Friday, October 11, 2013

Classic Albums: The Kinks, The Kink Kronikles

Doing a profile of a compilation album seems to go against the raison d'etre of my Classic Albums series, since compilations are not usually artistic statements, but rather an agglomeration of recordings meant to make a buck or provide an easy entre for new listeners.  There are some compilations, however, that really stand up on their own, and even enhance older material by placing it in a new context.  The Kink Kronikles is just one of these albums.

The title is a bit misleading, since it does not cover the band's famous, rip-roaring early singles like "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," and "I Need You."  Instead, it chronicles the period between 1966 and 1970, when the Kinks made their best music while losing their stateside audience.  During this period lead singer Ray Davies' gaze turned inward, his albums becoming sociological statements on contemporary British life.  The music started borrowing heavily from English music hall traditions and referenced things like village greens and holidays in Blackpool, not exactly most accessible things for Americans.  The pictures of the royal palace guards on the front and back may thus be taken as less quaint illustrations and more a statement of purpose.

Despite focusing on such a brief, obscure (for Americans) and popularly shunned period in the band's career, The Kink Kronikles is a double album, a kind of argument to take their music of that era seriously.  It does not follow any kind of chronological order, and it does not simply collect the hits, mostly since there are so few to go around.  There are singles, both from albums and stand alones, previously unreleased tracks, and B-sides.  It misses many of the best Kinks songs of the era ("Some Mother's Son" is glaringly absent) but I can think of no better introduction to the Kinks' late sixties years.

Unlike many other compilations, great care seems to have been taken with the track sequencing.  For ecample, the rollicking "Victoria" gets things started off right, and side one of the first record ends with "Waterloo Sunset," one of the most beatifically gorgeous ballands ever written.  In between there are several previously unreleased tracks, but nothing feels forced or out of place.  Flip that record over, and the much peppier "David Watts" raises the curtain on side two, providing a new arc that ends with the bouncily whimsical "Did You See His Name," an unreleased song that closes out the first record on an appropriately abrupt note  The second record finishes with "Days," an elegiac song thankful for the days we have lived with loved ones gone, and just about the most perfect song you could ever choose to tie up a long collection of The Kinks' output.  For these reasons, the first time I heard this album, I thought it sounded nothing like a compilation at all.

I keep returning to The Kink Kronikles during this time of year because it calls forth memories of my first autumn as a PhD student living in Urbana, Illinois.  One day I went to a local, now sadly defunct bookstore, and picked the album up out of a desire to better acquaint myself with a band I'd only known from their Top 40 hits.  I was looking for a copy of Something Else, since I'd heard it was their best, but couldn't find it there, and figured that a compilation would give me more bang for my buck.  Whatever the reasons, I instantly fell in love, and listened to this album more than anything else for about a year.  It was a good year spent basking in the glow of the scholarly mission, years before I was aware of the hardships of the academic job market.  I met some wonderful friends and had some great times with them, and hearing these songs puts me back into those golden months more than anything else.  Perhaps too it's Ray Davies' nostalgic tendencies, ones I continue to increasingly indulge in myself as I get older.  Davies' waxes for the village green, I yearn for the innumerable backyard gatherings of friends, and I thank them for the days (and nights) they gave me.

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