Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ray Davies - Other People's Lives

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About 10 years ago, Ray Davies was playing at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, and me and my mate decided to hang around the venue from mid-day in the hope of meeting the man himself. Three hours, and a five pack of Hamlet cigars, later Ray finally arrived at the venue and seemed genuinely surprised that two teenagers would be so keen to meet him. A couple of signed records, and a nice little perv over his dolly bird (who must have only been a couple of years older than me), later and the meeting was over, but my impression of Davies as one of Britain's greats had been confirmed. Quite what this has to do with a review I don't know, although cleverly the long wait to meet the man himself can equate with the even longer wait for a solo album!

It's 13 years since the last Kinks studio fact it's over 40 years since You Really Got Me (a tune I once rather foolishly attempted at Karaoke in Ibiza) hit the top of the UK Charts. But in all that time Ray Davies has never released a "proper" solo album. There was Storytellers (covered with Kinks songs) but as for a brand new collection of new songs...nothing (unless you are counting the TC soundtrack to Return To Waterloo-which I'm not). Which is all the more surprising when you consider that Davies is legitimately one of Britain's greatest songwriters, but is perhaps not surprising at all when one considers the wealth of The Kink's back catalogue.

In an ideal world a listener could arrive at this blissfully unaware of Davies' history and judge it on its own merits, but before you've even got the CD out of it's case you are raedy to compare the result to the Kinks, and the comparison can never be a good one for his 2006 release.

The immediate thing to notice is that for all intents and purposes, musically this is as if the last 30 years have never happened, but its not a bad thing, especially when the lyrics are as strong as ever in some cases. It seems almost fitting that this album is released in the slipstream of the Arctic Monkeys success, sharing that wonderfully eccentric, thoroughly English vernacular that makes the Monkeys stand out so much.

Next Door Neighbours is a Davies' classic, serving up a wry slice of suburban life in a way that no other songwriter could possibly match up to, whilst Is There Life After Breakfast is just as good. The Tourist, with its vaguely flamenco backbeat, is another entertaining set piece as well. All this proves that, in places, Davies is still peerless lyrically, although sadly he doesn't always hit such heights. Stand Up Comic is crude and somewhat heavy handed, which is a disappointment to say the least; the old (or should I say younger) Davies would have rustled up something with a bit more subtlty and class for sure.

Ironically, the same critiscims that can be tossed towards the Arctic Monkeys can be levelled here. The lyrics are (mostly) superb, but the music is less so. But whilst in some respects this is a patchy album, there are plenty of touches that remind us just what a national treasure Ray Davies really is. And in the end, whilst this is certainly no The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, you can't help but feel glad that Davies is finally back amongst us, even if it will still be the Kinks songs that I think I'll still be listening to 40 years from now.

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