The Kinks are definitely in my top 10. Albums like Low Budget, Misfits, and Give the People What They Want were the soundtrack to my adolescence. They’re probably in my top 5. Maybe even my top 3. They can write a perfect three-minute pop song, and they can jam like fire when they’re live.
Ray Davies is, of course, the writing half of the team. His brother was one of the most underrated guitarists in history. And speaking of history, at a time when most classic rock bands are looking in the rearview at their best works and are either dying or performing massive retrospective tours, Ray Davies has managed to publish an album that’s easily as good as any he produced in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s.
“Americana” is corny. Let’s get that out of the way quick. Davies, a Briton, sings on Rock and Roll Cowboys, just his lone voice over an acoustic guitar: “Rock and roll cowboys, where do you go now, from the final shootout at the OK Corral? Do you give up the chase like an old retiree, or do you stare in the face of your adversary?” Few artists have confronted their own deaths–and, worse, their own irrelevance–with such honesty. But, yeah, he’s an old man who has taken on a Western theme for an album that looks back on his entire lifetime. Yet that feels right, too–Westerns may be corny but, like classic rock, they were hugely meaningful to an entire generation and, when they’re done right, they can still feel contemporary and important.
Backed by The Jayhawks, Americana is meant as the soundtrack to his autobiography entitled, Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story, and the album has spoken-word excerpts from the book.
As for content, you’ll find lots of songs that feel like they could have been Kinks tunes, but there’s also songs like “Change for Change’s Sake” that are almost experimental–at least for Davies–and certainly feel modern. And then there’s The Man Upstairs, which incorporates his book against riffs from All Day and All of the Night. Kinks fans will love this record. I’m hoping younger folks–or folks who might not know the band so well–will, too.
You don’t have to be young to make great rock and roll.