Classic Music Review: The Kink Kronikles by The Kinks

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Compilation albums rarely make anyone happy. Read the reviews of any compilation album on Amazon and you’ll read stuff like, “How could they have left off X?” or “The idiots used the live version, which is crap!” and similar complaints. Compilation albums are the blonde who looks hot as she whizzes by in her convertible, but when you pull up next to her at the stoplight, she never turns out to be the girl of your dreams.*

Unless you’re talking about The Kink Kronikles. The blonde turns out to be Lana Turner in her prime. Oh, you can argue that they should have included “Strangers” instead of “Get Back in Line,” just like you could argue that Lana might look a bit better in the tight jet black sweater instead of the midnight blue. Who cares? It’s Lana Turner! Who cares? This is The Kinks in their prime!

The collection features songs from the bulk of their golden era, from Face to Face to Lola. It features all the hits from that period, a handful of B-sides, several excellent album tracks and a few gems that had been tucked away in the vaults. It’s a remarkably delightful listening experience that feels surprisingly unified. If you’re going to introduce a neophyte to the wonders of The Kinks, this is the album I would recommend.

I’ve already reviewed the songs that appeared on their studio albums (links below, after the full track listing), so this review will focus on the B-sides and (at the time) previously unreleased tracks.

“Berkeley Mews”: Douglas MacCutcheon wrote a funny little piece on searching for this London street on Songplaces.com. Wherever the real encounter took place, Ray’s dig at the pseudo-intellectuals who sprung up all over the world to impart wisdom to the masses in the 1960’s is both brilliant satire and a very strong piece of music. I take exception to Mr. MacCutcheon’s characterization of the rock segments as “a typical rock & roll back beat,” because the statement implies something played in a pedestrian manner. Au contraire! The Kinks kick ass on this song, and the burlesque sections make the rock sections even more powerful in contrast. There is a debate over the actual lyrics in the crucial line, “I staggered through your _____ dining room . . . ” Mendelsohn’s original liner notes say “shitty,” MacCutcheon hears “chilly,” and I hear a compromise, “chitty.” I like mine because it could have been a way to get past the censors, but I’ll take any of the three options. The bridge features some surprising chord changes before finding resolution, and the band handles those and the stutter-stop rhythm linking the bridge with the verse with great finesse. One of my favorite lost Kinks songs!

“Willesden Green”: I wrote in my review of Muswell Hillbillies that The Kinks didn’t do country all that well, but this track from Percy may be the exception to the rule. The only Kinks song not to feature a Davies brother as lead singer, “Willesden Green” works primarily because John Dalton makes it work with a vocal that combines a little bit of Conway Twitty with a whole lot of tongue in cheek. The spoken verse is a hoot-and-a-half, delivered with the face-saving defiance of a man who couldn’t make it in the city and is headed back to the burbs. Nice warm background vocals, too.

“This Is Where I Belong”: A relatively rare (for The Kinks) love song, I love it for the strength of the melody, Mick Avory’s strong drumming and Dave Davies’ memorable filler riff. The recording sounds a bit primitive but I actually rather like that, as the recording doesn’t distort the sincere emotions with fluff or syrup. I tend to trust expressions of love more when there’s an almost uncontrollable force behind them that can’t be bound by shy squeamishness, and The Kinks’ show of force here suits me just fine.

“Dead End Street”: No witty social satire here—this is a clarion call to draw attention to the extent of urban poverty and class discrimination in the UK. The intensity The Kinks bring to this track stands in stark contrast to the more lyrical feel of other songs during this period, further intensifying the urgency of the message. The double-tracking on the “What are we living for?” lines gives more emphasis to the point of the song: shouldn’t we have a greater purpose than survival? The lyrics are painfully direct and to the point; there’s no Dickensian juicy joint of lamb on the Sunday dinner table to welcome a happy family:

There’s a crack up in the ceiling,
And the kitchen sink is leaking.
Out of work and got no money,
A Sunday joint of bread and honey.

