Well, the Preservation project failed. A noble effort, maybe, but a total freakin’ mess by any commercial, critic, or artistic standards. At least Ray got all that “theatrical presentation” stuff out of his system, right? Well, Ray’s not here right now. In his place is some whackadoo Starmaker dope who conceived and wrote the worst Kinks album to date. Maybe of all time.
The Kinks Present A Soap Opera is a terrible album. The songwriting is lazy: banal lyrics, uninteresting music, embarrassing theatrical flourishes, and if that’s not bad enough, it’s dreadfully, dreadfully boring. Say what you want about Preservation, but at least it had some moments that really shine (pretty much most of them during Act I, but whatever). Soap Opera is an artistic pit-stop into awfulness for The Kinks. It’s not even a fascinating failure, like Kiss’s Music From The Elder or McCartney’s McCartney II or most of what the Stones have done since Tattoo You. Soap Opera is a dreadful, boring mess.
I won’t even bother with providing details about the concept album’s story, save to say it’s about a man named Norman, a rockstar/superbeing called Starmaker, and how they switch places in life, or maybe Norman is just making it all up in his head. Whatever.
The opening track “Everybody’s a Star” starts out with some thick humbucker distortion, lending the wistful promise of a fun, uptempo rock track. Uptempo, sure. Rock? Legally, it meets that definition. Fun? Nope. It’s a lazy, unmemorable, dopey beginning. If you can’t take Ray’s dramatic-line-reading-as-a-sort-of-singing style here — and I can’t — it’s gonna be one hell of an arduous experience from this point on. At least Dave has a fun solo buried underneath somewhere. By the time “Ordinary People” starts, you just really want to crawl underneath a pile of leaves and hope to get run over by a thresher. Bad dramatic narration over third-rate porn music that turns into a sort of ’50s sock-hop melody. If your idea of a great song includes limp dialogue that features the line “God, these pajamas are AWFUL!”, this is YOUR album.
“Rush Hour Blues” is, at the very least, an actual song (with some dialogue thrown in), and has the distinction of being entirely mediocre, which makes it one of the better songs on the album. The piano ballad “Nine To Five” is another testament to mediocrity, in which it does nothing to distinguish itself and dissipates in the ether once its 2-minute running time is completed. “Life is so incredibly dull,” whines Starmarker/Ray/Norman/whoever, and he was probably listening to this album at the time. “When Work Is Over” is more of the same upbeat dullness, an ode to the after-work booze-fest, and never has the fine art of destroying your liver in the name of staving off the soul-killing aftereffects of work seemed more pedestrian.
Oh wait… here’s the semblance of an OK song: “Have Another Drink”. Reminiscent of Muswell Hillbillies but probably more apropos as an Everybody’s In Show-Biz track, it would have been a meh cut on the former, a middling one on the latter, but on this album it stands out. Your literal definition of “damning with faint praise”, but there you have it. “Underneath The Neon Sign” has a kind of a mid-70s yacht-rocky Caribbean beat — think Jimmy Buffett before he became an icon to Loathsome Baby Boomers with pony-tails and Hawaiian shirts — and is a whole lot of nothing special at all.
The dance-hall’ish “Holiday Romance”, hyping the art of going on vacation and trying to bang anyone but your wife, really, really stinks. What a terrible song. This is the type of material Freddie Mercury could have done a thousand times better in his sleep. Does anyone really want to hear Ray imitate a woman’s voice in a terrible falsetto? This album has gone completely off the rails.
“You Make It All Worthwhile” lies somewhere between absolutely awful and absolutely mediocre; the “soap opera” elements with the organ and dialog snippets are dopey, but there are agreeable elements to the song as well. “Ducks on the Wall” desperately tries to bring ROCK!! to the forefront. The song is utterly retarded, having to do with something about Starmaker’s/Norman’s deep loathing of his wife’s prized duck wallpaper or something. Ray makes duck noises throughout the entire song.
ALLOW ME TO REPEAT THAT: Ray makes duck noises throughout the entire song.
Meine lieber Gott!!
“A Face In The Crowd” is a flat ballad in which Starmaker realizes he kind of has to be Norman, or some disassociative personality nonsense. I don’t even care anymore. The song is low-grade meh, with moments of OK in it, but generally it’s musically uninteresting and lazy. At least “You Can’t Stop The Music” works well enough as a song. It’s probably the best song on the album. Maybe the only one I could possibly listen to a second time. It’s not that great. But at least it signifies that we’re done here.
There’s no reason to purchase or listen to Soap Opera. Maybe if you’re that curious about the theatrical era. Maybe if you’re an absolute obsessive completist. Maybe if you want to see how absolutely bad The Kinks could get before they got any better. And they will get better, mind you. But Soap Opera is the type of album that would have DESTROYED any lesser band.