Sunday, August 5, 2012

36 Songs, 36 Days (2012 Edition), Day Twenty Four: No One Listens by Ray Davies

"Now where did I put my creativity?"
Ahhhhh, Ray Davies. A personage I sometimes love deeply, and sometimes I look upon as the 60's version of Alex Aleakis.

And there's no denying whatsoever the role Ray Davies has in the history of rock music. His band The Kinks should rightfully be considered part of the Holy Trinity of 60's Britpop, and should be looked upon as one of the Grandfathers of my beloved power pop. When he's good--large chunks of Kontraversy, Something Else, Village Green, Arthur, that 80's revival of interest heralded by State of Confusion and the highly underrated Word of Mouth--there is simply no one as good a songwriter as Davies....

However, the sad thing is that the bulk of Davies' work is at its best lazy and at its worse downright, cringe-inducing awful. The smirking obviousness of Low Budget and Muswell Hillbillies, the imitativeness of Destroyer, even the downright radio baiting of Think Visual paints a picture of Davies' muse as fickle, callous and even cruel in its reduction of his vision. I sometimes wonder if Ray needed the out and out hostility of his brother Dave (or, during the 80's, his similarly conflicted romance with Chrissie Hynes, the disintegration of which led to both the adorementioned Word of Mouth and his first solo album, Return To Waterloo) to keep his tendency to muse on English cliches and obvious wordplay in check and drive him to greater heights...because when he's on his own, Ray Davies can frequently fall into a rut. Witness how, of the albums that are considered his post-Kinks solo career, four of the six albums are either composed whole or in part of previously released, reworked Kinks material.

This is from Davies' last solo album composed of original songs, 2007's Working Man's Cafe, and--unlike many of the other tracks on this otherwise middling-to-okay album--it's indicative of the obvious, imitative part of Davies' brain. It's one of an increasingly large body of songs by older rockers railing at the increasingly digitized world, and it's....not very insightful. While it mines the themes of alienation that Davies has found gold in before, there's none of the wonderful wordplay and sarcasm that makes Davies a rock maven here. Instead, it's a crotchety guy complaining that because we're so dependant on computers, no one listens to him. I find it fascinating how Davies cites a lot of older forms of communication--writing to City Hall, calling authorities--and then whines that the breakdown of new technologies results in no one listening to him, his complaints stuck in the system. Even the melody seems tired, as if it was slightly tweaked from a previous Kinks composition...from the 60's, naturally, since it'll evoke warm fuzzies of nostalgia from us older fans while seeming coolly retro to the newer fans.

Since the release of Working Man's Cafe, Davies has released an album composed of choral arrangements of Kinks classics and the true kiss of creative death, an album where he re-recorded Kinks classics with a selection of modern, new artists like Mumford and Sons to prove how 'with it' and 'influential' he was. And the ironic thing is how if he hadn't dove into the same 'see, we mattered' pool that Art Aleakis has been swimming in, his reputation might have improved--instead of having it tarnished with the crappy green fakey-gold patina of greed, opportunism and desperation.

I love Ray Davies, and will always honor his songwriting talents for what they were and for the way he helped shape power pop. But stuff like this makes me want to scream at him. It's a dichotomy I have grown to live with.

Here's the song in the popular 'shot of the album cover' format....


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  2. I have no problem someone not liking Ray's current work but all I have to say, I have always believed in Ray and always will and to me he can do no wrong. I live for his music and it's the only thing that gets me by. God save Ray Davies, he's not like everybody else and once he is gone there will never be anyone like him ever again!

  3. I respectfully disagree. I don't hear anything cringeworthy in this composition at all. Listen to a latter-day Stones track like "Sparks Will Fly" if you want cringeworthy. Talk about not growing old gracefully.

    As far as Ray sounding crotchety, you have to keep in mind he was singing about his back hurting and being old when he was like 22. And he's ALWAYS been alienated by technology while his songs have always longed for the past. He's always been an "old soul" in ways. Why should that change just because he IS getting old now?

    Since those elements always been part of his persona to an extent, it certainly doesn't have that much of a "You kids get off my lawn" feel to it as it could have. If anything, I think he's toned alot of that stuff down.

    I would say that in his latter years Ray Davies has often leaned on his craft more frequently than inspiration, BUT his craft and songwriting chops are so finely honed that his songs are never anything less than tuneful, hummable, catchy, hooky as hell and enjoyable. ("Postcards from London" being a great example.) His songs NEVER strike me as lazy, although they may be a bit workmanlike at times.

    Keep in mind also that Ray went for more quickly recorded feel for WMC after the long production of Other People's Lives, and his record company wanted an album by the end of 2007. so WMC was recorded rather quickly. That is not to excuse any lack of quality you may hear (I personally think it's one of his best), but it may go a little ways toward explaining the feel of the record; what you hear as "lazy" may have been more of a conscious decision not to re-work everything to death.

    God save the Kinks!