Wednesday, November 11, 2009

They're never gonna kill my cockney pride

In 1971 the Kinks jumped ship from Pye/Reprise records to RCA. And the first product from that move was Muswell Hillbillies, possibly the most surprising change of pace by any major long term rock band. The production is pared down to bare bones. Musically there are big changes too - the harpsichord is out, the electronic organ is in. Complex harmonies are replaced by sing-along choruses. But this is not a simple record by any means. The Kinks as a band had never played together so well before. There is a relaxed yet intense vibe, and the entire album holds together as a single piece. Perhaps the prospect of finally being paid some decent money for their troubles brought this about, but regardless of the genesis, the band delivers in spades.

The lyrics are also tighter and focused like a laser on the ills of modern society. Ray's singing takes on a whole new dimension. For each song he has devised a sound specific to the content therein. It works beautifully for me, but it does require shedding all my conceptions and expectations from what came before. This is a new Kinks.

20th Century Man is the lead off track, and serves as a blueprint for what is to follow. Listen to the chugging acoustic guitar lick after a brief intro, then kick into high gear when the drums enter. Midway through the electric guitar enters and a middle section begins. It is unearthly in its beauty. The melody has the clarity of an old English folksong. And Ray gets down to the dirty details of the cause of his melancholy:

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy, got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me.

1 comment:

Holly A Hughes said...

My favorite Kinks album ever -- a perfect marriage of great songwriting, instrumental skill, and a slice of social history (not to mention being a Davies family scrapbook). Thanks for writing about it!