The Kinks: Lola Versus Powerman... (1970)

From the mid-60s through the early 70s, the Kinks had a run of great albums that rivaled anything from peers like the Beatles, Stones and Who.  From 1967's Something Else through 1971's Muswell Hillbillies, Ray Davies established himself as perhaps rock & roll's finest songwriter, lyrical brilliance that was literate and personal and buoyed by simply fantastic music.  While my favorite is 1968's Village Green Preservation Society, it's tough to pick a #2; I'm pretty torn between 1969's concept album Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire), and 1970's follow-up album with a similarly unwieldy title (full title: Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One) (alas, there was no Part Two).  While I find Arthur a bit more consistent, Lola has some of the band's highest highs.

Like Arthur, it's a loose concept album, sort of tracing the rise of a musician.  But that's secondary to the songs, most of which stand up well on their own without dwelling on the overall theme.  A few songs return the band to a harder rock sound after the relatively mellow Village Green and Arthur, though the ballads here truly shine.

Obviously "Lola" is well known to all, Davies' brilliant ode to everyone's favorite transgender musical heroine enduring as one of rock's true classics (weighed down only by decades of radio overplay); the similar-sounding "Apeman" likewise has an insanely catchy chorus and a good-humored bent.  My personal favorite is "This Time Tomorrow," a fantastic song that transcends the usual rock star gripes about life on the road, and in my view stands up as one of the band's best and least appreciated numbers; nearly as great is the moving ballad "Strangers," one of Dave Davies' finest moments as a singer and songwriter (alas, his hard rocking "Rats" is a weak point on the record).

A few of the tracks herald some of the more theatrical productions that Ray would put forward throughout the first half of the 70s, for better and worse; "Denmark Street," the moving "Get Back In Line," "Moneyground", and the crunchy-guitar "Top of the Pops" are all playfully entertaining, if less monumental as stand-alone tunes.  Meanwhile, "A Long Way From Home" is one of Ray's prettiest ballads.

While Muswell is pretty great (if draggy in spots), and Davies would manage a number of fantastic songs in the years that followed, Lola is just about the last Kinks album that would stand up as nearly-perfect from start to finish. 

Here's "Lola":
...and "Apeman":
 Here's Norah Jones covering "Strangers" 'cuz, damn...
And here's "This Time Tomorrow" paired with some Wes Anderson footage:

 

Comments

  1. I don't agree ----STATE OF CONFUSION is right there with the albums u mention -

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    1. While I'm particularly partial to the Kinks' late 60s/early 70s run (as well as some of the music on their increasingly theatrical mid 70s run), I found plenty to like in their return to more straightforward rock music in the late 70s and early 80s. Low Budget has some great songs (particularly the first half of the album), and Give The People What They Want is surprisingly solid, with some of Davies' best songwriting. I didn't like State of Confusion as much as those two when it came out (aside from Come Dancing, indisputably one of Davies' greatest late-period songs), but admit I haven't checked it out in years. I'll give it a spin.

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    2. State of Confusion and Word of Mouth are two of my favorite Kinks albums.

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    3. That's the beauty of a long-running act like the Kinks (and a diverse writer like Ray Davies) -- pretty much anyone can find some part of their back-catalog to love. Me, I greatly prefer the Village Green/Arthur/Lola run; but I enjoy plenty of songs on later period releases (i.e. Dave's "Living on a Thin Line" on Word is one of his best contributions to the band).

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