There is some surprise that after all these years Ray Davies has turned his attention to America. He is the most quintessentially English of pop musicians, a witty and acute observer of the British way of life whose best tunes were drawn from music hall and calypso — even while, with his brother Dave, he was inventing that most doggedly, turgidly, horribly English of genres, heavy metal. And yet The Kinks most famous hit, ‘Lola’, had a real American swagger about it, in the wonderful rolling rhythm, as Davies expressed his profound confusion at meeting a transgendered lady in a Soho bar. It was the first record I ever bought, at the age of ten, much to my parents’ disgust and consternation. Come to think of it, even ‘Waterloo Sunset’ had a whiff of San Francisco in the melody.
Inspired by a late tour across the pond, he has now reservedly embraced the USA and its own genre, Americana (which, truth be told, is already a little jejune). But this is a fine album, packed with sweet, chiming guitars, the occasional crunching power chords and, most importantly, a batch of the best tunes he’s come up with since about 1972. The targets are a little predictable — ‘Rock ’N’ Roll Cowboys’, ‘The Great Highway’ and a song (probably the best tune on the album) called ‘Poetry’, which Ray thinks America utterly lacks. His words are sharper and funnier on ‘The Deal’, a vignette of Los Angeles, a place which is ‘fraudulent, bogus and unreal’. It is a pleasure to hear the man in such fine form so late in the day.
Now all we need is for that old Kinks hit ‘Apeman’ to get some radio airplay. They never put it on these days. I’m not dumb but I can’t understand etc….