A timely reminder of one of the greatest bands, not just of the 60s but of any period.
Chris Jones 2008-11-28
It's a story oft told, but it bears repeating. The tale of how two brothers from North London, after taking their first steps into popular music during the beat boom, were joined by Pete Quaife and Mick Avory to become the Kinks. How older brother Ray Davies aided by Dave's proto-metal guitar rapidly progressed from writing brilliant brutish rave-up-style hits to exquisite vignettes of the tiny wheels and cogs that kept English lower middle class society ticking along in the post-war years. And how, after inter-sibling fighting (often on stage), numerous breakdowns, forays into country rock (on the wonderful Muswell Hillbillies album), Vaudevillian musical theatre and concept albums they finally found fame in the States and lost their souls to stadium rock. Picture Book has it all.
In pretty much chronological order this huge box tells the story again. Brian Matthew's introduction on disc one describing them as part of the 'shaggy set'' may hold true for about half of that cd, but by See My Friend, with its sexual ambivalence and raga-influenced lilt it becomes clear how quickly Ray was developing as a writer. From this point on the subject matter became satirical (Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion: here in a rare mix) and increasingly obsessed with the trivia of daily life including daytrips (Drivin'), the changing seasons (Autumn Almanac) or suburbia (Shangri-La) as well as the death of imperialism (Victoria, Arthur). And this isn't to mention cross-dressing (Lola) or just plain old romanticism (Waterloo Sunset, Days).
While the brothers' onstage sparring might well have led to them getting their US work permits refused at the crucial point at which their peers were conquering that most lucrative of markets, it also ensured that Ray could really get to grips with his number one muse - England. Now hailed as their zenith, ...Are The Village Green Preservation Society sold squat on its release in 1968; its parochial slant (as well as a rather sub-standard production job) putting it out of step with the times. No matter, anything from these sessions (and albums on both sides) is ace. Despite increasing anguish surrounding creative pressure and marital strife (leading to his suicide attempt in the early 70s) Ray always remained both nostalgic and affectionate in his view of the world which gave birth to him, even when it came in the voguish garb of downhome Americana on the aforementioned ...Hillbillies album. The selection from the hefty (some would say bloated) Preservation Act albums is judicious in removing flab and cherry-picking the very best cuts, though little can rescue the last two cds-worth of slicker, USA-centric college rock. Still, Come Dancing remains a gem in any guise.
While Picture Book unashamedly addresses all the highs and lows, it's perplexing to work out who this 6 cd set is aimed at. For Kinks kompletists the smattering of demos, BBC sessions alternative mixes, early rarities (by their Bo Weevils incarnation) or live versions seems somewhat thin on the ground, and for the novice or day tripper surely a greatest hits collection and maybe a copy of Village Green would suffice, avoiding the dodgy (if commercially successful) arena rock of their post Pye/RCA years and the fascinating, if rudimentary, rhythm and blues of the early 60s. Yet Picture Book holds a wealth of songwriting treasures. On the cusp of a reconciliation between Ray and Dave it's a timely reminder of one of the greatest bands, not just of the 60s but of any period.