This is a song that never fails to move me; it not only reminds me how good I have it in contrast but also to continue my modest efforts to rid the world of the cancer of poverty (an activity I intend to keep private, as I abhor people like Bono who draw attention to themselves by advertising how fucking generous, sensitive and socially aware they are). Alex DiBlasi has written a superb and more detailed analysis of “Dead End Street” you can read on KindaKinks.net. The second half of his treatise deals entirely with the promotional film shown here:

“Autumn Almanac”: I know several loyal Kinks fans who absolutely despise this song. It does have a rather jaunty feel to it that some may find annoying. As a character sketch, though, it’s superb, a dramatic monologue about a chap who likes his routines, feels tremendous loyalty to his neighborhood and wants to stay where he is—not out of conditioning as in “Shangri-La,” but out of choice:

This is my street, and I’m never gonna to leave it,
And I’m always gonna to stay here
If I live to be ninety-nine,
‘Cause all the people I meet
Seem to come from my street
And I can’t get away,
Because it’s calling me, (come on home)
Hear it calling me, (come on home)

There’s a part of me that wishes for that kind of life; it’s the life I had in San Francisco before education, economics and value conflicts sent my boot heels to be wanderin’. Neighborhoods matter! Continuity is as vital as change! The bouncy music reflects an empathy for someone who is happy with a life that others might find dreadfully boring. And kudos to Ray for mentioning Armagnac, the under-appreciated relative of our more famous Cognac. Vive la France!

“Did You See His Name?”: One of the best examples of Ray Davies’ gift of poetic economy, this song relates a modern tragedy with astonishing impact in less than two minutes. A man steals a tin of beans from a grocery store and finds his name and address published in the paper, excluding him for employment and companionship. I’ve never understood how media publication of any crime can be reconciled with our alleged belief in rehabilitation, for the primary effect of media coverage is to significantly reduce the chances of the accused or the guilty of ever finding a place in society (unless you’re as wealthy as Martha Stewart). In this case, the character snuffs out his life in his cramped maisonette. So much for Christian forgiveness.

“Wonderboy”: Hmm. John Lennon was obsessed with this song, according to Ray’s story in X-Ray, and lo and behold, it is very, very similar to “Beautiful Boy” in terms of subject matter and tone. I’ve never wanted babies or been particularly fond of them, so both songs are closed books for me. If I had to choose, I’d take this one for its more interesting melody.

“King Kong”: This “Apeman” doppelgänger rocks pretty hard in spots, and I think if they’d committed to it all the way through, this song would have turned out much better. First, it would have meant a more prominent role for Dave Davies, whose solo here feels truncated. Second, the “la, la, la, la, la” sequences break the flow and seem completely out-of-place. It’s like having a guy on top of me banging away with all his might suddenly pulling out, jumping off the bed, pulling a bouquet of posies out of thin air and crying, “You’re my forever valentine, snookie ookums!” Son of a bitch wouldn’t get out of that room alive.

“Mr. Pleasant”: “A Well Respected Man” dealt with old money; “Mr. Pleasant” deals with the nouveau riche. The message is the same: greed is a virulent disease that corrodes other human values, like honesty in relationships. The Kinks are very good at working the music hall genre, and the melody here is certainly catchy. It may not have the impact of its progenitor, but one thing I like about Ray Davies is he has a clear sense of artistic priorities. “Mr. Pleasant” is a nice addition to his work on social and economic corruption.

“God’s Children”: I can’t listen to music with religious overtones very well, so I’ll limit my comments to say this song from Percy has a lovely melody. ‘Nuff ced (a phrase chosen to honor Red Sox fans with a sense of history).

“Mindless Child of Motherhood”: Don’t care for this one either. The title is a mouthful to sing and makes the chorus very clunky. The lyrics seem to indicate that Dave is searching for a woman who gave birth to a “bastard child,” and is willing to do the right thing, but what does he mean by the “mindless child of motherhood” at whom he directs his frustration? This is a song best described as “labored,” pun intended. Dave’s guitar work, though, is excellent. How about an instrumental version, folks?

