Album Review: “Everybody’s In Show-Biz” — The Kinks (1972)

showbizCall it Muswell Hangover

You know, the first time I listened to Everybody’s In Show-Biz, I was right in the middle of my Kinks “discovery phase”, a time during which I made it a habit to dive deep into the, shall we say, “less than classic” albums in the band’s catalog. Upon first listen, in an almost knee-jerk positive reaction, I instantly fell in love with the album. This was, of course, driven by the joy of finding what I felt was sunken treasure, unearthed riches of music and songwriting, the excitement of discovery and the joy of reveling in your findings. Then after a few listens, I was dragged a bit back to the ground and was able to look at the album more objectively, especially in light of the band’s more majestic works that preceded it. But to tell you the truth, Everybody’s In Show-Biz is still a really good album. It’s a strange one, and the entire affair sounds like a hot mess, and the genesis of Ray Davies’s forays into crass self-indulgence are on display in abundance. But yet, there are some real fun songs here, a few great ones, and one undeniable classic. There’s a host of strong material here.

The issue is, as I see it, as that much of the album feels like outtakes from Muswell Hillbillies. Musically it feels like a sister album. But whereas on the previous album Ray was thematically driven by the encroachment of everyday 20th Century inanities and its destructive effect on the quiet ease of simple tradition, here he is concerned… nay, OBSESSED with the topic of life on the road. Often the issue is EATING while on the road. So much for the plight of working class Brits! But the musical style of the album fits right in with Muswell… mostly. But never mind all that. Everybody’s In Show-Biz is also a DOUBLE album! The first disc has all the studio tracks, whereas the second is a live album, recorded at Carnegie Hall in March of 1972. The live disc contains three covers (!) and eight songs pulled from Arthur, Lola vs. Powerman…, and Muswell Hillbillies. Even weirder, live track of “Lola” isn’t even the proper song; it’s little more than two-minute audience sing-along of the chorus! WTF indeed!

But let’s focus on the studio album itself, which kicks off in good form with Here Comes Yet Another Day, a tight piece that isn’t particularly deep but it’s a fine rockin’ opener. Love the organ intro. Good tune, rocks well. Maximum Consumption is Ray’s first ode to road food. What an odd song. The Dixieland horns and saloon-style piano make the song musically interesting, but it also comes across really odd. Not that that’s a bad thing… but it’s not a particularly great song either.

Unreal Reality is more in the same vein, but it’s probably a better song. At least we’re off the food subject here. The slow opening leads into more uptempo verses, dedicated to the affected psychedelia engendered by touring from town to town, city to city, when nothing seems real anymore. Enjoyable number. And now with Hot Potatoes, we’re back to the topic of eating again, dedicated to the joys of simple comfort food. However, this song kinda rules in a catchy, almost addictive way. It’s simple, straightforward, and a ton of fun. The chorus is particularly infectious.

Sitting In My Hotel is another very strong tune, piano-driven and strongly affecting. Ray is definitely NOT enjoying being on tour. Buck up, li’l camper. At least you got a great song out of it. Motorway is… wait for it… yet another song obsessed with food! Huzzah! Actually, the song probably works better than it had any right to. It’s uptempo, country/western, and enjoyable. Lyrically it’s schizophrenic beyond words, but then again maybe so is the touring life. What the hell do I know? I work in IT…

Dave Davies gets to shine a bit with the fine You Don’t Know My Name, which is probably one of his strongest efforts to date. Lots of slide acoustic, 12 strings, even a flute solo. It sounds a lot like a tune that would have fit right in on Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story”. On the other hand, we have the almost childlike Caribbean sing-along of Supersonic Rocket Ship, which was released as a single in the UK. Not a great song, but enjoyable enough on its own. It’s reminiscent of the classic Apeman single, but not quite as memorable.

Look a Little on the Sunnyside is a horn-driven music hall piece, kind of a march of sorts. The song is mostly serviceable and pleasing, but it seems a little forced and tired at this point. Which is fine, because it leads into the finale of the studio album, the absolutely phenomenal Celluloid Heroes. At over 6 minutes, it’s one of their longest singles to date. It also feels radically out of place on this album, as it sounds like nothing that has come before it. It almost feels as if Ray sobered up from “life on the road excesses” to write and record it. The lyrics and music are beautiful and moving, maybe a bit maudlin here or there but it’s still perfection to my ears. This used to be my favorite Kinks song. At this point I don’t even know what that is anymore, but if I had a Top 5, this would be in it. Maybe even Top 3. Who knows. It’s an absolutely perfect song.

I’m not going to cover the live portion of the album in detail. Suffice to say, it’s nothing too impressive. The track selection is eclectic enough to be interesting for deep fans, but the performances are nothing to write hom about. Did we really need Day-O, Baby Face, a useless Lola sing-along, and, of all things, the forgettable Top of the Pops? Still, it’s an interesting diversion for deep fans, and I enjoy the live BrainwashedAcute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues, and Muswell Hillbilly tracks, but definitely not essential by any means.

That said, I really like the studio tracks of Everybody’s in Show-Biz quite a bit. It’s a drunken, sloppy album in which Ray probably started going a little whackadoo. But as a collection of songs, it mostly works well. Celluloid Heroes is a stone classic, but I also really enjoy the rockin’ Here Comes Yet Another Day, the bizarre but affably enjoyable Hot Potatoes, the melancholic Sitting In My Hotel, the goofball insanity of Motorway, and Dave acquits himself real well with You Don’t Know My Name. There are OK tunes with Unreal Reality and Supersonic Rocket Ship. I can do without Maximum Consumption and Look a Little on the Sunnyside. That makes for a pretty strong studio album, as far as I’m concerned. A step down from Muswell Hillbillies, but definitely worthwhile for fans.

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