One thing that you're likely to hear repeatedly about the reissue campaign that Koch has undertaken with The Kinks' catalogue is this: They're not the right albums. And to some degree, that criticism is valid, since nobody in their right mind would hold up a record like 1983's State of Confusion as evidence of the band at the height of their powers. But to dismiss these 15 albums outright, simply because milestones like The Village Green Preservation Society and Lola aren't included, misses the point of both these reissues and the four decades of music that Ray and Dave Davies are responsible for.
The 15 discs in this series beginning with 1971's Muswell Hillbillies and continuing through 1986's Come Dancing With The Kinks document the group's tenure with RCA and Arista, which means that the formative years the band spent making masterworks like Village Green for Pye Records (and getting ripped off in the process) aren't documented. Thankfully, it also means that the Davies' wobbly post-1986 output is also absent. Yet this middle period was both productive and unpredictable, containing a handful of albums that are at least equal to their more agreed-upon "classics." (Add the sparkling clarity of these SACD discs and the music comes alive in brand-new ways; much like the recent Dylan and Stones SACD reissue campaigns, these discs are all "hybrids," which means they'll play on any CD player, but they play best and in surround sound on SACD players.)
When compared to their contemporaries and truly, the Davies could only be put upon the small top shelf of British rock that includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who The Kinks were very much the odd men out. With a weird blend of literate cynicism and pop facility, each album the group released after winding up their obligatory "singles" phase was an exercise in exploring concepts and exploding rock conventions. This meant that a few records missed the mark the first two Preservation albums were excellent, but too dense but not for lack of trying. Still, many were successful on their own terms (1975's Schoolboys in Disgrace concludes the Preservation trilogy in a clear and catchy manner).
For the record, "on their own terms" is perhaps the only edict The Kinks operated under. Willfully contrarian, yet quick to play the martyr card, the Davies brothers seemed never to figure out why they weren't the international pop stars they knew they should be. Here's a group that was as comfortable creating dreamy tunes like "Waterloo Sunset" as they were with bashing out riff-driven rave-ups like "You Really Got Me." Where's the fame? Buffeted away by Ray Davies' consistent need to "be creative" and "make good albums," that's where. After all, this was a band that followed up one of their biggest hits "Lola" with a brooding and melancholy antiprogress paean, the Muswell Hillbillies album. Careerism, you might say, was not The Kinks' strong point.
Ironically, it was Ray Davies' desire for chart vindication that acted as the biggest weight on this midcareer oeuvre. By the late '70s, he had all but abandoned "concept" albums (like Muswell Hillbillies, the Preservation albums and Soap Opera) in favor of song-based pop formality. Beginning with 1978's Misfits and culminating with the utterly awful Come Dancing, the latter third of this reissue series is pocked with tossed-off ideas and by-the-numbers simplicity that diminish the reputation of the work that came earlier. (Give the people what they want, indeed.) Hopefully, this beautifully remastered reissue campaign will shine a much-needed spotlight on these worthy albums, giving them the due they deserve.
(Muswell Hillbillies, Misfits, Give the People What They Want and Schoolboys in Disgrace were reissued Aug. 24; Preservation: Act 1, Preservation: Act 2, One for the Road and State of Confusion are reissued Sept. 21; Everybody's in Showbiz, A Soap Opera, Sleepwalker, Celluloid Heroes, Low Budget and Come Dancing With The Kinks will be released in early 2005.)