Observational bulletins on our current times wrapped around bitter-sweet music forged...
Greg Boraman 2007-11-02
Ray Davies solo albums are a bit like London buses - you wait over 40 years for one to arrive - then two turn up one after the other. It seems incredible that a songwriter as respected, acclaimed and lionised as Davies should only be releasing his second solo record in 2007.
That said, Working Man’s Café is not likely to disappoint generations of Davies fans. Lyrically speaking, all his trademark wry and sardonic observations on life are present. As one of rock music’s most lauded social commentators Ray peppers the majority of these new songs with nicely-honed and bang up-to-date assessments of the world as he sees it today: a conflicted, contradictory and globalized shopping centre mired in double standards and creeping 'Americanisation'.
This could be judged as the grumpy old man of The Kinks indulging in some nostalgia-driven baby-boomer whingeing. But this would be unfair. Instead, Davies pinpoints the concerns of the moment from the perspective of a man who has seen England and the world beyond it change almost beyond recognition… and as far as Ray is concerned, not for the better. On "You're Asking Me" Ray sounds genuinely peeved and rocks out accordingly, but the signature whimsical and wistful touches in his voice and music means he never slips into the angry old rocker cliché.
Probably the most radio-friendly offering is the sweetly catchy "In A Moment" which veers towards a southern soul feel with bluesy guitar, organ and electric piano chugging blissfully in the background as Ray gets things of his chest and shows he's still got plenty of great hooks up his sleeve. There are more introspective moments and the familiar lament of love gone awry haunts many of these but the swampy blues of The 'Voodoo Walk' are quickly erased by the stadium-rocking "Hymn For New Age" as Davies cries out for spiritual meaning in a world of failed religions.
'Wry' Davies can still sum up in two lines what some songwriters struggle to achieve in entire albums…and some cases careers! He’s not going to win any singing competitions and sometimes the playing on the album is a little perfunctory, but Working Man’s Café is brimming with what we want and need from Davies – observational bulletins on our current times wrapped around bitter-sweet music forged by a still-prying mind.