Ray Davies is one of the best pure songwriters in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, but he’s also one of the most dryly ironic. It’s a pre-’90s version of irony — subtle yet deniable — and he was putting it in practice even as early as his garage-rock days. His dry humor has defined the Kinks’ best work, be it Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, or pretty much any of the classic tracks found on Kinks Kronicles, but Davies has been prone to a larger-scale cheekiness, conflated by his unflinching overall sincerity. The Kinks Choral Collection is the product of the bizarre larger-scale logic that has resulted in some of the biggest failures of Davies’ career.
Because of Davies’ classical songwriting bent, it would seem to make sense for him to produce a choral arrangement to his music. That’s not what’s puzzling here. What’s bizarre here is the song selection. Of everything in the Kinks’ seemingly infinite catalog, “You Really Got Me” may be the last song you’d expect a choir to sing. There are six Village Green songs here, and although each works in theory, just about all of them suffer from awful arrangements. “Days,” “Victoria,” “Waterloo Sunset,” and “Shangri-La” are all appropriate choices, but the need to include “All Day and All of the Night” on top of “You Really Got Me” and the otherwise excellent “Working Man’s Café,” from Davies’ most recent solo album, are completely out of place. In many cases, the kids of the Crouch End Festival Chorus seem just as confused as Davies’ arrangements (he collaborated here with David Temple and Steve Markwick).
This isn’t anything of a colossal failure like the Kinks’ Preservation rock opera; the songs are too good, and the ambitions are too noble. Nonetheless, like Bob Dylan’s recent Christmas album, The Kinks Choral Collection results in little more than confusion.