“Polly”: While I like the music, I have to take exception to the lyrics, which treat a young woman’s liberation as a fleeting period in her life that she will eventually regret to return to hearth and home. Polly “had to break the chains,” and kick up her heels, as did her mama in her time—the old myth of “she needs to get it out of her system before she settles down.” Unfortunately, Polly repents, returns home with her tail between her legs and “Mummy’s proud ’cause Polly’s still in chains,” implying that women are aiders and abettors of female repression. The line might have been ironic had not the narrator emphasized three times, “I think that pretty Polly should have stayed at home.” Ray, I love the idea of preservation, but don’t try to apply it to “preserving the old ways” that left my sisters and me second-class citizens. Harrumph!

“Big Black Smoke”: Another song about a poor young country lass corrupted by the city, this one has more ambiguity and color than “Polly.” This nameless young lass indulges in sophisticated pleasures like cigarettes and Dexamyl (purple hearts) and is exploited by a loser guy who takes all her money and drags her down into the hellish world of the Big Black Smoke. The Kinks give an energetic performance, and the opening bells indicate that it could have been headed for a slot on Face to Face, but didn’t make the cut. It wound up as a B-side to “Dead End Street,” which makes for the ultimate anti-urban single.

“Susannah’s Still Alive”: Originally released as a Dave Davies’ single as the follow-up to “Death of a Clown,” this song belongs in the Rock Lyrics Hall of Fame solely for the use of the word “bedraggled” in the opening line. Although the story takes a couple of detours, it’s a vivid picture of a girl compensating for the absence of her soldier boy by sharing her bed with bottles of whisky or gin. Given such a bleak reality, it’s an oddly cheerful-sounding song, but I wind up forgiving the inconsistency and enjoying Dave’s enthusiasm and the catchy chorus.

“She’s Got Everything”: If this song seems out-of-place, it’s because it is! The recording precedes Face to Face and was only pulled from the vault because they needed a B-side for “Days.” The song is okay, but they don’t sound particularly committed to it. Its value is in demonstrating how dramatically The Kinks had progressed from their early period.

“Days”: As noted above, Ray Davies didn’t write too many love songs, but when he did, he came as close to perfection as you can get. “Days” and “The Way Love Used to Be” belong in any list of great modern love songs. “Days” has an unusually quick tempo for a romantic number, with quick chord shifts on the off-beats that reflect the heart-skip that accompanies the excitement of a romantic encounter. The opening key only applies to the verses; both the chorus and bridge are in different keys. Despite the rhythmic variations and the key changes, there are few songs I’ve heard that flow so well, thanks to Mick Avory’s steadiness.

The Kink Kronikles is loaded with great songs, as you’ll see in the track listing below. It is testament to the consistent excellence of The Kinks and to Ray Davies, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. While it’s great to listen to the individual albums for their themes and moods, sometimes it’s nice to look at the big picture so you can see how damned good The Kinks really were.

The Kink Kronikles Track Listing

Disc: 1
1. Victoria
2. The Village Green Preservation Society
3. Berkeley Mews
4. Holiday In Waikiki
5. Willesden Green
6. This Is Where I Belong
7. Waterloo Sunset
8. David Watts
9. Deadend Street
10. Shangri-La
11. Autumn Almanac
12. Sunny Afternoon
13. Get Back In Line
14. Did You See His Name?
Disc: 2
1. Fancy
2. Wonderboy
3. Apeman
4. King Kong
5. Mr. Pleasant
6. God’s Children
7. Death Of A Clown
8. Lola
9. Mindless Child Of Motherhood
10. Polly
11. Big Black Smoke
12. Susannah’s Still Alive
13. She’s Got Everything
14. Days

*Yes, guys, bisexual girls feel the same sting of disappointment you do.

17 responses

  1. As I often say, The Kinks are one of only 3 or 4 groups/artists to have 100 incredible songs. This collection, of course, is terrific.

    While after the band’s zenith the band did put out a lot of crap, Ray actually did write a number of wonderful songs, right through a couple years ago on Other People’s Lives.

    But this one, from ’92, I think is nearly as good as Ray’s greatest songs. Will we ever get the ARC’s take on later Kinks music?

