THE KINKS: SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS (1967)
1. David Watts; 2. Death of a Clown; 3. Two Sisters; 4. No Return; 5. Harry Rag; 6. Tin Soldier Man; 7. Situation Vacant; 8. Love Me Till the Sun Shines; 9. Lazy Old Sun; 10. Afternoon Tea; 11. Funny Face; 12. End of the Season; 13. Waterloo Sunset
Best Song: DEATH OF A CLOWN
It's funny, while I prefer some of the individual songs here to anything on Face to Face, I tend to prefer that one as an album. Thus, I was about to take the easy way out and give them the same grade so I didn't have to think about it, but then I remembered just how much a fucking love the best songs here. Seriously, though, this is another great effort by the band, although the fact that it is mostly downbeat (not really depressed, though) can be a bit off-putting at first, especially as calling this a "rock" album is a bit of a stretch. Add to this the fact that a couple of the songs, "No Return" and "End of the Season," actively refuse to stick in my brain, and it's hard for me to consider this the definitive highlight of the band's career that some do. This latter problem is particularly strange to me, even in the later years when Ray would pump out some absolutely putrid shit, it was all memorable, making those two songs a particularly bizarre aberration in the Kinks catalog. That being said, I could just be forgetting them in the shuffle of everything else here, but I don't even enjoy "No Return" when it's on, so that one at least isn't a very good song. It's nice and short though--that's the biggest advantage 60s pop albums have over prog, if you don't like a song, the damn thing's over soon, instead of pounding a shitty theme into the ground for 10 goddamn minutes...well, actually, I don't usually have that problem with actual classic prog, it's adult contemporary pop sclock masquerading as prog where the real problem comes in. Oh, right, sorry, we're discussing The Kinks here, it's just that I inexplicably decided to listen to Calling All Stations today and had to vent a little. Let's just move on, shall we…
Luckily, just about everything else on the album is great. "David Watts" is an interesting fast piano-pop song about wanting to be like the cool kid in school (with more than a little homoeroticism thrown in, probably the only reason Ray was able to get away with the "gay and fancy-free" line in 1967 is because the song sounds so old-timey, everyone just assumed he just meant happy. I know I did at first, and my mind usually jumps to the dirtiest implication available), and it's an absolute stone-cold classic, as is the closing "Waterloo Sunset," which seems to be one of the songs everyone associates with the Kinks. Now, it's not my favorite song by the band, hell, it's not even my favorite on the album, but that doesn't mean it's not an absolutely amazing composition, featuring some of the best lyrics ever in a pop song. I'm also enormously fond of the side 1 closer "Situation Vacant," which has a cool piano line and funny lyrics about a guy's bitchy mother-in-law. Funnily enough, I've read several reviews stating that this song is a relative low point, but I just can't come around to that point of view at all, to me it's a prime piece of Ray Davies songwriting. "Harry Rag" and "Tin Soldier Man" are decent pieces in the British music hall style, and even if neither will ever be a personal favorite, they're quite fun to listen to every once in awhile, as is the pleasant, melodic "Afternoon Tea". And "Lazy Old Sun" is another stab at psychedelia a la "Fancy," and while it's still not the group's forte things are a little better this time out. Ray gives a decent vocal performance, at least. As for "Two Sisters," it's decent while it's on and has good lyrics (nice usage of harpsichord, too), I never listen to it outside of the context of the album. I guess that makes it filler, but it's good filler, so who gives a flying fuck? Not me, especially when he's writing songs like "Waterloo Sunset"--there's a reason that as soon as it was acceptable to make songs longer than three minutes most artists did, since you don't have to come up with as many songs on an album, and can focus on making the best ones great. Not that I'm saying the biggies here should have been extended though--they're three-minute pop perfection, writing longer songs would require tinkering with the songwriting approach. Yeah, that little thesis probably makes a lot more sense in my head.
Great as the Ray songs on this album are, though, it's Dave Davies that comes out as the real winner here. "Funny Face" is relative filler, but damn are the other two songs great, and establish Dave, along with George Harrison and John Entwistle, into my trifecta of the best "secondary" songwriters. "Love Me Till the Sun Shines" is easily the most rocking song on the album, and believe me, it's needed. It has a great melody, and as much as people love to bash on Dave's singing (and it's true that it can be an acquired taste), he has the perfect voice for songs like this. Now this alone would have been a great contribution to the album, but damn if the man (with Ray's help this time) didn't top himself and basically every other pop song ever written with the immortal "Death of a Clown." now, I know that it will raise more than a few eyebrows that I'm naming a Dave Davies song as my favorite Kinks song of all time, but I don't give a fuck. Seriously, this song is just a masterpiece from start to finish. Listen to how that opening piano line is joined by the strummed acoustic and Dave's haggard vocal and tell me of a song that more evokes the image of a depressed man trying to drink away his problems down at the bar (or pub, I guess I should say). Again, Dave's weary, slightly Dylanesque vocals aren't exactly what one thinks of when they think of "good" singing, but dammit, this song would be nowhere near as effective in the hands of a "good" singer--again, can't you just see this guy, clown makeup still on, throwing back a pint and trying to make the pain go away? It would be easy to make these lyrics seem kind of funny, but the pure emotion expressed here is enough to make me really feel for this poor sack of shit. The lyrics look kind of dippy on paper, but in the song they serve the exact purpose they need to. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the awesome backing vocals by Rasa Davies (Ray's then-wife). Yeah, yeah, I know this is going from a review into a fanboy wank session, and I sound like I'll need to either find some tissues or change my undies before long, but if there's one song that deserves this gushing, it's "Death of a Clown." I don't know how it stacks up against my favorite prog epics, but it's my favorite pop song, and I doubt I will ever change my opinion on that.
So yeah, seeing as how this album has both "Death of a Clown" AND "Waterloo Sunset" on it, the rest of the album could be the fucking 60's equivalent of Justin Bieber and I'd still give it a decent grade. Again, it's not perfect as an album--the middle of both sides sag a bit--but the best stuff on here will make you forget all about the songs that are merely good. Everyone needs to hear this.