Album Review: “Face To Face” — The Kinks (1966)

ftfThe First Great Kinks Album!

OK well obviously that’s entirely up to debate and purely a matter of opinion, but wow if this album doesn’t deliver one fine listening experience. Everything — the songwriting, vocals, musicianship, album production — is elevated to an entirely new level with Face To Face.

1966 was a good year for the band. The classic “Sunny Afternoon” topped the UK Singles chart that summer, and even hit #14 in the US. Later that year — after Face To Face was released — the non-album single “Dead End Street” was released to notable success as well, Top 5 in the UK (although it didn’t chart very high in the US). In between, right before the Face To Face sessions were to begin, Ray went buggo and had a breakdown. The resulting album was recording over a longer period of time instead of the usual rushed production schedule; it contained entirely original songs, and Davies concentrated on subject matter more personal to him (rather than the usual collection of blues covers and rock standards).

The result is an absolute 60s masterpiece and a top-tier Kinks album. It starts strong out of the gate with the admittedly-goofy Party Line, a throwback to the Mersey/skiffle sound but with a stronger and more personal vocal performance, as if to emphasize the desperate paranoid whackadoo nature of the song’s narrator. Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home is another chimey winner, almost a crying plea for a wayward teenage girl to return to the comforting warmth of home. The song has a great vibe and strong musicality, and Davies’s yearning for a return to familiar creature comforts will be a recurring theme for a long while. Dandy skewers the 60s manwhore brilliantly, especially when accompanied with an addictive uptempo acoustic vibe. Wonder what he means by the repeating “You’re all right!” mantra at the end. Is he vindicating a shallow existence? Pining for one? Or still making fun of it? Good stuff.

Too Much On My Mind is a haunting, painful, beautiful piece driven by some tasty acoustic guitar work. “There’s too much on my mind and there is nothing I can do about it.” Being as overwhelmed emotionally as Davies was before recording the album, this had to have specific meaning to him. The harpsichordy feel segues into Session Man, a reflection on the dehumanizing elements of the business as refracted through the existence of the studio hired gun. I like the song quite a bit, but it’s not *quite* up to the same level as the opening four songs. I’m wondering what session pianist Nicky Hopkins thought, as he was brought in to spice up the songs with keyboards as well as a harmonium on “Sunny Afternoon”. Some unfortunately thunder sound effects mar the otherwise powerful, often creepy Rainy Day In June. It doesn’t sound like thunder as it sounds like hardcore demolitions work. But as a poetic examination of how it feels when everything turns to shit, it’s a really great song.

Anger, or perhaps resentment, drives the uptempo House In The Country. Again it’s a throwback to the earlier rock stylings of the band, but the production and lyrics elevate the song beyond mere piffle. Not a standout, but a fine song. Holiday in Waikiki decries crass commercialism in the form of an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, where everything is staged and fake and costs money to do anything worthwhile. It sounds like a vintage Stones tune, and while the lyrics are beautifully all Davies, the music seems slightly out of place. It’s a good song — I wouldn’t even call it anything close to filler — but it’s the least of the tracks thus far.

The aristocracy gets theirs again with Most Exclusive Residence For Sale, this time in the form of a rich guy who falls on hard times due to excessive partying. It’s almost like “House In The Country” part deux, and why not? Good beat, agreeable song, nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, the Indian-flavored Fancy is another exquisite song, beautifully written and sung by Ray. It’s a short track, almost criminally so, but an absolute winner. The swing of Little Miss Queen Of Darkness keeps it somewhat notable to me, as do its sad lyrics that pity the desperate party girl looking to be loved by fucking anyone paying her attention. It’s a lesser track, but an acceptable if not memorable one.

Strong blues hooks and honky-tonk piano drive You’re Looking Fine, making it one of the rare songs on the album in which the quality of the music surpasses that of the lyrics by such a noticeable degree. Which makes the bouncy, music hall driven Sunny Afternoon such a tasty morsel. I first became aware of the song in the mid 90s when Jimmy Buffett covered it, but the original is such classic it’s hard to imagine anyone daring to cover it in the first place. It’s pretty gosh darn swell, beautiful structured and catchy as sin, a warm breeze of a strong. Finally the chimey I’ll Remember wraps up the album in fine pop form, with beautiful harmonies and some fine licks from Dave.

There are so many great tracks on this album, it’s almost impossible not to love it. But even the deep cuts are of quality, which makes Face To Face The Kinks’s first really cohesive album from start to finish. It flows beautifully. Given the band had more time to breathe and craft their songs, the album’s quality really shines out. Face To Face is, simply put, a great album, and if you don’t like it you can go pound sand.

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