THE KINKS: LOLA VS. POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND (PART ONE)
1. introduction; 2. The Contenders; 3. Strangers; 4. Denmark Street; 5. Get Back In Line; 6. Lola; 7. Top of the Pops; 8. The Moneygoround; 9. This Time Tomorrow; 10. A Long Way From Home; 11. Rats; 12. Apeman; 13. Powerman; 14. Got To Be Free
Best song: LOLA (duh)
After the complete triumph that was Arthur, it's obvious that there was going to be a little bit of a comedown. Don't get me wrong, Lola is still a very good album, it's just not as amazing as what came before it, and the genericism I first hinted at in my Arthur review has began to set in a little. The American touring ban had been lifted, and, although this might be pure speculation on my part, it seems as if Ray was willing to give up a bit of the band's distinctive Britishness to try to make inroads across the pond. Again, this largely works, and I give the album a freaking 12, just saying not to make the mistake I did and consider this the most important Kinks album to get because it's the one with "Lola" on it.
Now, of course, going after the radio did pay some dividends with the absolutely magnificent "Lola." It's the one Kinks song that everyone knows (even "You Really Got Me" might be better known in the Van Halen version), and man does it deserve it. It's not my absolute favorite song by the band, of course, but it's rare enough that a band's biggest, most well-known song even makes my top 5. This is one of those songs that I'd heard since I was like five years old, and I still remember the shock when I realized exactly what it was about! Even beyond the risqué (for 1970, at least) subject matter, who can deny the opening chords Ray plays on his National Steel guitar (to make many more appearances)? The album's other hit single, "Apeman," is basically "Lola" with island rhythms, but it's still pretty great. Ray's island accent is pretty terrible (and since when did Jamaica have apes anyway? That's always bugged the hell out of me), but it has another set of great lyrics. I especially love how, for the single version, he had to re-record "the air pollution is a-foggin' up my eyes" because foggin' sounded too much like "fuckin'". To tell you the truth, I'm not convinced he isn't saying "fucking." Crafty bastard. Of course, "Lola" had to be re-recorded because it referenced fucking Coca-Cola (changed to cherry cola), so God knows what the BBC was thinking (then again, they were so busy objecting to the "advertising" they missed the whole transvestite thing, so I guess that's in the band's favor).
Now, outside of the singles, the rest of the album is a rather loose concept album about how the record companies suck the soul out of their artists and turn them into automated machines. Of course, in 2012 writing about this topic is about as original as making jokes about record company execs snorting a lot of cocaine, and only a complete fucking hack would actually try to mine material out of that well, but in 1970 there was still a lot of uncharted ground to cover. Now, the actual song "Lola" has fuckall to do with the actual plot as far as I can tell--Cap'n Marvel hypothesized that it was actually the fictional band's big hit song, which makes the most sense to me, or maybe being in the music biz just gets you access to lots of trannies. And coke. Other than that, the plot plays out pretty much how you'd expect--guys leaves home, bums around London for awhile, gets a big hit, discovers the execs don't actually care about him as an artist and are all coke-snorting pieces of shit, plans to break free and finally does. Ray and Dave, who returns from songwriting exile with "Strangers" and "Rats," really more or less make it work though.
"Introduction" and "The Contenders" are more scene-setters than anything, but Dave's haggard "Strangers" is a real highlight. Lines like "If I live too long I'm afraid I'll die" aren't quite as profound as he probably intended, but his worn vocals really make the song. Dave's other contribution, the proto-punk "Rats," has one of the band's greatest riffs and another great melody. Among Ray's other highlights, "The Moneygoround" is a fun little music-hall jaunt about how everybody's cashing in on the group's success, and the closing "Got To Be Free" makes for a nice triumphant end. The real highlight, though, is "Powerman" which marries a set of great riffs to an awesome chorus melody. I especially like the Dave-sung bridge section. Finally, "Get Back In Line" is too slow and draggy for me to want to listen to it often, but it does have excellent lyrics.
The other songs aren't bad, it just seems like Ray was more interested in setting up his little plot than he was in making interesting stand-alone songs. "Denmark Street" exists solely for this purpose, but at least it's short, which "Top of the Pops" defiantly isn't--the middle riffing section (which was apparently "borrowed", though I've never heard where it came from) drags on for way too long, and overall, you know exactly where he's going with this long before he finally gets to the point in the last verse. The goofy voice he uses for the exec kind of makes up for it though. "This Time Tomorrow" is a song that I feel should be a highlight, but has just never clicked fully for me for some reason, and "A Long Way From Home" is basically just Ray's vocals and a lot of atmosphere. Luckily both are good, but this is a harbinger of the artistic missteps Ray would make in the mid-70s.
I don't want it to seem like I dislike this album, I very much enjoy it. It's just that it has some problems that the albums that preceded it didn't really have, and is the germination of some of the band's worse later-career tendencies. On the other hand, this is the one with "Lola" on it, which alone makes it worthwhile, and there's some other prime Kinks material here. Don't make it your first purchase, but don't avoid it either.
Oh, and if you were wondering, there never was a Part 2, so don't worry about trying to find it.