Thursday, August 1, 2013

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), The Kinks, 1969

The vast majority of The Kinks' discography remains one of those items in my life, like that city I must go to or that dish I must taste, that I know will have great rewards the day I finally take the plunge. To me, that's one of the great joys in this life, knowing certain untapped resources are still out there, waiting for when I desperately need something to lift me out out of the empty, humming place where I sometimes find myself.

Admittedly I do not have enough exposure yet to know where I would place Arthur within The Kinks' body of work. Instead I will just lay out a few reactions to it. People often talk about The Kinks and their concept albums. But seldom has the "concept" of a concept album been as clear to me as it is here. Every song hangs on the same themes - the flawed Brtish dream, working class powerlessness, general class inequities. With a quick description, I would say it combines the expansive soundscapes of the Beatles with the lyrical incisiveness of Dylan. Though not as catchy as the Lennon/McCartney factory, I haven't ever come across a more adept mixture of pointed words and dense, Bacharach-esque orchestration.

It feels like Davies is pushing for a masterpiece, and I know many people who feel like he gets there completely with Arthur. I cannot say I am always in it.  But when I am, like in the absolute jammer, Brainwashed, or in that heroic break during Mr. Churchill Says, I get what some of my peers must be experiencing all the way through.

Many people complain about the long jam at the end of Australia, but to me it feels like the necessary pause after the verbal barrage Davies has unleashed over the first twenty or so minutes. And if I were listening on vinyl, it seems like a glorious way to end side one, which is exactly where it is positioned. For the most part musicians have lost this effect, the decision of how to end Side A and begin Side B. It is a lost artform, a lost consideration, and it got me thinking, is there anything else along these lines that artists in other mediums have forever had to abandon.


  1. No doubt a very great album! "Victoria" is a brilliant track, but "Shangri-La" is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written by anybody. I completely understand your position with it Jeffrey. Great essay!

  2. Thanks so much, Sam. Great to have your comments here.