Review: The Kinks – Something Else (Deluxe Version)
Published on June 29th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
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In Rocksucker’s review of the Deluxe Edition of Face to Face, we raised the question of whether that album – the first of The Kinks’ widely-accepted “golden age” – can legitimately be ranked alongside Revolver, Pet Sounds and the World Cup as landmark achievements of 1966.
It is perhaps not a fair comparison; after all, The Beatles, Brian Wilson and the England football team were all at the peak of their powers around this time, while Face to Face merely marked the transition of The Kinks from a great singles band into a great albums band.
However, Rocksucker would argue strongly that unassumingly-titled follow-up Something Else by The Kinks was at the very least a match for its 1967 bedfellows Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Who Sell Out, The Velvet Underground & Nico and The Beach Boys’ ill-starred SMiLE project. Perhaps even – whisper it quietly – Love’s seminal Forever Changes.Something Else may have been the least sonically expansive and therefore least ‘ambitious’ of these records but it proved to be quite the undertaking, regular producer Shel Talmy handing the reins over to Ray Davies, who later claimed that he shouldn’t have been entrusted with such duties at that stage.
He needn’t harbour such concerns, for these songs are so beautiful that they could have been recorded by a concussed monkey in a wheelie bin and still have come out shining.As with the Face to Face reissue, we are initially confronted with the mono version of the album and it is this format that represents the ideal Kinks experience, the muddying together of disparate sounds somehow serving to at once emphasise the majesty of the compositions and lend a subtlety to the arrangements which rewards repeated listens no matter how many times you return to it.
Much like Face to Face opener ‘Party Line’, ‘David Watts’ gets proceedings underway in frivolous style but manages to do so with significantly more substance than its throwaway counterpart. By now, drummer Mick Avory and bassist Pete Quaife had cultivated a rhythm section that propelled the whole band along as if a single crashing entity, a quality which particularly comes to the fore on this galloping, mischievous, grin-inducing track. We soon learn, after a hearty round of “fa fa fa” vocables, that the titular character is “the head boy at the school” and “the captain of the team” of whose handsome looks and well-to-do background Ray, presumably ventirolquising his schoolboy self, can’t suppress jealousy.
“And all the girls in the neighbourhood try to go out with David Watts / They try their best but can’t succeed / ‘Cause he is so gay and fancy-free” – the jollity of the music belies the fact that its lyrics are essentially an essay in peer envy but it’s so much gosh darn fun that, by the end of it all, you’d wager that David Watts wishes he could write a song like Ray Davies. Mind you, don’t we all?
Next up comes the charmingly doleful ‘Death Of A Clown’, a co-write between Ray and Dave with lead vocals entrusted to the latter and released as a single under his name. A far more intelligent and intriguing proposition than the disposable numbers sung by Dave on Face to Face, ‘Death Of A Clown’ has Ray’s grubby fingerprints all over it: certainly, the cross-pollination of wit and woe was very much the hallmark of the elder Davies brother and these characteristics are abundant in lines such as “The trainer of insects is down on his knees / And frantically looking for runaway fleas”.Seemingly a tale of a circus troupe in a sorry state of decline, it’s hard not to associate the song with the ‘sad clown’ tag that would follow Ray around after his well-documented breakdown. It is also an understatedly beautiful song marked by an echo-y, falsetto “la la la” section (courtesy of Ray’s then wife Rasa?) which seems to haunt the sprightly acoustic strumming with the ghost of said deceased clown. Deceptively heavy stuff, man.
The air of disenfranchised grief is at first furthered and then alleviated by the housewife’s lament of ‘Two Sisters’, a sophisticated Ray composition assisted by Nicky ‘Session Man’ Hopkins’ twinkling harpsichord. “Sylvilla looked into her mirror / Percilla looked into the washing machine / And the drudgery of being wed / She was so jealous of her sister” – initially, Percilla is as envious of her sister’s carefree lifestyle as young Ray was of David Watts but, after a soaring middle eight in which she throws away her dirty dishes and Women’s Weekly magazine, she realises that her domestic existence bodes better than Sylvilla’s “wayward” exploits.
