Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Jan. 9, 2009
The KinksPicture Book (Sanctuary)
Compiled by Ray Davies, Picture Book's 138 tracks on six discs come stamped with the singer's sole writing credit on all but 13 songs. He positions brother Dave's compositions/vocal contributions to dazzling effect, such as the younger sibling's tangy "Love Me Till the Sun Shines" live in 1968 on the BBC opening the set's third CD. The guitarist's "Living on a Thin Line" at the close constitutes one of the pair's last great collaborations before the two brothers drifted apart in the mid-1990s. Ray and Dave's sole co-write, "Death of Clown," from Sgt. Pepper better Something Else, cries another Hall of Fame moment of the canon, while the latter's cracked pledge ("Strangers") from Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround snaps a cherry Kodak moment for Picture Book. Don't doubt for one single moment, however, that the Kinks' oeuvre ultimately preserves anything other than the unmatched writings of one "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" in particular. Lennon had McCartney, and Jagger married Richards, but Ray Davies, like the Who's pinball wizard, Pete Townshend – whom Davies claims "actually [stole] our whole style" – converted personal observation into conceptual comment (Arthur, Preservation) both shyly and with withering cynicism. And just how good a songwriter does one have to be to have composed a modern Christmas standard ("Father Christmas")? The first three CDs rain British Invasion manna, from pre-Kinks tracks by the Boll-Weevils (Leiber/Stoller's "I'm a Hog for You Baby") to defining riff rocket "You Really Got Me" and a cascade of Ray mania: "Stop Your Sobbing," "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" and three tracks off Something Else precursor Face to Face. Pop's New Deal, rock & roll's Great Society, births the Village Green Preservation Society, "Apeman," and Percy spiritual "God's Children" before the paradigm shift on disc four from UK pop throbs to 1970s Muswell Hillbillies, where "Skin & Bone" fattens its musical bottom even as Ray's everyman continues feeding on Empiric socialism. Hillbillies' title track and crowning "20th Century Man" signal the Kinks' shift into the roots-meet-roots juggernaut of Everybody's in Show-Biz, whose "Celluloid Heroes" remains rock's equivalent to the Hollywood sign. The final two discs rock up the Misfits ('78) as punk blowbacks on Low Budget ('79, complete with meaty outtakes) and Give the People What They Want ('81), a commercial and last artistic peak crashing on 1993 nadir Phobia. "The rockers couldn't outrock us, the hippies couldn't outhip us, and the punks couldn't outpunk us," concludes Ray Davies. He's got the Picture Book to prove it.