Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kinks--Face to Face (1966)

1. Party Line; 2. Rosie Won't You Please Come Home; 3. Dandy; 4. Too Much On My Mind; 5. Session Man; 6. Rainy Day In June; 7. A House in the Country; 8. Holiday in Waikiki; 9. Most Exclusive Residence For Sale; 10. Fancy; 11. Little Miss Queen of Darkness; 12. You're Lookin' Fine; 13. Sunny Afternoon; 14. I'll Remember

The fourth Kinks album is their first that is actually a thought-out artistic statement rather than just a record-company mandated collection of songs. In fact, the album was originally going to go a lot farther in its usage of sound effects and linking the tracks together, but singles-oriented Pye Records balked at the idea. This is also the first Kinks album to consist entirely of Ray Davies originals, and the band would never again put a cover on a studio album. The album also marks a shift from their proto-hard rock roots into a more Britpop style that the band would pursue for the rest of the decade.

The fact that it is an important historical document, though, would be much less important if the songs were not almost uniformly excellent. The only misstep on the album is the dull, proto-psychedelic "Fancy," which just never seems to go anywhere, but even it isn't terrible. The closing "I'll Remember" isn't terribly interesting, either, but I don't mind it while it's on, and both of these songs are only two and a half minutes anyway. The remaining twelve songs all range from very good to excellent, though, and ensure that this album gets a high rating.

Although Ray's songwriting was definitely veering towards the Britpop style (back before Britpop even existed!) as a result of a ban on US touring due to one too many onstage brawls between Dave and Mick Avory (Dave knocked over Avory's kit and Mick supposedly threw a cymbal at him. Mick says that's a load of shit--it was the kick pedal, the cymbal would have decapitatied him!), there are still a few rockers here. Although he does not get any writing credits on the album, Dave Davies sings two of these and does a fine job. Now, Dave's voice comes under a lot of criticism, and it's true that it can make subpar material sound even worse, but when he's singing good songs I never have a problem with his vocals. "Party Line" is an excellent rocking opener with great lyrics (particular gem: "Is she big is she small/Is she a she at all?") and is my second favorite song on the album. I find the version of "You're Looking Fine" presented here to be slightly tepid, but I have a version of Dave singing and playing it with his solo band that absolutely cooks, so it's definitely a good song, it's just not beefed up enough here. The other two main up-tempo songs are "House in the Country" and "Holiday in Waikiki," and the latter in particular has a terribly infectious melody. Ray Davies at his best can write a song that will get stuck in your head for days, and "Holiday in Waikiki" is one of the best examples of this in my opinion.

The softer stuff is absolutely ace, as well. "Sunny Afternoon," one of Ray's famed "character sketches," is one of the best songs he ever wrote, and would remain in the band's setlist up until the end of their career (and presumably Ray still performs it). At this point, Ray was ahead of even The Beatles at combining witty, intelligent lyrics with hummable pop melodies, but unfortunately the Kinks never had as much chart impact as some of their British Invasion contemporaries, leading many to view them as on a second tier behind the Beatles, Stones, and Who; although this is largely due to the aforementioned ban on US touring. "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home" works extremely well as a contrast to the up-tempo "Party Line," "Rainy Day In June" has one of the best hooks on the album, and "Session Man" is a nice tribute to session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, who provides some great keyboard work here (Hopkins, although never an actual member, was easily the best keyboardist the band would work with). One thing I would like to point out is how interesting the band manages to make the instrumentation while relying largely on acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, with only occasional use of electric guitar on the softer numbers. Despite this, the backing tracks are almost never boring, and actually sounds a lot more "full" than that list originally led me to believe.

In conclusion, Face to Face is both an extremely important album in the history of both the Kinks and rock music as a whole, but is one of the finest additions to the band's catalog. The number of instant classics may be slightly lower than on their later masterpieces, but all of the pieces were there to pave the way for the greatness the band would achieve in the late 1960s.

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