As with ‘This Is Where I Belong’ on the Face to Face extras, the simple life wins out for Ray despite the manifold temptations no doubt available to him as a rock star. Little wonder then that he chooses to stay in at night as Terry and Julie cross over the river
Next up is the mellow shuffle of ‘No Return’, a song of such quiet grace that it could be compared to a spot of sunlight on a wall: you might not notice it’s there but, when you do, you will be somehow in awe of it. Compositionally, the constantly shifting acoustic finger-picking is sophisticated (there’s that word again) in a way that Ray’s guitar work hadn’t much touched upon before; and yet it feels as effortless as the gentle sigh of the vocal delivery. “For you were my first love / And now it looks like you’ve gone / And I have waited too long” – just as ‘Two Sisters’ regurgitated the theme of envy present in ‘David Watts’, so ‘No Return’ returns (arf!) to the sense of loss in ‘Death of a Clown’. You will though be too struck by its delicate allure to share in the sorrow; that is, if you even notice it’s there.
Fifth track ‘Harry Rag’ – supposedly rhyming slang for a cigarette and coined by Father Davies – heralds the return of good old-fashioned fun to the album. While this murky stomper of a track is underpinned with regret (“I curse myself for the life I’ve led / And roll meself a Harry Rag and put meself to bed”), Mick Avory’s slapping drums – somewhere between military march and reggae skank – work so brilliantly in tandem with Ray’s ‘oom-pah’ vocal delivery that the song’s minor key setting is battered into submission by sheer playfulness.
Each verse is devoted to a different victim of nicotine addiction, making light of their respective plights with such grimly delightful lines as: “Tom’s old ma is a dying lass / Soon they all reckon she’ll be pushing up the grass / And her bones might ache and her skin might sag / But still she’s got the strength to have a Harry Rag”. It’s like a Roald Dahl story before the adventure kicks in and it’s an utter riot in its grizzly way.
It is not easy to explain why the morbidity of ‘Harry Rag’ works so well alongside the childlike naivety of ‘Tin Soldier Man’ but somehow they feel like they belong together, like the yin and yang of Ray’s psyche. ‘Tin Soldier Man’ is ostensibly a tale about…um, a tin soldier man; at least, if this “very happy little tin soldier man” who is “so immaculately dressed when he walks, like a soldier on parade” is a metaphor for anything then Rocksucker is yet to spot it.
Oh, and he’s “got a little tin lady too / Just to put a little shine on his shoes / And keep his uniform tidy” – it’s fluff alright but, like ‘Yellow Submarine’ on Revolver, it doesn’t feel like it doesn’t belong amongst such exalted company. Its excessive chirpiness might be cloying to some but, for those who acknowledge that light-hearted frivolity is as valid a mood as any other, ‘Tin Soldier Man’ makes for a welcome and highly colourful break from Something Else‘s more downcast subject matters.
All of which brings us nicely onto ‘Situation Vacant’, which harks back to the midsection of Face to Face in its almost amused-sounding observation of urban failure. In this instance, a groovy, piano-led backing track is applied to a tale about a young couple – namely Suzy and Johnny – who are getting by just fine until Suzy’s mother spanners it all up by putting pressure on Johnny to find a more lucrative job elsewhere. He resigns and buys the weekly classified “for peace and quiet’s sake” but it backfires horribly as he ends up out of work and unable to pay rent.
Suzy leaves Johnny and goes back to live with her mother who, as Ray’s revealing final line tells us, is “satisfied” with this outcome. It’s like ‘Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home’ infused with the element of ‘mother in law from hell'; and what’s more, it rocks. While the lyrical content of ‘Situation Vacant’ technically prohibits it from qualifying as ‘good time rock and roll’, this tag can be applied in spades to ‘Love Me Till (sic) The Sun Shines’.
Written and sung by Dave, ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’ is brimming with feel-good vibes, sun-drenched organ licks (stop giggling at the back) and a fantastically rasping lead vocal. Whereas ‘You’re Looking Fine’ was largely pointless guff, attempt number two sees Dave hit the bull’s eye emphatically and, whether or not he’s singing about a prostitute (“You don’t have to walk the streets when there’s someone waiting here / Come on baby, love me ’til the sun shines”), there is a soulfulness present that was markedly lacking on its Face to Face counterpart. Great stuff, yet little indication of what’s about to come.