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    1. I did Come Dancing with the Kinks to cover the Arista period, but I don’t plan on reviewing the albums at present. Other People’s Lives is on the to-do list and I still have to figure out how to deal with Show Biz because it’s a gap in the narrative and that bugs the crap out of me.

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      1. The album with Down All The Days has a4 or 5 tunes that’re really good. Just saying.

        What’s your take on Down All The Days, BTW?

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        1. I haven’t listened to UK Jive enough to form an opinion; the last three studio albums didn’t grab me on first impression, but it was a long time ago and I’ll probably look at them again—they can’t be any worse than the shit that’s coming out now.

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  2. So very true. A GREAT sampler for sure. A prelude of all things to come in the decades to come.

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  3. To those of us Americans who love the Kinks and are over 50, the importance of this album can’t be overstated. It was one of the few albums I can say was a real revelation when I heard it- it was THE sole source of not only a truly great sampler of their very best work, but Mendelsohn’s extensive liner notes let us know that there were others out there taking the band’s work seriously. These same is true for many other US Kinks fans. The Kink Kronicles literally inspired and sustained us in the kult during those dark ages, and we should be grateful that Reprise Records really came through on this one!

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    1. Many people kriticise Reprise Records, but I kan’t see why. Name another major record kompany who would mantain artists like the Kinks, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Neil Young and the Beach Boys (not to mention label owner Frank Sinatra, his children Nancy and Frank Jr. and his pal Dean Martin) in the same roster (I bet any reader likes at least one or two of them), many of them for decades on end, and did so much for them. For a major record company, Reprise didn’t fare too bad in nurturing, promoting and recycling its, ahem, product. The Kink Kronikes and The Great Lost Kinks Album kompilations are prime examples – not to mention Then, Now And Inbetween, the nearly famous mail-order-only Kinks promo album which kame in a box as part of many Kinks-related items (a postcard, a jigsaw puzzle and even some grass “supposedly imported from Village Green”… Indeed, many, many Kinks fans all around the world have much to thank Reprise Records for, even me and my friends down in old Brazil back in 1978, when knowing about the Kinks’ existence was amazing enough; paying through the nose for those imports to greedy importers turned out to be a sound investment for the mind, soul and body…

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  4. Glad you decided to review this album. I bought it in 1976, right when I was “rediscovering” the Kinks, and I think it’s the first time I heard The Village Green Preservation Society, Dead End Street, Waterloo Sunset, Days, and many of the other songs included. It was, to say the least, an ear-opening experience! Together with their first Reprise Greatest Hits album, it set me on my course of being a Kinks fanatic. If you have never heard of the Kinks, this is the album to start with.

    A couple of things to add to your comments…

    I think Dead End Street, their single between Sunny Afternoon and Waterloo Sunset, is arguably their best. Can you think of a rock song before it that used that “trad” beat? I can think of many afterward – it became a signature sound of 60’s Pop (Penny Lane springs to mind, which came out some months later). The song’s subject, the angry shouts, the great dueling bass riff – this is the Kinks at their very best. Hardly cracked the radio in the US, unfortunately.

    I have a different read on Mr. Pleasant that occurred to me listening to the BBC recorded version. I was immediately drawn to it because it sounds as if Ray’s wife, Rasa, was the only one to make it to the studio for backing vocals. She sounds very much like the cheeky 20-year old mum that she was (and what a voice!). She ended up leaving Ray six years later amid accusations (if you can take anything in “X Ray” literally) that she was going out with other men while he was on tour. Is Mr. Pleasant autobiographical? Certainly Ray was a paranoid guy from the get go. It’s a very disturbing song when you listen to it this way, especially with his wife tormenting “Mr. Pleasant” in the background).

    I Like She’s Got Everything much more than you, if, for nothing else, another Dave Davies raving guitar solo. I agree the song could have done with a little more oomph, but still an enjoyable listen. I really like Autumn Almanac, too. It also has that trad beat and I LOVE the lyrics; among Ray’s best.

    Doesn’t Willesden Green remind you a little of Ben Crawley Steel Company, somehow? Bevan and Dalton could swap vocals on both.

    Kinks Kronikles proves once again that Victoria is one of the Greatest album-opening songs of all-time.

