So here we are in late 1965, and The Kinks have effectively been banned from performing the US, reportedly due to onstage fights and antics and what-not. But ever since the release of their previous LP Kinda Kinks, the band had remained quite active. Aside from constant touring and recording, they managed to release the Kwyet Kinks EP in the UK, as well as the hit singles “Set Me Free” and “Well Respected Man”, the latter of which was a single in the US and a hit for the band. The performance ban in the US would radically change the sound and direction of the band in ways probably they (or their fans) never expected. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
The Kink Kontroversy continues The Kinks’s evolution from generic Brit-Invasion blues/skiffle/Mersey group to a unique creative band… but not entirely. There are still echoes of their “generic” past that haunt this album, but at the same time there is enough of Ray Davies’s creative spirit to mark the album as a significant turning point. The opening Milk Cow Blues is a blues standard, a throwback to the endless covers on the first two albums but at least it’s energetic and spirited enough whereas other covers seemed bland and unimpressive. Still, it does feel needless on an album that has the dark, haunting, acoustic-driven Ring The Bells, one of the album’s standout tracks. Gotta Get The First Plane Home is anchored one of Dave’s funkiest riffs to date, but the song is middling.
I dig the earnestness of When I See That Girl Of Mine; it has some fun vocal work and a driving beat. Hearing it, you can totally see the palpable influence The Kinks on Power-Pop bands like Big Star, The Smithereens, etc. Switching to 3/4 time, we move on to I Am Free, another reasonable pop song that definitely isn’t a standout but an agreeable album cut. Even more agreeable is the superb Till The End Of The Day, which has all the driving energy of “You Really Got Me” or “All Day And All Of The Night” without feeling or sounding derivative of either. Simply put, it’s a classic pop track and another album standout.
A rolling, “Ticket To Ride”-esque drum beat drives The World Keeps Going Round, but the song doesn’t do much for me. It’s album filler; nothing bad but definitely skippable. On the other hand, the sunny calypso beat that provides the background to I’m On An Island belies the song’s stark loneliness and desperation, making for a memorable track. This is Davies demonstrating his showmanship, introspection, and ability to take incongruous styles and making them work.
I probably was more familiar with Where Have All The Good Times Gone from the Van Halen cover than the song itself. It’s definitely a stronger album cut, and I’ll give it recognition as a “classic” song. But I definitely prefer listening to “Ring The Bells”, “Till The End Of The Day”, or “I’m On An Island” on this album. It’s Too Late is OK but unmemorable; sounds more like vintage Stones than Kinks proper, but as a mid-tempo blues rocker it acquits itself fine. Fine piano solo, though. What’s In Store For Me is something of a bore, both musically and lyrically. Don’t like it. The final album track, You Can’t Win, is pure Davies fatalism set to a steady beat, and it ends the album on a good if not entirely memorable note.
1998 BONUS TRACKS
Not a whole lot to be found here. We have the February 1966 single Dedicated Follower of Fashion, a Top 5 UK single. Skewering the mod/fashion scene, it’s indicative of Ray’s skills as a pop-culture satirist in his songwriting. It’s a twee, cute little song, almost like a novelty tune. I prefer the B-side, Sittin’ On My Sofa, which is nothing but a full-fledged extrapolation/interpretation of 60s R&B. Maybe a bit repetitive, but a winning track nonetheless. Completing the bonus tracks are a demo version of When I See That Girl Of Mine and an alt-stereo take of Dedicated Follower. Nice to have, for completists and curious alike, I suppose.
While The Kink Kontroversy isn’t a quantum step forward, it continues to show artistic growth and the band’s emerging cohesion as an album-oriented group. Plus it has their coolest album cover, by far, up to this point (including the EPs), as Sleater-Kinney would attest to years later. I would hesitate to call it an essential album, but it’s easily the most impressive of their releases up to (but not including) their next album.