Another 50th anniversary classic from The Kinks, surely the most underrated band of rock's golden era. This comes from the band's best period for albums, when leader Ray Davies was writing so eloquently about the changing way of life in England, and looking back with equal parts sympathy and sarcasm at the waning glory of the Empire. As with their previous album, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, the album tells the story of a fictional character and his family, coming to grips with the effects on a working class family. There were hints of biography in the story of Arthur, which happened to be the name of Ray and Dave's brother-in-law, who really did move to Australia in the mid-60's, but mostly it's a fine story. All through the album's creation, it was supposed to form the basis for a British TV play, but the producers screwed it up and it got cancelled. No matter, the album was a gem, although not a commercial success.
Davies' writing is concise, and the stories easy to follow and enjoy. That's a devilishly hard thing to pull off in a concept album, and while he would struggle with clarity in later '70's releases such as Preservation Acts 1, 2 and 3, here tje songs resonate. "Some Mother's Son" is as poignant as any war tale, a soldier killed viewed as just another picture for a frame back home. "Mr. Churchill Says" sums up the WW II attitude of what was expected of each good citizen,while "Shangri-La" looks at what all the working class families got post-war, and how it didn't really match up to all that sacrifice. When the mood lightens, as on the Sunday afternoon leisure pursuit "Drivin'," the songs are fun, great singalongs. "Victoria" is about England's ultimate days of glory, coming out of the Victorian era, and has a tremendous, celebratory feel, one of the greatest Kinks songs.
Like Village Green last year, this set comes in a grand, super deluxe box, or this more price-friendly two-disc version. Even stripped down, this is jammed with extras and associated era tracks. The previously-unreleased tracks have been saved for the big box, but this version does have lots of rare stuff, so unless you've bought a bunch of reissues and compilations in the past, you probably won't have most of it. There are singles from this time that don't appear on the album, notably the quirky chart failure "Plastic Man"/"King Kong" and the Dave Davies solo numbers "Lincoln County" and "Hold My Hand." Most fun here is the collection of all the Dave D. tracks, 12 in total, which were being recorded for a proposed Dave solo album. It was eventually scrapped, so having them all in one place gives us a very good look at what might have been. Dave's not quite the writer his brother is, but there's a charm and fun there as well. The set comes in a swell hard-cover CD format, with a strong essay and memorabilia photos.