Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Kinks: The Kink Kontroversy (1965)

(Pye [orig] / Legacy [reissue])


If you're hunting for treasure in the pre-Face to Face Kinks catalog, it's Kinda Kinks you need, the only Kinks abum in the garage-band mold that has the songs to back up the attitude. But Kontroversy is a great secondary option; you know the singles are all flawless and there are plenty of ways to get those, but whereas Kinda just captures the Kinks at a blissful early peak, this is the record that points onward. For most fans of any Kinks period, it will offer much satisfaction, even if the quantum leap was still a year in the future.

You get the Kinks going all-out with impressive blues rock on the thunderous "Milk Cow Blues," attacking a killer riff on the very Brit-invasion "Gotta Get the First Plane Home," tackling grade-A Beatle balladry on "Ring the Bells" (I Can't Believe It's Not from Help!), and upstaging the Stones with a sizzling "It's Too Late." "When I See That Girl of Mine" could easily have been a hit single, and the same goes for the apathetically desperate sleeper classic "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" -- brimming with a kind of dejected anger the band had previously only expressed musically. The bitterness and sarcasm on "Good Times," complete with sardonic "Yesterday" quote, offer the Kinks at their most bruising, all of its lyrics observant and biting, the music pointed and fiery. In its mature rejection of its generation's follies, the song shows itself leagues ahead of the Kinks' peers, a decade ahead of rock & roll even. Who until the punk era would openly display such skepticism of pop mythology? Or of authority and empty nostalgia -- "Ma and Pa look back on all the things they used to do / Didn't have no money and they always told the truth / Daddy didn't have no toys / And Mommy didn't need no boys."

Davies converts will be searching for hints on Kontroversy of the prizes to come and they will find them in the sweetly delicate ballad "I Am Free," tinged with powerful piano and 12-string and an incredible vocal from Dave; he is equally haunting on the unexpectedly desperate "What's in Store for Me." The melodic "The World Keeps Going Round" builds to a roaring midsection with some confrontational lyrics -- "What's the use of worrying 'cause you'll die alone" -- typical of his later work. In fact, the Kinks are almost invariably skeptical of romance, their songs from "Fancy" to "Waterloo Sunset" celebrating solitude in every form, exemplified here by the delightfully deadpan "I'm on an Island." There is an important exception.

The album highlight and a career landmark, "Till the End of the Day," is one of the Kinks' most potent early singles; its lack of chart success is criminal. The brilliantly raw arrangement defies the poignantly romantic lyrics for a juxtaposition both exhilarating and touching. As exciting as "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," this song is a firecracker that still retains all of its bombastic intoxication. On a record that closes with a Randy Newman-prophetic song called "You Can't Win," you can tell what song is more genuine by which one is infused with more passion. The only other item resembling a hit is the classic bonus cut Castle includes with their CD (and Sony with their new two-disc collection), "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," here along with an adorably stupid song called "Sittin' on My Sofa." Both work decently with the LP's context.

Fans who've been deprived of the early Kinks will have no trouble growing with this even if they're not obsessed with the prime British Invasion music of which this is the absolutely perfect example (right down to the cover). And the folks who love the sound of the radio hits and want more will be in heaven. Is it slight in comparison to the works to follow? It's too much fun for that to matter. For all their stylistic shifts, the Kinks were always the Kinks, and Ray Davies indeed may never have made a smarter, more cutting observation than "Yesterday was such an easy game for you to play / But let's face it, things are so much easier today."

[Note: This is a modification of a review I posted in an older venue in 2004. Also, I wrote a piece for Metro Times about the recent Sony reissues of the first three Kinks albums, this one included, a few months back. Here it is if you're curious!]

The Kinks (1964)
Kinda Kinks (1965)

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