    Good luck with tackling Show-Biz. It has its merits, but also some weak songs. Remembering that it was intended to accompany a film of the Kinks on the road helps a bit, as does the fact that the Kinks new-found Life on the Road in the US led to great success there, but cost Ray his family, his mental health, and almost his life. Pretty much had the same effect on Dave, too.

    Finally, thanks to the call out to Mr. McGreevy and the Royal Rooters. I’d expect nothing less from Nick Altrock’s biggest fan!

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  5. Another great review, for Krissakes! I agree with all your assessments of the song lyrics and most of your opinions about the songs & recordings themselves. Only a few komments, though.

    * One half-korrektion: “Willesden Green” is the only Kinks track (apart from the instrumental numbers, of kourse) not to feature a lead vocal by either Davies brother – but only during the Pye/Reprise period. Afterwards we have a few examples such as “Scrapheap City” sung by one of Preservation’s “floozies” (although there is an alternate version sung by Ray and issued on 45 RPM) – and I still wonder who does that bocca chiusa vocal (is that Ray?) on “Morning Song”, also from “Preservation”.

    * You said that some tracks would have benefitted from more kommitment. Kwyte rightly so, but from today’s vantage point – I remember a komment by members of Deep Purple (the only hard/heavy band I do like, BTW) on a kommemorative edition of one of their records. One of them said “I fell we could have done it better”, and other answered “Well, if we could have done it better we WOULD have done it better…” Indeed, hindsight is 20/20, as the poet said, and if some songs kan be redone better, so be it, by the artist himself/herself or someone else. A kase in point is the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing”, a simple but lovely song IMHO anyway, whose version on the Kinks’ first (and worst, IMHO again) album sounds like a demo, and it had to wait 15 years for a fully realised and thought of arrangement, on the Pretenders’ first record.

    * I think the late Cash Box magazine said it all (I kwote from memory): “The Kinks are one of the very few bands who have great songs on all of their records, even if not all their albums are great”. I do agree; all of their albums have at least one gem each and are worth investigating, even if they might kontradikt expectations. USA Kinks fan Gene Davidson summed up the Kinks’ Arista years very aptly: “It was not the same caliber of music [as their 1960s recodings], not by a long shot, but it was good music, music that you can listen to at your own accord.” To kwote another Cash Box Kinks kritique, “the worst Kinks song is best than most arena fare”. To me, one of the best Kinks tracks is “Scattered” from Phobia, their last (as of now, at least) album:

    And to top this kwote karnival, I’ll kwote a sign at the door at one of Ray Davies’ first solo recitals: “Expect the unexpected!”

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    1. Ah, the great “Autumn Almanac”… Very few pop singles manage to kram so much good ideas in so little time with such a great effect… But you heard “Armagnac” in the lyrics? I always heard “al-maniac”… Quel drôle…

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    2. As long as the purveyors of new music keep producing unlistenable garbage, the reputation of The Kinks will continue to soar as people embark on a desperate search for quality. That may also improve the perception of the later albums, as the focus of comparison will change from “This isn’t ‘Waterloo Sunset'” to “Thank god this isn’t Lana Del Rey.”

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  6. […] The Kink Kronikles […]

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  7. I’ve got to say that I love… and I mean LOVE Dave Davies voice. It’s one of those voices that you immediately recognize and like say Neil Young or Geddy Lee, you either fall in love with it or hate it with a side order of burning contempt. I love each of the aforementioned voices, but Dave Davies sends chills down my spine.

    “Susannah’s Still Alive” makes me feel joyous and damn it, that’s wildly inappropriate for the subject matter, but there you have it. Same things happens to me with lesser Dave Davies lyrics, “Bernadette” from “State of Confusion” comes to mind, and I find the Ray/Dave duet, “Hated” from “Phobia” to be simply delicious and must be experienced by any Kinks fan with even a passing familiarity to the rocky history of the brothers Davies.

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    1. I love his voice, too: it has an earnestness about it I find irresistible. My favorite vocal of his is “Strangers,” but I’m always happy to hear him sing.

