2012 was a year filled with new albums by established artists, many of whom were in self-avowed retirement prior to those records. 2013 kicked off with a brand new release from David Bowie, also an artist who said he was going to spend his golden years (had to do it) out of the spotlight. The one reunion I would look forward to the most, however, seems to be the most unlikely. Only the reunion of the battling Gallagher Bros. in Oasis would be as difficult to arrange as getting brothers Ray and Dave Davies together for a new album as The Kinks.
There are some easy-to-see reasons why. Ray has always been the captain of the ship which has always been a sore spot for Dave, who would get maybe one or two contributions added to each release. With the advent of the CD, Dave’s tracks often got dumped into the “Bonus Track” nether-regions; the place where existence and non-existence in music intermingle. Another stop is that Dave has, in recent times, had health issues including a stroke. But the largest issue is that the brothers never really got on with each other from the very beginning, and setting aside physical issues and managerial decisions, the Davies have seemed to be a more stable family unit when the level was that of exchanging Christmas cards.
It wasn’t always the case. From the mid-1960’s right into the early-1990’s The Kinks were an inexhaustible generator of material, releasing an album either every year or every other year. They had success, if not top ten hits, in each decade up to the 1980s: “You Really Got Me” and “Tired Of Waiting For You,” then “Lola” and “Apeman,” and again with “Destroyer” (from Give The People What They Want) and one of their biggest charters, “Come Dancing” from State Of Confusion. Released in 1983, State Of Confusion picked right up where Give The People… left off, with a garage/punk/pop sound that worked perfectly with the group. It was a natural extension of their British Invasion blast. The records from this time were vastly different from the ambitious efforts from the ’70s, mostly concept records, that moved from sublime (Muswell Hillbillies), to perhaps less-so (Soap Opera), to more indulgent than entertaining (Preservation Acts 1&2). In other words, piss ‘n vinegar was the band’s best forte and State Of Confusion was swimming in it.
And yet the big single from the album is a sweet remembrance of old times when, if the story is true, the Davies sister went off to The Palais on Saturday nights to dance and have fun. The music is swingin’, with a huge blast of horns closing the song, and a patented Dave Davies guitar non-solo in the interval. I call it a non-solo because it is just the striking of three chords four times, but the rawness and incivility of those three chords plays perfectly into the narrative – “The day they knocked down The Palais my sister stood and cried; the day they knocked down The Palais, part of our childhood died.” It is loaded with the sentimentality Ray was always known for (think “Waterloo Sunset” or “Celluloid Heroes” for direction) yet seemed to be at odds with (chiefly found in “Father Christmas”).
But the album doesn’t stand alone on that one song, although there are plenty of weak moments on State Of Confusion, in my opinion. The title cut is a royal garage-stomper with a tweedly Farfisa organ underpinning the lyrical dissatisfaction of modernity. In previous years Ray sang “I’m a 20th Century Man but I don’t wanna live here (die here)” and that mentality remains on this cut. “Should feel happy, should feel glad, I’m alive and that can’t be bad — but back on planet Earth they shatter the illusion, the world’s going ’round in a state of confusion.” One of the most beautiful songs about divorce and it’s lingering emotional pallor inhabits “Property,” in which a relationship is reduced to the divvying up of the accrued goods. A spiritual link exists between “Come Dancing” and “Don’t Forget To Dance” which seems to continue the tale of Ray’s sister and his exhortation to, “Come on, sister, have yourself a ball.” On this one, he spots her “sad and lonely heart” and reminds her to “don’t forget to dance, no, no, no…don’t forget to smile,” or put another way, don’t forget to live.
That last song is the main reason why I wish the Davies could arrive at some sort of detente. Listen to the vocal harmonies Ray and Dave make, so full of love and sadness they could break your stone-cold heart without the actual words. They’ve employed this several times, both before and after this album, in both joy and grief, and this never fails to move me. I’m thinking of “Better Things” from Give The People What They Want or “Looney Balloon” from U.K. Jive. How could two voices so perfectly meshed with each other instigate such animosity?
As I said before, this is hardly a perfect record. State Of Confusion has several tracks that sound so similar to each other, and uninspired to boot, that you wouldn’t be faulted for skipping through it. But for those handful of songs that reach right down into my gut and resuscitate a stagnant heartbeat, I would repurchase State Of Confusion without hesitation. I would do the same with any brand-new material that surfaced under the aegis of the Brothers Davies…hint-hint.