Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Influential Albums from My Misspent Youth
5. The Kinks, UK Jive (1989)

I thought it would be fun (or funny), in light of Ray Davies’ new solo album (and his show at the Tower Theatre tonight), to finally get around to looking at this album, one of The Kinks’ latter-day commercial nadirs. This one in particular captivated me in 7th grade, though, don’t worry, not as much as Arthur or The Kink Kronicles. I received UK Jive as a Christmas present from my parents about a year or two after its release. Yes, I asked for it. It probably set my Mom and Dad back $3, since Kinks albums of this era were I think required by law to go right into the budget bins.

What we have here is very polished collection of hard-rock, arena-rock, and some stuff vaguely reminiscent of classic Kinks. Listening now, UK Jive is probably no better or worse than any other Kinks album of the ‘80s. It is incredibly dated in spots. At times, it sounds like the band – once one of the most eccentric of rock bands – is trying to will itself into the mainstream in as blandly a manner as possible. Nevertheless, there is something about this album that redeems it in my eyes, and I think that something is a two-pronged paradox.

Firstly, unlike a lot of other latter-day Kinks albums, UK Jive actually sounds competent in its overproduction. Plenty of their other albums around this time have ill-advised excursions into synthesizers, metal guitars, Simmons pads, and gated drums that never feel fully fleshed out or properly mixed. Here, though, everything seems well-thought out. (It’s one of the few Kinks albums to have an associate producer credit, perhaps indicating that the tight-fisted Davies actually let go of the reigns some.) It’s pure craft – sometimes nothing but – but, in the sound department, it hits its marks almost every time. Thus, songs like the power-ballad “How Do I Get Close” and the would-be arena anthem “Down All the Days (To 1992)” are less embarrassing than they could be; which isn’t to say they aren’t embarrassing. I’m damning with faint praise, but what else to do? No one bought this album. No one rediscovered it and I very much doubt anyone ever will. What would be the point in kicking UK Jive while it’s down?

Secondly, though, I think there are enough points on the album where the band inserts a bit of their old oddball pop spirit to balance the bloodlessness of the production. There’s a song called “Looney Balloon.” The title track is jumpy, fun number loaded with weird British slang (“Now he’s bought a gramophone on the never-never/And the tally man’s got to have his money on time.”) “Aggravation” is a fairly bizarre funk-punk-metal number with lines like “Hey Mitsubishi and Toyota/Who said that the war was over?” I can’t say any of this can even pretend to hold a candle to Village Green Preservation Society. But I can’t help but think, imagine, pretend that it serves a purpose. One of Dave Davies’ songs is a hard rock protest number about Thatcher called “Dear Margaret” with a bridge that begins thusly:
Your economic growth and your cool suntan
But what have done to your fellow man?

I guess that’s the key. It’s kind of corny, but at least The Kinks are trying to take the piss out of that eyesore of a decade as it ends, even if said decade inspired them to do some pretty uninspiring things. Or so I like to imagine.

One track rises above all the aforementioned. “War is Over” has a classic Kinks melody and a lyrics that find new angles in one of Ray Davies’ most potent pet subjects – the real difficulty in moving on from the past. The song genuinely tries to capture ambivalence – not an easy thing to do – and is thusly the most affecting song on the album, even if it is a little maudlin.

Why did this album captivate me so? I’m not really sure. The sheen of the production and performances was probably part of it. I bet when you were 12, you couldn’t tell when an album sounded “too ‘80s” either!

And finally, I can’t comment on the Maxell Conundrum in relation to this album because I still only own it on cassette.

(Next in this series: Portishead’s Dummy.)


Blogger frankenslade said...

Although I've long forgotten what this album sounds like, I appreciate the effort to still find something of value in an album like this. You know you really like a particular artist when you find yourself doing this.

9:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home