One for the Road
After fifteen years, founding Kinks members Ray and Dave Davies boast a nearly unique record of sustained combat in the guitar army. Like their peers in the Who and the Rolling Stones, they know that such longevity only makes them more vulnerable. All three bands must constantly face down their seniority — what if you gave a grand rock gesture and nobody came? — because they’re perched so visibly in the pantheon.
One for the Road — a cleaned-up, carefully sequenced culling of live Kinks performances from six American cities and Zurich, Switzerland — succeeds in sounding like a single night’s work. It argues that experience can keep you alive in the trenches — as long as you keep moving. Using few overdubs and a minimum of talky transitions between cuts, the Kinks show their smarts by being very straightforward.
Ray Davies could be pretty fashionable now, but it’d be the kind of fashionableness he excoriates here in “Prince of the Punks.” He’s not the sort who’d mention that artists as au courant as the Pretenders (“Stop Your Sobbing”), the Jam (“David Watts”) and David Bowie (“Where Have All the Good Times Gone”) have all covered compositions that the Kinks reclaim on this double LP. Why bother, when you’ve already begun the album by pinning everybody’s ears back with 103 seconds of string-popping instrumental intensity known the world over as “You Really Got Me”?
Sputtering feedback left and right. Dave Davies rips the wadding off “You Really Got Me” to uncover a snake charmer’s melody line under the crunchingly familiar riff. Throughout the record, the Kinks vivisect their own classics to make them sound fresh. “Till the End of the Day,” for example, gets a ska treatment that seems to rise organically from the original.
One for the Road isn’t anything like The “Live” Kinks, a 1968 LP that had the blood-sloppy grandeur of an lggy Pop bootleg and was accurately pegged by critic Nik Cohn as “amphetamine rage.” It’s not like 1972’s Everybody’s in Showbiz either. At that time, Ray Davies was such a brokenhearted clown that he filled the in-concert half of the disc with Noel Coward-style posturings and suffocating campiness. Happily, the new album’s bywords are control and momentum. One for the Road doesn’t catalog Davies’ psychic maladies (though “National Health” pivots on the starkly downbeat lines. “Valium helps me for a while But somehow Valium always seems to bring me down”). Instead, it’s a shake-yer-booty record whose connective tissue is Mick Avory’s earnest, rock-steady drumming.
Even “Celluloid Heroes” is transformed from the plodding set piece it’d become onstage into a finely felt recital with a tough new guitar intro capped by poignant synthesizer trills. “Stop Your Sobbing” picks up on the Pretenders’ Phil Spector-like stylings by including an unmistakable cop from “Then He Kissed Me.”
Kinks concerts, once the chanciest of propositions, now have the friskiness and precision of One for the Road as a model with which to be compared.
Perhaps the single biggest factor in the resurgence of the Kinks as a hot live act has been Dave Davies. Except for a period during the early Seventies when he sulked on stacked heels while older brother Ray camped it up, Dave has always been the epitome of a ripped-pants, skin-it-back, roadhouse Johnny B. Goode. On his first solo album, AFLI-3603, Dave Davies finally gets a chance to see where his own extravagant tastes might lead him. His wryness has often threatened to turn brutal, so naming the LP after its catalog number (with a blown-up universal pricing code replacing the artist’s portrait on the front cover) is an entirely characteristic bit of social comment.
Dave Davies’ lyrics reveal a man contrary and anarchic to a degree that would probably have shaken up 1976’s most antipro-grammatic punk. He matches a hip-socking Eddie Cochran guitar style to the barbaric vocal yawp of Little Richard. It’d take a long time to explain the pulse acceleration that hits me when Dave drops a couple of random power chords into his torrid treatment of “Nothin’ More to Lose”: “Well if we’re all so clever and technology rules/Why is it we’re so scared/I got a rocking psychosis/And my juke box has blown a fuse.”
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Though this Dave Davies-dominated disc (besides producing, he plays most of the instruments throughout) boasts the trebly echo and buzz-bomb dynamics of heavy metal, it’s really the cat-in-heat, rockabilly hiccuping that Dave displays in songs like “Move Over” that makes AFLI-3603 so distinctive in its honest frenzy.
The Kinks have gone over the top once more — Dave, particularly, sticking his neck out — and gained ground when they could have been left holding their entrails. Does this make 1980, at last, the band’s big fiscal year? After fifteen years of konspicuous Kinks kourage. I’d have to say that it doesn’t really matter.
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