Key To Music Grades

A - You will never be whole without it
B - Highly recommended
C - Flawed, but still pretty good
D - It's your money, not mine
F - Why couldn't this have been burned in Fahrenheit 451?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Kinks - Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) (1969)

I know a few people who love the Kinks. I know a few who hate them. I know a few who haven't a clue who in the Sarah Palin they are by name, yet have heard "Lola" a billion times or any of the several covers Van Halen has done of their songs ("You Really Got Me," "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?," "Dancing In The Street"). So where, you might ask, do I stand? Well, I think Ray Davies is a solid songwriter, but whose penchant for large themes and minute storytelling is a wee bit messy. Musically, I think the Kinks have a wide variety of interesting riffs and melody changes, but whose total sound is a bit homogenized and therefore makes it difficult for me to remember much. The Kinks are very much like an exercise in the dual existence of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity insofar as they can't seem to make the tiniest of the tiny mesh with the grandest of the grand. And that's precisely why no Kinks record will ever receive a B grade or higher, since not a one are essential; they feature a few excellent songs and are otherwise comprised of a continuum of sameness. This is not to say the records are bad, either; in fact, I don't think the Kinks have many bad songs at all; they simply don't have too many great ones.

Therefore, let's get specific. Arthur is a concept album; it's long-winded and cumbersome, like an old horse with three legs trotting uphill. I actually tried to really listen to the lyrics on this one and like most rock lyricists, Ray hopes by being descriptive that you'll garner the broader idea. Great job, Ray. The British Empire is declining and I can feel it in every note of this slightly upbeat mid-tempo music you're singing along to. "Shangri-La" is amazing; if every song was like this, I might not have written the aforementioned. Beautiful acoustics and chord changings, a great harpsichord backdrop, nifty interludes, a powerful chorus, eclectic guitar-work -- and it feels epic, even though its five minutes. But for five minutes, "Shangri-La" carries more potency than the entirety of the album. "Victoria" is a solid rocker; but beyond that, everything else is pretty good and I would not be able to name any other songs, even under threat of no more Guinness. There's a reason these guys never became as huge as they could have and also why they've never been completely forgotten -- and sometimes impossible to form an opinion of! Ergo, expect my reviews of their subsequent albums to be eerily similar to this one, and also expect me to avoid doing so for as long as possible. C+


Jeff said...

I continued to nod my head in agreement when I read the first half of the review. It's definitely true, The Kinks haven't released an album that is truly memorable. They've definitely released a number of songs that are memorable, i.e. "Lola", "All Day and all of the Night", "You Really Got Me", "Apeman". They sort of remind of the Stones in that I'll grab a greatest hits album before I go to any individual albums, but on that same note, I think they released more quality albums than the Stones, this being one of them. I think an argument can be made to give many of their albums an A. They may not have been wildly original, but the group of songs that are featured on Village Green, Arthur, Lola, Misfits, and even Low Budget are incredible. On the same note, I can't disagree with what you said.

The Mad Hatter said...


Agreed. Lots of great songs. Hell, a seemingly endless amount. But I can't really say any album is incredible. Just a wash of sound to me, with little gems here and there.