The Kinks: Word of Mouth

It is a great relief to say that the most notable thing about the Kinks' twenty-ninth album is not the retirement of founding drummer Mick Avory — who shared Ringo's gift for playing only what was needed, with demon spirit — but the buoyant, reassuring way Kinkpins Ray and Dave Davies have weathered his loss. (Avory plays on three tracks; his replacement is former Argent sticksman Bob Henrit.) Word of Mouth ushers in the brothers' third decade as Kinks with an uplifting mix of Dave's scrappy hard-rock guitar and the droll pop charm that recalls Ray's golden Village Green days.

"Do It Again" certainly has a recognizable kick, with Dave's brisk uppercut fuzz chords counting off a spry "Victoria" rhythm. For "Good Day," Ray dusts off his old "Sunny Afternoon" ennui with a languid melody and a fragile, winning chorus. Dave's two lead-vocal entries, "Living on a Thin Line" and "Guilty," also mark a welcome return from the socioreligious harangue and the demolition-derby guitars of his last solo album. In "Living on a Thin Line" — a dark variation on Ray's own death-of-England's-glory songs — brooding, goose-stepping chords and moping Pink Floyd synths underscore the desperate effectiveness of Dave's nervous croon.

Word of Mouth falters when Ray's canny self-plagiarizing eclipses the songs themselves. "Too Hot" is a slight, complaining song about city heat and urban grief that weakly reprises the keyboard figure from the '83 hit "Come Dancing." It sounds especially trite next to "Missing Persons," a parent's wistful prayer for the speedy return of a runaway child. Its gentle ballad arrangement (which recalls the hymnlike quality of "Celluloid Heroes") and the slight choke in Ray's pleading vocal draw you quietly into the father's heartache with a classic Davies songwriting maneuver that deftly compacts universal conditions into poignant specifics.

This album is not always up to that brilliant standard. On the title song, why does the band that wrote "You Really Got Me" feel compelled to borrow the central guitar riff from "Start Me Up"? But those moments when Word of Mouth lights up with Ray's familiar wit and delightful whimsy make you glad the Kinks are still around to do it again.