of several personnel changes soon to come. It was written for a never televised UK TV movie, and ushered in a return to the charts after The Village Green Preservation Society sadly managed to miss any chart in the known universe.
From the very first seconds it is clear that the guitar is back. Finally given the opportunity, Dave Davies' guitar work matures considerably. No longer dependent on power chords, his guitar lines becomes a counterpoint to the melody throughout the album. Along with a judicious and tasteful use of a horn section this album takes on a ruddy glow.
It turns out that Ray Davies had more than one masterpiece (Waterloo Sunset) in him. Shangri-La starts with a stunningly gorgeous melody to acoustic guitar accompaniment, soon augmented by a harpsichord and Dave's lovely high harmony vocal, and then by a lovely horn countermelody. The chorus arrives and builds with the band wailing "Shangri-La" as if their lives depended upon it. Then an amazing rockier section intrudes, with descending bass line a'la Sunny Afternoon, and Ray laying it out to the masses exactly why "Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la". With the truth about the bourgeois lifestyle laid bare, the chorus section returns with a renewed vigor. The final stanzas are delivered in an all-out fury with the most ferocious drumming that Mick Avory had ever laid down on a Kinks LP.
The second embedded video is Ray's first ever live performance of Shangri-La from 2007. Given the Phil Spector treatment with an army of musicians, it bears up beautifully to the production.
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