THE KINKS: ARTHUR (OR, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE) (1969)
1. Victoria; 2. Yes Sir, No Sir; 3. Some Mother's Son; 4. Drivin'; 5. Brainwashed; 6. Australia; 7. Shangri-La; 8. Mr. Churchill Says; 9. She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina; 10. Young and Innocent Days; 11. Nothing to Say; 12. Arthur
Best song: VICTORIA or ARTHUR
No less than The Kinks' (and Ray Davies') complete masterpiece. This is an absolutely amazing album, Ray's first (and best) attempt at a rock opera, and intended for a movie that, unfortunately, was never made. It's the saga of the life of an average British person, and damn is it fucking amazing, if incredibly depressing. Arthur is born in the Victorian era, goes to war, comes back, starts a family, his kids move to Australia, and he dies alone, ostensibly rich but actually quite poor in his "Shangri-La." But hey, he was right all along, don'cha know it?
So, yeah, this is a pretty damn bleak picture of British life! But, that only serves to make the album even better. Pete Quaife is gone for good on the bass, and gone with him is any sense of the Kinks being an actual band, other than a vehicle for Ray Davies' ego (with some occasional temperance from his brother). Yeah, Ray and Mick Avory remained friends, and Ray and Dave continued to despise each other, but the Kinks as an actual band unit went bye-bye with Pete. While this would lead to some fucking retarded decisions eventually, for now things are peachy! Now, some fans bemoan this album as it veers away from some of the Britpop styles of the past three albums and towards more of a proto-arena rock sound that would eventually awash the band in (very good, professional) genericism, but obviously this sound was a fuck of a lot fresher in 1969, and I'm not gonna lie, I kinda detest the term "arena rock" just used as a negative (which I'll probably bitch about more in my Sleepwalker review). The good news is, that, even though he doesn't write or sing anything for the first time, Dave's guitar is MUCH more active than it has been on the last few albums, and the album actually ROCKS for most of the time, instead of sporadically. Take the opener, "Victoria." Holy FUCK is that an amazing opener!!! Great riff, great lyrics, great hook, great solo, great screams by Dave over the last verse! Great goddamn song! They don't make 'em like that anymore. Yeah, I know some people dislike the "dopey" vocal performance that Ray uses throughout the album, most notably on "Victoria' and "Mr. Churchill Says" (I guess it's supposed to symbolize a government official or some other douche in power), but I think they're quite an effective device for Ray to get across that he's not voicing his own opinions in these segments. So "Victoria" sets our scene of a young man born in the uptight Victorian era--and then he grows up and goes off to war. So "Yes Sir No Sir" describes a soldier's point of view of being told what to do by his commanding officer, and it's effective. Not as effective as the following "Some Mother's Son," though--a harrowing portrait of the fact that every soldier killed in battle, regardless of their allegiance, is in fact some mother's son. Sure, it's easy to dehumanize the enemy and make them bastards hellbent on destroying freedom, but that's some 18-year-old kid who just got shot! Some mother's son lies in a grave! Depressing.
Back in England, things get a little better for Arthur, as he goes "Driving" with his new girlfriend, and may I say that this song has a cool guitar solo? Cuz it does. Then we move onto "Brainwashed," and there ain't a whole lot I can say about "Brainwashed," cause it's pretty much the perfect punk song written years before punk was invented. Okay, the horn section isn't too punk rock, but that riff Dave (or Ray, who gives a fuck?) throws down halfway through the song might be the single greatest guitar moment in the whole Kinks catalog. The song has a great lyric too--Arthur thinks he's all hot shit, but the government's just making him think that so they can continue to put him down. Governments are bastards, but I guess we need 'em. But this ain't a political blog, so I'll move onto the somewhat reviled "Australia." The main song part is mainly liked, as it's basically a travelogue for Arthur's kids moving off to Australia, where opportunities are available for all walks of life, but most people hate the four-minute psychedelic guitar-led jam (which sounds WAY more drug-influenced than 99% of the Kinks' catalog). Fuck 'em, this section is fantastic, I never get bored listening to it. AWESOME Dave soloing in this section. Oh, and the "bubble" noise is used in "Postcard" by The Who in the part about Australia. How fucking cool is that? Seriously, listen to the jam again, sure, the Kinks aren't suited to do this all the time, but once in a career it's worth doing! Learn to love it.
So flipping the vinyl over, as we would have had to do back in the old days, we get to "Shangri-La," which is probably the best description of the life of a guy like Arthur that there is. Yeah, his life may kinda suck, but he's got his Shangri-La! Except said shangri- la is really a prison, which is really depressing but also true. From that we move onto "Mr. Churchill Says"--more great Dave soloing, and "She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina," which has some of the best lyrics on the album and the finest moments in Mick Avory's career. Simply stellar. For the next two songs, the album dips from orgasmically fantastic to just really fucking good, but although the nostalgia "Young and Innocent Days" is a bit of a bore, and even though "Nothing To Say" is a bit overlong despite the good lyrics about Arthur's kids not having time for him anymore, they serve their purpose quite well. What goes far beyond serving its purpose is the closing title track. I honestly think the closing repetition manages to out-"Hey Jude" "Hey Jude," and the song just has an awesome riff, melody, and chorus. Arthur may not have lived the perfect life, and the life for the average British person may be depressing, but they pull through, don't'cha know it?
So that's your perfect Kinks album! Even though Ray would fly off the handle with concept albums in later years, this is nothing short of brilliant, and everybody needs to listen to it! Long live the Kinks, long live Arthur, long live Arthur. Amazing album that everybody needs to hear.