The Kinks: Face to Face
IF YOU ARE not a Kinks fan, you are either a) uninformed, or b) not a Kinks fan. If it's the latter, there's nothing you can do about it. The Kinks, rather like Johnny Hart's B.C. or the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, are absolutely indefensible (and unassailable). I can't tell you why they're great: there are no standards by which the Kinks can be judged. Ray Davies' music has nothing to do with almost anything else. It's in a category unto itself, and if you don't like it, well, there you are.
I would like to say that Face to Face is a tremendously funny lp. I'm uncomfortably aware, however, that there are those, even those I respect muchly and love warmly, who do not find B.C. at all funny. I hesitate, therefore, to urge upon them an album that starts with four rings of a telephone and a pristine male voice saying "Hello, who is that speaking please", followed inexorably by a lead guitar and bass who sound like they've been perched for hours just waiting to play their little run and get into the song (a righteous complaint against whatever it is that interrupts phone conversations). The humor of the thing is indescribable: it's all in the timing, and I break down every time I hear it. But there are those who sit unmoved. It must have something to do with taste.
The Kinks are mostly – but not entirely – Ray Davies. Ray is songwriter, vocalist, motive force for the group, and it is his curious personality that comes through in every note the Kinks play. Some people think Ray is a genius (albeit a misguided one). I think it's more accurate to call him an amazingly articulate musician; his mood at any given time is reproduced impeccably in his songs, with no apparent effort on his part. Playing around with a familiar melody and an unusual break – 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?' – he lets the words fall where they may. "And I'll bake a cake if you'll tell me you are on the first plane home." Sheer nonsense… but it all falls in place so perfectly, it's hard to imagine any other words could belong there. Ray's gift is his control of his music: whatever he does, it's right.
He couldn't do it without the other Kinks, however. They complement his vocals and carry the moods of his songs so precisely that one would think them pursued by the same demons. Brother Dave on lead guitar, Pete Quaife on bass, Mick Avory on drums, all run wild within the confines of a private world limited by the walls of the Pye Recording Studios on the one hand and the curious imagination of Mr. Ray Davies & Co. on the other. The limits of Mr. Davies' imagination, however, are unknown.
Ah, what is so rare as a Kink in tune? You might well arsk. Don't take your eye off the madness, however, to worry such things: Kinks aren't really concerned with tunes. When Ray sings 'Dandy', for instance, it is reportedly the same silly little piece he wrote for Peter Noone. But in point of fact, Ray's 'Dandy' has little to do with Herman's Herman who merely sang the song.
Ray doesn't hit a note, but he hits Dandy square between the eyes, every stretch of his voice portrays more of the bachelor in question than 17 glances at a full-length mirror.
There's a lot of depth to this album. 'Rainy Day in June', for example: how can anything that starts with a thunderclap not be a pretty damn serious song? But it is, and it's a major work. The piano/bass thing rainy days all over you, while Ray's voice just stares out the window. The important part is "Everybody's got the rain," an unfinished line which is about as universal as they come. Wow. A work of beauty.
'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?' is too unbearably funny. The nice thing is, he's not putting down anybody: he's just getting totally into the mother's part, with full sympathy but never a serious moment. 'Most Exclusive Residence For Sale' is almost as good; Ray acts very straight and pseudo-tragic about the whole thing, but the ba-ba-ba-ba chorus that backs him up gives him away and completely gasses the listener.
'Fancy' is so lovely and so far-out musically that everyone should notice it and nobody will. Two years from now, when everyone's into this kind of thing, no one will remember that Ray Davies was into it first. They never do.
'Little Miss Queen of Darkness' is wonderfully well built. For once, a good walking vocal to go, along with a well-handled walking bass, and a drummer who knows how to take over when the whole thing walks his way. Oh yeah, There's a fine four-way fight going on after the drum solo here – it sounds as though Ray won by fading all tracks except his own. Harmony out of discord. If you can ignore the frenetic upstaging long enough to catch the words to the song, do; they're delightful. Davies is master of smiling pathos.
'Sunny Afternoon' is a song to end if not all other songs then at least several. It is a Davies tour de force; if 'Too Much On My Mind' is his statement of policy, then 'Sunny Afternoon' – following, as it does, a nervous breakdown – is Ray's State of the Union Address to the world. And it's beautiful. It starts off descending and just floats on down for another 3.5 minutes: It's a portrait of the artist as a happy, helpless himself, trapped on a sunshine carpet of psychosomatic flypaper (purchased from the album of the same name by the Blue Magoos) – and like every Davies portrait, it is razor-sharp but it draws absolutely no conclusions. Goods and bads do not enter into the picture. Ray is sympathetic to all things and all people, up to and including Ray Davies.
Face to Face is a fine lp; the Kinks have really never done a poor one. This is perhaps the best Kinks lp to meet them on – it hits hardest and fastest, it is the most sophisticated and in many ways the funniest and most musically inventive. It is also the best programmed, because Reprise chose to release the original Pye recording, with all fourteen (!) cuts in their original order. Poor programming – the curse of the throw-away album designed for U.S. consumption by ignorant U.S. labels – has hurt the Kinks badly in the past. Face is not, however, the best Klnks album. That title would probably go to Kink Kontroversy, an early 1966 album that had no single track as good or even as ambitious as 'Rainy Day in June' or 'Sunny Afternoon'. Kontro stands, however, as the best statement of the Ray Davies approach to music and/or life. Its overall quality is much higher than Face partly because it doesn't fool around as much – as a result, it avoids the occasional self-consciousness of the new lp… and it doesn't display its low points as obviously ('Holiday in Waikiki' is a good example of a track that just doesn't fit on Face to Face), in many ways, is an overly arty lp;Kontro offers us Kinks in their natural habitat.
But Kinks, no matter where they are or what they're doing, are well worth your attention. Whether or not you enjoy them is surely a matter of taste. But if, like many, you've overlooked them, you're missing one of the finest groups we have.
© Paul Williams, 1967