It gets a lot of attention because it has one of the best songs ever written by anybody (“Waterloo Sunset”), but when we’re dealing with the album format wherein there exists twelve other tracks to slog through (one of the reasons why I hate the album format), I can’t in good conscience say that Something Else by the Kinks is a good album. In fact, if all that someone has heard from the Kinks is this album, they’d understandably fall victim to the incredibly stupid belief that the Kinks were a singles band. If you’re new to the Kinks’ discography and are wondering where to start, I’d go with The Village Green Preservation Society. Then Arthur. Then Face to Face. Then this one.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing worth keeping in the album’s other tracks. In fact, “David Watts” is one of the best songs the Kinks have ever penned. Ray Davies goes all out here, a track where the narrator laments how he wishes he were the fictional David Watts (“I wish I could have all he has got / I wish I could be like David Watts”) – I imagine everyone can relate since unless you can’t feel jealousy…in which case you’re a psychopath, and you might want to get that checked out before you develop violent tendencies. Anyway, the lyrics are extremely witty; when Davies drops a line like “He is so gay and fancy free,” we gloss over it because it’s the 60’s and the word “gay” still means “happy” (although at this point, the word as a reference to homosexuality was not uncommon) and because there’s so much going on musically. There’s the fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” hook that harmonizes perfectly with Nicky Hopkins’ keys (you might recognize the name from his contributions to every Rolling Stone album that matters); the jangly guitar lines; the bouncing bass (easily heard once everything else dies down – see the 1:50 mark); the fact that every line out of Davies’ mouth turns into a hook. But then, Davies tells us how “And all the girls in the neighborhood / Try to go out with David Watts / The try their best but can’t succeed / For he is of pure and noble breed,” and the line “He is so gay” finally registers a minute after it was sung and we’re left laughing with all the delicious dramatic irony.
Ray Davies’ penchant for creating characters and his ability to place them in sympathetic situation continues with “Two Sisters” and “Situation Vacant” – both more highlights on the album. Like “David Watts,” the former is about jealousy – one sister, who is stuck being a housewife for a family, is jealous of the other, who enjoys the single life. It’s an obvious analogy to Ray Davies and Dave Davies, ”It’s really about Dave and me, in a way – I was the dowdy one. I was Priscilla, who ‘looked into the washing machine and the drudgery of being wed’ and Dave was cast a Sybilla, who ‘looked into the mirror and mixed with all her smart young friends, because she was free and single.” But, as opposed to Face to Face’s “Dandy” (about the same thing), there’s a resolution at the end of “Two Sister” that shows the maturation of Ray Davies as a lyrics-writer, “Priscilla saw her little children / And then decided she was better off / Than the wayward less her sister had been / No longer jealous of her sister.” Elsewhere, “Situation Vacant” is again, witty – the tale of a man who’s pushed by his mother-in-law to get a better job, so he leaves his current position to look for another one, but can’t find it. As a result, he and his wife struggle to make ends meet and she leaves him and he’s forced to move back in with his mother – which turns out to be her diabolical plan after all, “Suzy’s separated, living with her ma / Now little mama’s satisfied.” Unfortunately, while the lyrics are good, the melody is barely there. In fact, I wouldn’t have noticed this one at all if it weren’t for Nicky Hopkins’ bouncy riff.
