Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Kinks 19: A Soap Opera

After several attempts and a handful of concepts, Ray Davies was still somewhat obsessed, shall we say, with meshing his high ideas with the television platform. A Soap Opera is an adaptation of a musical teleplay that actually aired called Starmaker, which presented something of a Twilight Zone-style tale of An Important Rock Star (played by Ray, naturally) who swaps places with an everyman named Norman under the intent of research for his next smash album. This entails sleeping with the man’s wife and going to work at his mundane job. He soon tires of the charade and tries to return to his old lifestyle, but it turns out he’s actually become Norman! Or has he? Does anyone really know? Does it even matter?
The vocals are delivered consistently mockingly by Ray, with overly parodic rock arrangements and intentionally trite strings. Dialogue punctuates each song, including input from the befuddled wife; the listener is forced to read along with the libretto to catch all the extra minutiae. The opening “Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker)” turns the sentiment of “Celluloid Heroes” inside out, and it’s not bad as a single, but then the plot takes over. Frankly, his view of “Ordinary People” who suffer from the “Rush Hour Blues” because they have to work “Nine To Five” is truly condescending, mostly because we don’t think he’s being ironic. It’s no shock that these people go straight to the bar “When Work Is Over”, where the only respite is to “Have Another Drink”; after all, that activity had been one of Ray’s more common themes for several albums going.
“Underneath The Neon Sign” opens side two, and it’s a track that could possibly stand alone outside the story line, though the arrangement could use a lot more delicacy to deliver the emotion. That’s also the problem with “Holiday Romance”, a faux-cabaret detour shoehorned into the plot to act as an escapist daydream. There’s a nice chorus in “You Make It All Worthwhile”, but the rest of the track is derailed by excess pathos and a radio-drama organ (no, really). “Ducks On The Wall” further illustrates the protagonist’s frustration by lashing out at the avian décor, made even more maddening by actual quacking impressions throughout. “(A) Face In The Crowd”, despite the unnecessary parenthetical article, is another existential crisis that might work on its own. Then “You Can’t Stop The Music” moots all that went before, acknowledging “the rock stars of the past” who have since faded to obscurity, but for the immortality of the music they created.
With the exception of an occasional Dave Davies riff, the Kinks are used as sidemen, and the music is cartoonish. A few of the tracks segue well to keep the story moving, but it’s not easy to care about any of these people. All together there are four tracks on this album—the first tracks on each side and the last two numbers—that would work without being shackled to a concept, and that’s not enough. The eventual reissue added a single mix of “Everybody’s A Star”, plus three live performances from the highly staged tour that followed; the band was tight, as were the actors. Ultimately, A Soap Opera is just as trivial as the television genre it apes.

The Kinks A Soap Opera (1975)—2
1998 Konk CD reissue: same as 1975, plus 4 extra tracks

5 comments:


  1. Genius just to come up with concept to begin with. duh

    ReplyDelete
  2. I finally had to express my utter astonishment at the bad reviews that have come from more than a few critics of this album. Maybe they're just a little bit too young for it.To me it's outstanding to say the least.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This album is the one with the lowest rating in all of The Kinks' work. Musically it may not be a big deal but I listen to it amused by the variety of musical genres that are performed. The author of the article says that he is a musician. I would like to see some of his masterpieces. Please don't disappoint us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am a musician, but hardly a songwriter. I'll spare you my "masterpieces", as your attitude suggests you won't like them.

      Delete
  4. wardo,
    your review has made me curious about the album.
    I'm not really a Kinks fan but I have loved Ray Davies when I least expected to(Misfits)...so, I think the review has served its purpose well. I will seek this out. Thank you.
    KC

    ReplyDelete