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The Kinks, like Pink Floyd, were a group that could only have come out of England. From the almost well-spoken delivery of brothers Ray and Dave Davies vocals to their brilliant, sepia-stained postcards of songs that capture their subjects of West London dandies and blends of ennui and joy at the same time, they were capabale of writing some brilliantly emotive songs when the mood took them.
Face to Face is their fourth album, released in 1966. Their previous efforts had been very much from the mould of albums of that time - the singles and some covers, with the obligatory filler to stretch it out to the 35 minute mark. By the mid 60s though, the album was being shaped into a more well-respected format, with the likes of the Beatles' 'Revolver' and other more consistently themed records leading more artists to pay a bit more attention to the album as a whole, finished work. This is their first album of completely self-penned material. Their previous album, the naffly titled 'Kink Kontroversy' demonstrated what Ray Davies could be capable of, and while there are a few unsure moments on 'Face to Face', it's a fine collection.
'Party Line' is a nice play on words, rumbling and grumbling round a typical Kinks riff and theme of isolation. Trapped by his neighbours, and politicians, Ray Davies despairs in a most English way, unable to make up his mind about what to do and settling on nothing at all. 'Rosie Won't You Please Come Home' sounds like the blueprint to 'She's Leaving Home' by the Beatles, albeit in a grimier, more desperate mode of delivery.
Many of these songs are characeristically short and snappy, with only a handful breaking the 3 minute mark. This is very much par for the course of a pop/rock album of this time, and it is a bit frustrating as some of the songs sound like they could have been explored a bit more - 'Rainy Day in June' starts off slowly, its trippy lyrics sitting atop a hazy, pounding beat that gathers momentum and feels like it's going to hypnotise, and nearly gets there with its shimemring chords and meteorological sound effects, but feels cut abruptly short before it has a chance to get into another gear. Guess the idea of a song that couldn't fit on a 45 was one that left record execs cold.
This is an album full of astute observations of various characters, no doubt based on real people that turned up in the lives of the Davies brothers. 'A House in the Country' is quite clearly the primary source for the Blur song of almost exactly the same name, as Ray Davies sneers at the antagonist in the song who seemingly has it all, bitching about him as "he has a house in the country and a big sports car/ but he ain't got a home". Some people are so poor all they have is money - a sentiment I agree with.
'Holiday in Wakiki' sounds very much like the exotic sister piece to the Rolling Stones' '19th Nervous Breakdown'. It's just as existential in its despair, except rather than domestic drudgery being the source of turmoil, it's a bittersweet diary entry of a song that laments the plastic commercialization of places that at first seemed untainted by tourism and globalisation. It's just as relevant today, if not more so, in the age of RyanAir and cheap holiday destinations that plasticise culture through their becoming tourist traps. And it has a killer guitar riff in a weird modal tuning to boot. 'You're Looking Fine' is a bit of a meandering nothing, built round a bog-standard 12-bar blues riff and could quite easily have been chopped out with nobody noticing. Guess the filler hadn't been completely lost though.
Still, all is forgiven when it gives way to the truly wonderful 'Sunny Afternoon', the sound of a millionaire spending his afternoon wandering round an empty mansion after being declared bankrupt. Perhaps it's the sound of the chap from 'A House in the Country' getting his come-uppance and realising that there's perhaps more to life than all the trappings of wealth. 'I'll Remember' sounds like it could have come from 'Rubber Soul', replete with sitar-esque guitar sounds and dreamy vocals. As a closer, it works well to round this collection of musings on the eclectic mix of subjects and characters that it sketches out.
The sound of this album is a bit of a bizarre collision of the more raucous rock that the Kinks dabbled in with their early singles, and a quaint English eccentricity that pervaded a lot of UK bands at the time. It's as if they were playing the riff-heavy stuff like 'You Really Got Me' in their garage, while their neighbours enjoying tea in the conservatory came round initially to complain, but ended up joining instead. It's not quite the tea and cake laced with acid that Syd Barrett served up as the bright and psychedelic album sleeve might suggest, but it's not far off. It's also served as a blueprint for numerous bits of quintessentially English observation, from Pulp's 'Different Class' to Blur's 'Parklife', as well as more contemporary recordinds, such as their rivals the Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'.
The Kinks, throughout their career, were either starting trends or ignoring trends, never following them!
They were in 1964, 1965 and into 1966 an extremely successful British Invasion band, playing heavier than anyone before them with songs such as You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night and Till the End of the Day. Their first album was a typical one of the time, mixing some original material with 50s covers. Their second album was similar, but with more original material, with which Ray did not feel very comfortable. He felt tied to those for whom he worked. Their third album retained the original sound, but was the start of a turning point, with Ray beginning to refine his social commentary skills.
These, however, truly shine in the album Face to Face, which marks something of a commercial downturn - despite the track Sunny Afternoon and, perhaps, Dandy. But every track sounds different - it's a musical journey. And it's not just soppy stuff. It's all about concepts seen in society.
The album opens with the lively song Party Line, which is about the sharing of telephone lines between multiple households in the 60s. Some of the tracks are beautiful like Too Much on My Mind, some are artistic/experimental like Rainy Day in June and Fancy, which has an Indian sound. The rest are simply catchy and easy to sing along to.
There seems to be a strong theme of making a living/lifestyles in the album, which is very interesting.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Party Line
2 Rosie Won't You Please Come Home
4 Too Much On My Mind
5 Session Man
6 Rainy Day In June
7 A House In The Country
8 Holiday In Waikiki
9 Most Exclusive Residence For Sale
11 Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
12 You're Looking Fine
13 Sunny Afternoon
14 I'll Remember
15 I'm Not Like Everybody Else
16 Dead End Street
17 Big Black Smoke
18 Mr. Pleasant
19 This Is Where I Belong
20 Mr. Reporter
21 Little Woman