Starting with the dizzying psychedelia of ‘Lazy Old Sun’, Something Else embarks upon a five-track send-off arguably unmatched in popular music history. “Lazy old sun, what have you done to summertime?” sighs a woozy-sounding Ray, as Ringo-esque drum fills (that’s a compliment, by the way) and what sounds like a cello being catapulted into space complete the otherworldly sunstroke effect.
“Looking for you, for you are my one reality / When I’m dead and gone, your light will shine eternally” – here we find Ray in a state of sun worship, in awe of this magnificent solar deity that continues to shine benevolently down on everyone – be they covetous schoolboys, dying clowns, depressed housewives, spurned lovers, chronic smokers, made of tin, destitute down-and-outs or sleazy sex addicts – just like it always has and always will do until it decides to consume us all in a fiery blaze.
The ascending trumpets of the chorus feel strangely like a sacrifice sent heavenwards, while the logistics of it all begin to blow Ray’s mind: “When I was young, my world was three foot, seven inch tall / When you were young, there was no world at all”. This celestial reverence is revisited with similarly staggering results on ‘Big Sky’ from landmark follow-up album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society: much like ‘Lazy Old Sun’, ‘Big Sky’ acts as a monumental centre-piece to the disparate characters featured in the tracks either side of it, while both songs simultaneously hail the higher plain and lament the insignificance into which we are all cast under its mighty shadow.
If this is all getting a bit portentous for your tastes then you’ll be relieved to hear that the next song is about tea. Well, not entirely about tea; our protagonist in ‘Afternoon Tea’ is in fact some poor sap who has his small, insignificant (okay, we’ll stop now) world turned upside down when Donna, the girl with whom he takes his afternoon tea each day at the same cafe, suddenly ups and leaves without explanation. “Tea time won’t be the same without my Donna / At night I like awake and dream of Donna” – as with ‘Lazy Old Sun’, the singing gets underway without any instrumental preamble, lending a laser-guided directness to these deeply affecting songs.
‘Afternoon Tea’ is quite possibly the sweetest, saddest song that Ray has ever written. The childlike naivety of ‘Tin Soldier Man’ is placed into a naturalistic context – “I’ll take afternoon tea / If you’ll take it with me / You take as long as you like / Because I like you girl” – and then dashed against the rocks when it’s joined by a bittersweet melody which dances on as sadly as Little Miss Queen of Darkness herself, the alternating major and minor chords somehow managing to perfectly illustrate the dying embers of optimism. “Tea time still ain’t the same without my Donna” sings our poor sap, still waiting in ever-receding hope over his afternoon tea.
However, Ray’s patented ‘killer line’ is still yet to hit us: “I went to our cafe one day / They said that Donna walked away / You’d think at least she might have stayed to drink her afternoon tea”. Ouch. It’s the musical equivalent of puppy dog eyes, the elements of innocence, confusion and hurt combining to truly break Rocksucker’s heart upon every listen. To the casual listener, ‘Afternoon Tea’ might come across as a bit of a caper, a faintly bouncy plaything representing quintessential Englishness; but, were it to be made into a film and thusly command closer examination, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.
Magical, autumnal, heartbreaking, quintessentially English: yes, we suppose ‘Afternoon Tea’ is all of those things. Did we mention that it’s magical?Faced with the daunting task of following ‘Lazy Old Sun’ and ‘Afternoon Tea’, Dave’s ‘Funny Face’ doesn’t fare too badly. It’s a well-thought out, shape-shifting psych-pop nugget with a Brian Wilson-esque pre-chorus and one or two lyrical gems such as “Smudged mascara and pill-shaped eyes / Everything you want was bought with lies”. It is unfortunate, however, to find itself surrounded by four of the greatest songs ever written, so think of ‘Funny Face’ as the Ringo of this run of tracks (again, that’s a compliment): very good yet comprehensively outshone by the company it keeps.
Moving swiftly – and a little unfairly – on, a chorus of chirruping birds signals the arrival of ‘End Of The Season’, which was recorded during the Face to Face sessions back when Ray intended to link its tracks together with sound effects, an idea which was knocked back by Pye Records. Birds aside, there is again no instrumental prelude to the entrance of Ray’s vocals, although he does formulate a scene-setting introduction accompanied by piano: “Wintertime is coming, all the sky is grey / Summer birds aren’t singing since you went away”. Yep, it’s that theme of loss again, this time in the form of a girl/summer double whammy.
