Album Review: “Something Else By The Kinks” — The Kinks (1967)

something elseSo it’s 1967. The so-called “Summer Of Love” is in full swing. Bands are taking advantage of new-found artistic freedom to explore their musical boundaries, and the shift from singles-oriented bands to album-based music is already in full bloom. Psychedelia is the order of the day, or so it seems anyhow. So what were The Kinks doing? Album-oriented music, without question, but now with a homier, folksier, dare I say a conservative flavor to their songs. Compared to its contemporary ilk, their music was much more traditional than cutting-edge, and sounds all the better for it. The music they created that year was co-produced by longtime producer Shel Talmy and lead vocalist-chief songwriter Ray Davies. This would be Shel’s last production with the band, as Ray became more directly and increasingly involved with production starting with this album.

As a result, their 1967 release Something Else By The Kinks — the second in a streak of albums that would comprise the band’s “Golden Age” — is easily their most consistent-sounding record thus far released, in terms of both production and style. The songs are distinct entities — the album produced several singles — but most of them seem to flow effortlessly from one to the next, like a soft river of music. It’s not a concept album, but the underlying theme of celebrating (or lampooning) British conventions unifies the album as almost a singular listening experience (and would be refined to even greater effect on their next album).

There are a host of great tracks here, although the album isn’t completely perfect. Something Else shoots out of the gate with “David Watts”, a fast-paced rocker that eschews crunchy guitars in favor of a driving piano line and a catchy anchoring riff. Nicky Hopkins’s simmering harpsichord opens “Death of a Clown”, one of Dave’s three songs on the album, and easily the strongest of the bunch. It’s a folksy number, almost with a country/western touch, and it’s a quality track. Released as a single on July 7 1967, it was quite a success, hitting #3 in the UK. Its B-side, “Love Me Till The Sun Shines”, doesn’t fare as well but is still a decent track. It’s probably the most traditional “rock” song on the album, and as such it feels slightly out-of-place. The straining of Dave’s vocals is a bit detrimental, but overall the song is agreeable.

“Two Sisters” features more Nicky Hopkins’s harpsichords as Ray is in full storyteller mode, and it’s a beauty, musically and lyrically. Also strong as “No Return”, with samba-like percussion and almost flamenco-inspired acoustic guitars. As a piece of music, it’s one of the bands most interesting arrangements. The momentum keeps going with the strong acoustic, sing-along folk of “Harry Rag”, as good a toe-tapper as the band has ever released. Rolling snare drums, hand claps, and singalong choruses lend the song the feel of a popular drunken pub favorite.

The music hall bounce and big brass sound of “Tin Soldier Man” is infectious. It is beyond clear by now that the band is marching to its own drumbeat with this enjoyable throwback. We get back to more traditional sounding rock with “Situation Vacant”. Dig those funky keyboard licks under the chorus and Dave’s awesome jangly solo! Lyrically Ray is storytelling again, and the strength of his lyrical skills (as well as its GROOVY beat, man) elevate the song to a fun little number.

“Lazy Old Sun” is an odd bird. It’s the only “psychedelic” song on the album, and lyrically I find it to be exquisite, but the music is haunting and disjointed. That was the intended effect, but I don’t quite know if it works for me. It definitely gives the album flavor. Back to the established vibe, we have “Afternoon Tea”, a fine piece of Britpop. You’re pretty much hooked by the chorus. Dave returns for his third song with “Funny Face”, and the creepy, sad lyrics — that of a dying or sick woman who either refuses to see him or is kept away from him — are badly mismatched with some bland, unmemorable music.

“End of the Season” is the album’s biggest throwback, with Ray doing his best shuffling crooner, haunted by the ghost of a woman who left him and the inability to cope with her loss. A recurring theme on this album, but never quite as dark as is presented here. The thin, reverb-drenched vocals add to the sense of dread, like a 78 record playing on a creepy old-school Gramophone. It’s an odd song. Chilling. I don’t quite know what I think of it.

And finally, we have “Waterloo Sunset”. One of the band’s biggest, most heralded, most acclaimed songs of their career. It was released as a single on May 5 1967, hitting #2 on the UK charts. It’s been covered a bunch of times. How can I even review THIS song? I won’t. It’s an absolute stunner.

If just for “Waterloo Sunset”… dayenu.

Something Else By the Kinks is a great album, no question. If I could live without songs like Lazy Old Sun or Funny Face, and if I’m just plain puzzled by the odd-duck End of the Season, it is more than made up for by the quality of the rest of the tracks. And more than just being a great album, Something Else is an essential Kinks album and a highlight of an already classic year for rock music. Anyone who thinks otherwise should be split vertically with a boat hook.

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