WORKING MAN'S CAFE - Ray Davies (V2/Shock)
It can’t be easy being Ray Davies.
Davies’ work with The Kinks is widely regarded as producing some of the most influential English r’n’b/garage tracks of the 1960s (many of which relied on subtle variations of the same riff). Later on in the band’s career, Davies created a style of music that was definitively English, replete with village greens, amusing class-based rhetoric and a sense of English patronage as vivid as it was anachronistic to anyone not born and bred in the auld country.
Forty years later, and Ray Davies is still around, still celebrated and still being judged against the music he created all those years ago. I missed Davies on his recent Australian tour – the ticket prices were too steep, and interest rates had yet to begin their rapid fall in response to the gratuitous lending activities of the financial sector – though by all reports Davies defended his reputation with a set littered with classic songs.
"Working Man’s Café"’ is Davies' latest solo album. Judge it against "You Really Got Me", "All Day And All Of The Night" or the entire "Village Green Preservation Society", and you'll walk away frustrated and disappointed. Assess it as the latest effort from a talented songwriter who refuses to put down his pen and guitar and shuffle off into retirement, and you should be pleasantly satisfied.
Davies has plenty of material to work with. There’s myopic American vision in the contemporary skiffle of "Vietnam Cowboys", suburban shopping centre desolation and marginalisation in "Working Man’s Café", opiate addiction in "Morphine Song", the soul-destroying dramas of the modern, technology advanced world in the catchy ‘No One Listens’ or the lament for a spiritually vibrant new world in "Hymn for a New Age".
Davies is at his best when he captures that unique English aesthetic – grey skies, witty rhetoric and black cabs. "You're Asking Me" is a case in point – no-one on earth could write a song like this except Ray Davies (or maybe Pete Townshend when the personal demons are at bay), and it’s as fresh as it would have been had it been written in 1970.
Yet there are plenty of lulls when Davies sounds like he’s playing by numbers. "In A Moment" is ponderous and more West Coast than East End and "Peace in Our Time" is a love song that just makes you feel a little bit sick in the stomach, similar to the sensation you might feel if you’d been forced to sit through a festival of soppy Bette Midler films and "One More Time" reminded me of poetry I wrote when I was 16 – and that’s not a good thing, ever.
Ray Davies can’t do anything to stop being Ray Davies, the inspiration behind The Kinks – and that’s the best and worst thing about this album. All power to Ray and his song-writing abilities – provided he keeps an eye on quality over quantity. - Patrick Emery
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