In the face of this adversity – quintessentially English stiff upper-lip, y’see – Ray puts on a croon so swinging that you can imagine him wearing a bowtie and spinning a microphone around by its cord. “Since you’ve been gone, end of the season / Winter is here, close of play” he weaves wistfully over a G to G# piano motif which creates an eerie yet exquisitely delicious backdrop the likes of which Burt Bacharach might have heard in a particularly lucid dream. Happily for The Kinks, and indeed for the world (which needs love, sweet love, right?), Ray was on hand with his dream-catcher to capture the melody for posterity.
There’s a Sinatra-esque lilt to lines such as “I get no kicks walking down Saville Row / There’s no more chicks left where the green grass grows” and “I just can’t mix in all the clubs I know / Now Labour’s in, I have no place to go” that could only fail to charm the most hardened of cynics, while the lines “While you are hot / Forget me not” disappear into such an ethereal falsetto that it borders on showboating. Synaesthetically speaking, ‘End Of The Season’ is full of dark, autumnal reds and greens, like crispy fallen leaves which are swept away during the fade-out, in which only those twittering birds remain in the mix. It’s a beautiful effect and clears the path towards the most understatedly colossal album closer you’re ever likely to hear.
Whether or not ‘Waterloo Sunset’ was tagged onto the end of Something Else at the insistence of Pye Records is of little concern to us. It’s there now, where it bloody well should be, and it couldn’t possibly be any lovelier or more perfectly placed. The word autumnal has already crept up a couple of times during the last few paragraphs but it is entirely apt here as well, with the heart-warming depiction of Terry and Julie meeting at Waterloo Station every Friday night – much like our protagonist from ‘Afternoon Tea’, they are clearly creatures of habit – and crossing the River Thames while Ray remains indoors.
You’ve most likely heard ‘Waterloo Sunset’ a few hundred billion times already but, sat like a crown atop this wonderfully-sequenced album, its charm is renewed, infused as it is with the lingering emotions of its preceding tracks. It’s reflective, melancholic, nostalgic, sweet, embracing and timeless. It’s the logical conclusion to Something Else by The Kinks.
In the way of bonus material – various alternative versions of the album tracks notwithstanding – the highlights are undoubtedly ‘Autumn Almanac’ and ‘Mr Pleasant’. The former was released as a single contemporaneously to Something Else and is easily good enough to have featured on it, rendering it more or less exactly what ‘Dead End Street’ was to Face to Face. Whether its references to football, roast beef and holidays in Blackpool would have knitted in with Something Else‘s more morose themes is certainly open to question but its many different sections and vocal styles make it the perfect halfway point between odyssey and oddity.
‘Mr Pleasant’ starts off sounding like a bit of a barrelhouse lark but it takes a sharp turn into minor key-dom, hinting at the darkness yet to emerge from the jolliness of: “Oh Mr Pleasant, how is Mrs Pleasant? / I hope the world is treating you right and your head’s in the air / And you’re feeling so proud ’cause you’re such a success / And the whole wide world is on your side”. This guy seems to have it made – “How’s your brand new limousine? / Twenty-four-inch TV screen” – but, in true Ray Davies style, the sucker punch is just around the corner: “Oh Mr Pleasant, how is Mrs Pleasant? / Did you know she was flirting around with another young man / And he’s taking her out when you have to work late? / And it’s not so pleasant after all”. Oof.
Aside from those two gems and Dave’s deliriously riffy ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’, there’s not much more meat left to pick at. ‘Little Woman’ is a pleasant instrumental number but ‘Act Nice And Gentle’ and ‘Good Luck Charm’ both verge towards the ‘irritant’ end of the spectrum. Whither ‘There’s No Life Without Love’?These are but minor gripes; rest assured that Something Else really is something else (Rocksucker says: How did that make it past the editing process?). Er, click here to read our in-depth review of the Deluxe Version of Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!
Something Else by The Kinks (Deluxe Version) is out now on Sanctuary Records. For all the very latest on The Kinks and Ray Davies, please visit the unofficial yet comprehensive fan site www.kindakinks.net – it also has the best collection of Kinks chords and tabs out there by a country mile!