Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Kinks 22: Sleepwalker

With the promise of financial reward dangled in front of him, Ray Davies took the mandate of a new contract with Arista Records to heart and wrote an entire Kinks album devoid of any overwrought concept. That’s not to say Sleepwalker didn’t have any theme at all—he was still writing about the travails of being a working musician and skewering hypocrites and sycophants, but at least folks could enjoy the songs without having to follow a plot. (More to the point, there was no horn section or backing choir, just lots of guitar and plenty of keyboards.)
In case anyone hadn’t heard yet, it’s not easy living “Life On The Road”, but this variation is one of Ray’s catchier ones. “Mr. Big Man” builds to something particularly nasty, with brother Dave given free rein to solo throughout. With a drum intro straight from a Steve Miller record, the title track is one of the most deceptively catchy songs ever about creepy obsession. By contrast, “Brother” begins almost dreamily, as befits a heartfelt ballad, but this one is sung to humanity in general, and certainly not Dave.
Another anthem of sorts kicks off side two in “Juke Box Music”, which both celebrates and minimizes the art, complete with some wonderful Townshend-like strumming throughout. After singing lots of high parts, Dave gets the lead vocal on “Sleepless Night”, which becomes more desperate once you realize the narrator is being kept awake by the nocturnal exploits of his ex next door. “Stormy Sky” begins kinda wimpy, but a tempo change on the coda makes it a lot better, while “Full Moon” touches on the werewolf metaphor without sinking into horror cliché. Somehow “Life Goes On” manages to eulogize a suicide while poking fun at those who fail at it, until it emerges as a song of hope.
Just as the Who and the Stones met the challenge of being relevant in the punk era, Sleepwalker shows the Kinks had already figured out how to give the people what they want, well before that became a statement of purpose. It’s still firmly lodged in the ‘70s, but some things can’t be helped. (The extras on the eventual expanded CD show they weren’t exactly grasping at straws for material given what came out later as B-sides—the decent but ordinary “Artificial Light”, and the more pointed “Prince Of The Punks”, with its clever Beach Boys vocal tag. Despite their promise, two outtakes were left in the can: “The Poseur”, aged by its Latin disco approach, and “On The Outside” in both its original mix and one done in the ‘90s when it snuck out on an EP.)

The Kinks Sleepwalker (1977)—3
1998 Konk CD reissue: same as 1977, plus 5 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Strong “back to basic’s” offering that well across all platforms. The Kinks are back with a vengeance on a label that knows how to plug and play?