Planned as the soundtrack to a television play that never came to pass, Arthur is a tale of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man who feels betrayed by the country he once loved. It sounds impenetrable, but Ray Davies uses universal themes and catchy melodies to make this material resonate with anyone who has a heart. There are no wasted notes, and no throwaway lyrics: everything is very economical and carefully crafted for maximum effect. The lyrics are intelligent without ever being ponderous or pretentious, and even though it's a "concept album" every single track stands on its own merit as well.
"Yes Sir, No Sir", a damning indictment of war and the British class system, is one of the finest songs the head Kink ever penned, featuring some of his most barbed lyrics: "Let them feel that they're important to the cause/ but let them know that they are fighting for their homes / just be sure that they're contributing their own. / Give the scum a gun and make the bugger fight / and be sure to have deserters shot on sight / If he dies, we'll send a medal to his wife."
That song is immediately followed up by the one-two punch of "Some Mother's Son", probably the most touching anti-war song in rock history, which features a gorgeous middle eight section and some of Ray Davies' most accomplished chord changes to date. Elsewhere, muted desperation gives way to 60's-soaked rock freak-outs like "Brainwashed" and "Australia". And that's just the A side!
Flip it over (track 7 on cd) and you'll find the album's centerpiece, "Shangri-la". Over mournful arpeggiations, Ray Davies practically sighs, rather than sings, heartbreaking lyrics that detail Arthur's plight: he is mired in bills that he can barely pay, trapped in a soul-destroying job, frightened that he'll lose everything, and too numbed to contemplate any of it. Then, just before the listener can slip into quiet resignation along with Arthur, the Kinks jolt us awake with a harrowing bridge section complete with Ray screaming "Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la!"
Humor is also one of the most effective weapons in the Kinks' arsenal, and there's plenty to be found on cuts like "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" (another study of class relations) and "Nothing to Say".
Arthur, the album, didn't do very well at the time of its release, and very much like Arthur, struggled to be heard. It is a testament to the breadth and depth of Ray Davies' vision that time has only amplified the power that lies between the grooves of this extraordinary album. It needs to be amplified, because the power in these songs is sometimes very quiet indeed. "Young and Innocent Days" sums it up best, as the Kinks long for "the way I used to look at life, soft white dreams with sugar-coated outside". In reality, sugar coated delights are hidden all over this album, but beneath the sugar is some real food for thought. Stand out tracks include: "Victoria", "Yes Sir, No Sir", "Brainwashed", "Shangri-la", and "Some Mother's Son".
Great songs. Great playing. Great lyrics. Interesting story. Good production. Plenty of bonus-tracks. Read more
Arthur and Village Green are not only the two greatest Kinks albums, they are also two of the... Read more