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  8. Another good review… don’t entirely agree with some of your observations but they are definitely valid all the same. This is a strong compilation and like everyone else, I’d swap a handful of tracks for others but as an introduction to this golden era, it does the job admirably. For me… well… this is what I call DNA music – this stuff is a part of my metabolism thanks to my Mum who became a Kinks fanatic the moment she heard “You Really Got Me” so… I had a lot of exposure to this music in my childhood for which I remain eternally grateful.

    Know what you mean about “She’s Got Everything” – I like it but I don’t regard it as one of their great moments and what the hell is that guitar solo about? It’s one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever heard!

    Otherwise, I’m just gonna focus on “Autumn Almanac” which for me (and Mum) is a strong candidate for best Ray Davies song ever since in a nutshell it highlights almost everything I love about The Kinks. This is an exemplary example of what made Ray so damn unique. First, the words he uses – who the hell used words like “almanac”, “rheumatic” and “caterpillar” (to name just three) in pop songs? The imagery is pure Englishness, particularly the middle section about roast beef, football and holidays in Blackpool. You also picked up on the community feeling and that is another component that made Ray unique. During an era when John, Paul, Mick and Keith (and others) were writing fanciful nonsense being during the height of psychedelia, Ray was writing about ordinary people, the average man on the street living ordinary lives. As would be proved again with the “Village Green” album, The Kinks were isolated and alone in their own bubble that was totally contrary to what everybody else was doing at the time – eternal outcasts (which is another reason why we find the Arista era hard to stomach as they surrendered the outcast element that made them so special!)

    My Mum’s family instantly related to this song since it described their life and values succinctly with tongue in cheek. Yet for all it’s jolliness, I also view it as a tragic song – the whole “All the people I meet/Seem to come from my street/And I can’t get away…” stuff… sometimes one can hear it as being celebratory but other times, I hear a sad weary resignation as this is the life they have and will always live whether they like it or not. This is the same situation as the protagonist in “Shangri La” – “You’ve reached your top and you just can’t go any higher/You’re in your place and you know where you are” – this was the era of the “kitchen sink drama” and Ray was creating them in song form to stunning effect. There you have it – in just one song, so many facets of Ray and The Kinks leap to mind that ensures I will love them till I’m gone.

    Lastly, as we’ve discussed before, it’s very rare anyone professes love for the two “Preservation” albums from the 70’s and we long shared that so when it comes to your Kinks reviews, it’s a pleasure to read because you know damn well what you’re talking about and just what The Kinks were all about. A cliche to conclude but yeah – God Save The Kinks!

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    1. Interesting take on “Autumn Almanac.” I see your point about it being on ironically tragic song. Do you realize that no one else writing songs today could pull off “ironically tragic?” I have to say that after the Dad’s 45’s series I find myself even more dismayed about the state of music today. Nobody’s doing anything that approaches what the great artists of the 60’s and 70’s did. And if there’s a pattern to 80’s and 90’s music, it’s “promising starts that eventually led nowhere.” I can name a few albums from the last 30-40 years that qualify as great, but trying to name artists who have created a body of work of consistently high quality is difficult. PJ Harvey and Richard Thompson are about the only ones I can name off the top of my head, for as much as I like some of what Oasis and Radiohead have done, there are long stretches of nothing much.

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      1. Aye… the state of today’s music and over the last 30 odd years is depressing since it lacks the invention and risktaking of old. That’s another reason The Kinks stand out because they did their own thing and were shunned by the public and their peers back in the day as they were trapped in the “singles band” bracket as next to nobody was bothering to listen to those glorious albums which caused a lot of frustration for the band, but they kept on doing their own thing anyway thank goodness. “Ironically tragic” – Ray was a master of that and yer right, nobody today can pull that off.

        I’m in full agreement with you on PJ Harvey… she remains consistently interesting. One or two of her albums I haven’t liked but she doesn’t rest on her laurels which in this day and age is commendable. First time I ever heard her was in 1993, her demo of “Rid Of Me” on some compilation tape free with a mag. Late at night on headphones and as that ended I was frozen in disbelief at what I’d just heard… from that moment on, I’ve been listening.

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