In the summer of 1996, I
reviewed the first of Ray Davies' "Storyteller" concerts at the Jane Street
Theater in New York, and was sorely disappointed.
played a solo set of Kinks classics introduced with witty anecdotes from his
1995 book, X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography. It was an
entertaining evening, to be sure, but I was sad that Davies, like so many
legendary musicians from the '60s, seemed content to revel in sweet
Call me a greedy
ingrate. But I wasn't ready to write off this brilliant lyricist and
powerful tunesmith as an oldies act, even if that was a role he seemed
willing to play. I wanted new music as strong as the Kinks' "Waterloo
Sunset" and "A Well Respected Man."
The band that Ray formed
with his younger brother Dave in 1963 has not released a collection of new
material since "Phobia" (1993). What's more, at age 61, Ray has never
released a full solo album of new material. These facts combine to make his
new effort, "Other People's Lives," an unexpected and very welcome gift.
By his own admission,
Davies thought his days as a creative force were over. "I had lost
confidence in my own abilities to make records," he recently told Rolling
Stone. But in 2001, the quintessential Londoner moved to New Orleans, and
here he reconnected with his muse. "I found I fit in somewhere for the first
time since I left Muswell Hill," he said in another recent chat with the
Hong Kong Standard.
The fresh surroundings
inspired Davies to begin writing new tunes, and to complete others he'd left
unfinished. The process of recording kicked into high gear after January
2004, when he was shot in the leg while chasing a mugger who had stolen his
girlfriend's purse. "That accident gave me the strength to come back and
play," Davies told Rolling Stone.
The result arrives in
record stores Tuesday, and the 13 songs on "Other People's Lives" find
Davies in peak form. Throughout his career, the artist has been renowned for
his abilities as an armchair sociologist, sarcastically skewering the
foibles of English society as well as creating unforgettable portraits of
distinctly British characters. While some critics are characterizing the new
album as his look at life in America, its subjects actually range much
wider, and its key themes dig much deeper.
The strongest moments
find one of rock's most perceptive artists sharing a lifetime of hard-won
insights about relationships, the benefits and shortcomings of fame, the
inevitability of aging and the human condition in general.
"This is the morning
after / All that went before," Davies sings over a typically
effervescent melody on the opening track, "Things Are Gonna Change (The
Morning After)," announcing his intention to take stock of the past while
moving forward. "All of the sun and laughter / The morning after, get up
from the floor / To do it all again."
"All She Wrote" and
"Creatures of Little Faith" chart a failed romance -- and Davies has had his
share -- from two opposing perspectives. "The Tourist" is both an outsider
looking in at his new surroundings, and a man realizing he has never really
fit in anywhere. "Stand Up Comic" is a Cockney-accented rumination about the
tears of a clown, as well as a reminder that long before Blur or Pulp, let
alone the Streets, Davies was the king of sardonic Britpop and streetwise
storytelling. And the title track is a devastating critique of empty
sensationalism posing as journalism.
"Spread the news /
Scandalize / Words cut like a thousand knives," Davies sings. "Playing
games with other people's lives ... Feed the reporter!"
Musically, the album
offers no surprises: Davies hasn't suddenly invested in samplers or
synthesizers. Instead, he relies on jaunty and oddly timeless melodies that
clearly originated with his trusty acoustic guitar and which were tastefully
fleshed out in the studio with an understated rhythm section, the odd piano
or the stray horn section and the occasional burst of fuzz guitar that you
can't help comparing to Dave's.
Ray is hinting that a
reconciliation with his brother and the rest of his old bandmates may be in
the works. "I met them all again last week and we had dinner," he told
Rolling Stone. "I got the feeling that there was still something special
But for the time being,
he'll be supporting his gem of a solo debut on tour (including two dates
April 1-2 at the Vic Theatre) with backing musicians Mark Johns, Dick Nolan
and Toby Baron. And it's great to have him back.