The Kinks - 'Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire' (Reissue) Album Review
CD1: ORIGINAL STEREO ALBUM
2. Yes Sir, No Sir
3. Some Mother’s Son
8. Mr. Churchill Says
9. She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina
10. Young And Innocent Days
11. Nothing To Say
1. Plastic Man (Stereo)
2. King Kong (Mono)
3. Drivin’ (Mono)
4. Mindless Child Of Motherhood (Mono)
5. Shangri-La (Mono)
6. This Man He Weeps Tonight (Mono)
7. Australia (Australian Mono Single Mix/ Edit)
CD2: THE GREAT LOST DAVE DAVIES ALBUM (STEREO)
1. This Man He Weeps Tonight
2. Mindless Child Of Motherhood
3. Hold My Hand
4. Do You Wish To Be A man?
5. Are You Ready?
6. Creeping Jean
7. I’m Crying
8. Lincoln County
9. Mr. Shoemaker’s Daughter
10. Mr. Reporter
11. Groovy Movies
12. There Is No Life Without Love
1. Lincoln County (Mono Single Mix/ Edit)
2. There Is No Life Without Love (Mono)
3. Hold My Hand (Mono)
4. Creeping Jean (Mono Single Mix/ Edit)
The special 50th anniversary release of The Kinks seminal classic album ‘Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire’ is out now in a number of formats. This review covers the Deluxe 2 CD Media Book version. It was the Kinks seventh studio album and was originally released in October 1969. It is a concept album which tells the story of main protagonist Arthur as he comes to terms with what is happening to Britain as the country moves away from those days of empire. As concept albums go it stands its ground well against other classic 60s concept albums; ‘Tommy’ by the Who and, ‘S.F. Sorrow’ from the Pretty Things. It was originally written as the soundtrack to a TV play about Arthur Morgan, a carpet fitter, a character who was based on Ray and Dave Davies brother-in-law Arthur Anning. The TV play never happened, but the album obviously did. (There is talk that it will be the subject of a play on BBC Radio 4 soon!) On its release the record was very highly acclaimed, particularly by the underground press; New York’s The Village Voice and Rolling Stone. However, that acclaim didn’t push it into the charts. It failed to chart at all in the UK and scraped to 105 in the USA. None of the singles, apart from “Victoria” made the charts either. I am baffled by this as it is such a great album with many songs that should have set the singles chart alight.
The album kicks off with the aforementioned “Victoria” which is about those heady Empire times when Queen Victoria sat on the throne. The lyrics are very clever, particularly the couplet “Sex was bad, called obscene. And the rich were so mean”. There are two songs which deal with the loss of loved ones during a war; “Yes Sir, No Sir” and “Some Mother’s Son”. Most probably relatives of Arthur himself, a son and a brother perhaps? The latter is a gorgeous and maybe polemic anti war song. “Australia” is a song detailing the journey of the ‘Ten Pound Poms’ who were the British migrants to Australia in a scheme set up by the UK and Australian governments which ran from 1945 to 1972. It was released as a single, but only in the land down under. Meanwhile, “Drivin’” another unsuccessful single tells a tale of getting away from all the bad things in life by taking a drive and maybe having a picnic.
The affluence of baby boomers and their parents in the post war world is the subject of “She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina”. Arthur’s idyllic, on the surface at least, life is very cleverly laid out in ”Shangri-La”. One moment mentioning the loss of the outside toilet and in another describing Arthur as “The little man who gets the train has got a mortgage hanging over his head, but he's too scared to complain”. The British image and penchant for the ‘stiff upper lip’ is neatly summarised in “Mr. Churchill Says” while “Nothing To Say” sees the Kinks give the Who a great run for their money. The album closes with the titular “Arthur”, the lyrics of which bring all the threads of this concept together. For me this album and “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” which preceded it prove what an exceptional and quintessentially English band The Kinks were. Without them UK music scene would have been far less interesting. Blur, Oasis, Paul Weller, Ian Hunter, the Clash, even David Bowie and many others would have lost one of their major influences.
The extra tracks on this version of the album are intriguing and interesting. My favourite of these are the 1969 non-album single “Plastic Man” and its B Side “King Kong”. How the hell did that 7-inch masterpiece stall at a lowly number 31 in the UK chart. The biggest draw in the collection is without doubt ‘The Great Lost Dave Davies Solo Album’. The original title was slated as ‘A Hole In The Sock Of Dave Davies’ and it was an attempt to cash in on the success of Dave’s solo single “Death Of A Clown” a number three hit in 1967. While most of the tracks have seen the light of day on an assortment of reissues and compilations, I believe that this is the first time they have been compiled together as originally intended. There are some great songs here and many, for me, have a feel of later solo Ronnie Lane and even a hint of Bob Dylan. Particularly on “Hold My Hand”. It is a tragedy that this album never saw an official release. Songs like “This Man Weeps Tonight”, “Lincoln County”, “There Is No Life Without Love” and “Groovy Movies” would stand alongside some of the greatest songs in The Kinks great canon of work.
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Review - Bill Adamson