After getting his first co-writer credit on Face to Face, Dave Davies finally grows a set to help his brother out, with two and a half numbers here. “Love Me Till the Sun Shines” is unfortunately derivative on the first Kinks album where they sounded less like their contemporaries and more like themselves – but it’s a much needed burst of energy in the album’s middle stretch that’s practically wholly concerned with mid-tempo. “Funny Face” is its parts – a staccato riff, a drum fill, and a hook where everything else completely stops – but there’s no thought to connecting those parts in any sort of logical way. But “Death of a Clown” is great stuff. I’m sure Ray Davies penned the lyrics (it’s in his style), but Dave Davies’ voice is extremely appropriate; worldweary in its hoarseness. It’s also got a touch of psychedelia sprinkled in – there’s a brief and low rumble generating from something but I’ve no idea what, while Rasa Davies (Ray’s wife) adds a haunting melody that nicely contrasts with Dave Davies’ voice.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing else to look forward to on the album that’s not named “Waterloo Sunset.” “No Return” is a hushed acoustic number that should’ve been a nice switch up from the proceedings, but Ray Davies sounds absolutely frightened to move his voice at all, and there’s no melody as a result (seriously, switch this thing with “Act Nice and Gentle” if you have it). “Harry Rag,” “Tin Soldier Man” and “Afternoon Tea” are so British, it hurts. I’m guessing they were inspired by the high from England winning 1966’s FIFA World Cup – you can actually hear Dave Davies shouting “ENGLAND!” at the end of “Harry Rag.” That being said, of those three, “Harry Rag” is the best, thanks to a bit of much needed movement and a hook that’s singalong-able in its drunken stupor. They’ll spend the better part of the early 70s rewriting that one. “Lazy Old Sun,” on the other hand, is an attempt by the Kinks for a completely psychedelic track. It fails miserably, because the Kinks were never about psychedelics – they were always about nostalgia; real emotion generated without the help of substances. Listening to it, it sounds like they wrote the vocal hook – a great hook; a capella too – and then sandwiched it with a lot of processing and overbearing singing. Hell, they don’t even bother with a transition!
To close, “Waterloo Sunset” is perfect. I have no idea how to describe what happens without thinking that I’m forgetting something about it or that I’m not actually managing to convey just how fucking gorgeous the thing is – like describing a nebula to a blind person. So I’ll just leave you guys with a personal anecdote that I’ve written elsewhere – you’re free to skip right to score if you wish: I was reeling from heartbreak around the summer of what will remain an undefined year. Dealing with heartbreak in the summer is a lot harder than dealing with it during the university year, because at least you have schoolwork and pretty ladies around campus to keep your mind and eyes busy, respectively. Typical story about boy meets girl and everything changes, except not really. Despite the hand-holding and lip-locking, the girl wasn’t too interested in the boy, so much as she enjoyed the prospect of having someone interested in her. And one ugly morning in September, around 7 am, I found myself slightly hungover but too awake to fall back to sleep (I’m one of those cursed to be awake after waking types) in her apartment and just wanted to get out of there. I was also too gentlemanly to wake her to get me to be let out and didn’t want to leave because I’d have no way of locking the door behind me (I’m considerate for other peoples’ possessions).
After lying motionless on the bed for what felt like forever, I was overcome with this feeling that I just had to listen to “Waterloo Sunset,” probably because I wanted desperately to get out of the shitty situation I found myself in, so I took my Ipod and quietly crept out of the room and sat at the kitchen. Throwing this song on, I enjoyed a morning cigarette (not something I enjoy regularly, especially after a night full of them; too much nicotine is too much), and there was something wonderful about hearing Ray Davies’ finest melody, “Waterloo Sunset’s fine…” delivered in such a way that it’s a ray of sunshine on the grayest of days, especially the way it’s layered in the song’s outro. One of the best songs to smoke to, on days that you think to yourself, “I should really quit,” but don’t really want to because you need some sort of synapse-affecting substance to make the days go by faster. But even if I didn’t smoke, “Waterloo Sunset” is the aural equivalent of holding hands with Jane Gallagher. For three minutes, all you knew was, you were happy. You really were.
I didn’t finish the song or cigarette; the girl called out for me from her room, and not the “Mmmm…Marshall, darling, come back to bed” call, but the one where she asked me where I was. I told her I was in the kitchen, but didn’t tell her what I was doing. Because what sort of lunatic leaves a woman’s bedside for the sole purpose of listening to “Waterloo Sunset?”
The sort that breathes and lives music, I guess.