In the grand scheme of things, it may be difficult to feel too sorry for Ray Davies. This is a man who’s accomplished more in his sixty-plus years than I could dream of. Still, he’s never been given enough recognition for his contribution to the British Invasion, with the Kinks a relative footnote to the story of the Beatles and Stones. Moreover, his music career has stalled over the past twenty years in a series of false starts and aborted projects. And any inner peace that might have built up within that time had to have been tested by a gunshot wound in 2004 and the catastrophic flood of New Orleans, where he’s lived over the past several years during the creation of Other People’s Lives, which is, rather astoundingly, his first solo record.
So Davies is perfectly equipped to regale us with tales of tragedy, loss and renewal, and Other People’s Lives does just that. A clear-eyed meditation on middle age in turns caustic and plaintive, the album is ultimately about rebounding with courage and resolve from the cumulative failures of life’s first two acts. It’s perhaps ironic that all of these songs were written before his brushes with death and destruction, leaving Davies in the perfect position to use his own songs as solace and motivation.
The tone is immediately set, establishing that those wanting to wallow in pity best pick out another soundtrack. Opener “Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After)” has Davies coming out of some unspecified nadir, but he convinces himself, “Now you paid your debt/ Get up, you wreck/ And crawl through the door/ Love will return.” “After the Fall” mines similar territory and has a similar upbeat resolution. “Next Door Neighbor” chronicles the observed transgressions of those who’ve lived on Davies’s street with a vintage Village Green jauntiness, and “All She Wrote” and “Creatures of Little Faith” deal with respective low points of a pair of relationships gone sour, addressed with candor and a sympathetic resignation.
Davies also relishes the opportunity to play the old crank, expressing his disdain for oblivious tourists, tabloid journalism and low culture. He tackles these rants in the only manner that could possibly make them bearable: with witty mockery. “William Shakespeare is the snooze of the week/ And anyone who says different is a fucking antique/ The comic says ‘bollocks’ and everybody laughs,” Davies opines in “Stand Up Comic,” a gassy number with a whiplash vocal delivery and crashing cymbals.
The arrangements and production are about as modern as you could reasonably expect; there’s no dated time-warp embarrassment that plagues much of the old-guard’s newer work. The most apt comparison would be Dylan’s more recent comeback albums; if not quite the masterpiece of Love and Theft, it beats the hell out of anything McCartney, Jagger or Simon have put out in the last fifteen years.
From a man once quoted as saying, “If I had my life to do over, I would change every single thing I have done,” Other People’s Lives is a work of accountability. It may not necessarily change the course of Ray Davies’s already established legacy, but he can surely be proud of it.
“The Tourist” stream