Feature: The Kinks ‘Muswell Hillbillies’
Tickling My Fancy Music Selection: The Van Allen Belt
Playlists: Monolith Cocktail’s ‘choice’ tracks of 2013 Pt.1
The Kinks ‘Muswell Hillbillies – Deluxe Edition’ (Universal) – 7th October 2013.
As the never-ending schedule of repackages, remasters and ‘deluxe editions’ continues – for the most part cashing-in on our goodwill, which is fast eroding – it is the turn of The Kinks this month, and a reappraisal for their 1971 Muswell Hillbillies LP; a precursor no doubt for future releases and the upcoming Ray Davis penned, Americana: The Kinks, The Road And The Perfect Riff (published by Virgin Books).
Moving from Pye Records to RCA, this wry tribute to the bands hometown and ‘salt-of-the-earth’ characters that shared it, failed to even enter the UK charts. Following in the wake of the highly successful, Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part 1, their ninth album fell to the wayside; repeating as it does that very same sentiment of rallying against forced progression in an imagined romanticised era; permeated on every release since the ‘revivalist roots’ imbued classic, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Often billed as a departure of sorts for the band, the themes, songwriting, musicianship and even ideological arguments can still be viewed as a continuation of that idyllic ‘village green’ tapestry. This so-called ‘change’ can be attributed in part to the Davis brothers’ adoption of the old American west, and the Deep South funeral ragtime jazz of New Orleans, which they married successfully and effortlessly with their Vaudeville and ‘dirty old river’ sound.
Using the postcode that gave them life and enough material to carve one of music’s most defining careers from, Muswell Hill and its inhabitants rile and rally against the onslaught of urbanization and the erosion of their community. The anxieties, stresses and alienation of N10 are transduced through the clever lyricism and innate understanding of Ray Davis. Marking the last of the Victorian neighborhoods, Muswell Hillbillies is a sad though poetically pride paean to ‘ordinariness’: a virtue that is trumpeted, or rather tuba’d’ throughout, as Ray repeatedly croons in unison about the foibles and drawbacks of ‘over-complication’.
Certainly of its time, the country slide guitar nuanced and Moody Blues and King Crimson redolent opener, ‘20th Century Man’, evokes a loose recall to the mid-sixties period of ‘Sunny Afternoon’; albeit with a hint of worn resignation and curled sneer. The following, ‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’, is the lumbering sound of a rag-and-bone-men doffing his cap at a passing ‘Orleans funeral march, before ordering a glass of ‘fire water’ at the honky tonk saloon: The ‘acute schizophrenia and paranoia’ of the title alluding to a general unease and not so mental condition; “I’m too terrified to walk out of my own front door, They’re demonstrating outside I think they’re gonna start the third world war/ I’ve been to my local head shrinker, To help classify my disease/ He said it’s one of the cases of acute schizophrenia he sees. “ This more than justified angst is played out across the whole album; especially on the Creedence ‘down-home’, ‘Here Come The People In Grey’: “Here come the people in grey they’re gonna take me away to Lord knows where/ But I’m so unprepared I got no time to pack and I got nothing to wear/ Here come the people in grey, To take me away.” The white coats swapped for the drab, monotonous but no less terrifying apparatus of the state, grey, a metaphor for the lack of an individuals respect and power in the face of the council’s compulsory purchasers.
Whether lazily drifting off to a soundtrack of Parisian accordion and straw boater jazz (‘Holiday’) or swaying to the glam boogie of T Rex (‘Skin And Bone’) The Kinks peruse at their leisure. The riled-up spit and anti-authoritarian rhetoric is still dished-out with sympathetic protestation; as all parties and ideologies are held to account; “Unionists tell you when to strike, Generals tell you when to fight / Preachers tell you wrong from right, They’ll feed you when you’re born, And use you all your life.”
The very real world outside the recording studio is populated by a vulnerable collection of daydreamers, escaping from the mundane (the female protagonist of ‘Oklahoma U.S.A.’ imagines herself as, “Rita Hayworth or Doris Day”, swept off her heels by Errol Flynn and transported to the land of cinematic fantasies), and the last bastions of earnestness, striving to defend their homes and principles (Ray steadfast on the album’s title track: “They’ll try and make me study elocution, Because they say my accent isn’t right/ They can clear the slums as part of their solution, But they’re never gonna kill my cockney pride.”).
Forgotten amongst the Kinks’ cannon of equally critically acclaimed albums, the Muswell Hillbillies often lies dormant and unloved, so perhaps could do with some attention. The original twelve-track oeuvre is accompanied by a second CD of unreleased demos, John Peel sessions and alternative takes. Much of which you’d expect, with various looser and rowdier deliberating versions of the main songs. However there is the previously lost-in-transient, or just cast aside, ideas like ‘Lavender Lane’ (a strange up-tempo riff on ‘Waterloo Sunset’) and The Band meet Canned Heat, rocky old shack rattling highlight, ‘Mountain Women’, which prove to be encouraging. Yet as with many of these back catalog reissues, the extras just don’t cut it; they’re certainly not worth the cover price alone, so only shell out the dough if you haven’t already got a copy on any other format; lost your original copy and haven’t replaced it yet; or feel a masochistic urge to own yet another version of what you’ve already brought many times previously. Then again if you really want to add to the Davis pension fund, go ahead. Saying that, the potential big payday maybe in sight for Ray as the looming threat of a Kinks reunion, potentially, looks to be gathering momentum. Only this week, Ray revealed that negotiations, though tenuous, were under way with his brother Dave; though it was alluded that Ray would prefer to write new material rather than lounge on the back catalogue.
1. ‘20th Century Man’
2. ‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’
4. ‘Skin And Bone’
6. ‘Complicated Life’
7. ‘Here Come The People In Gray’
8. ‘Have A Cuppa Tea’
9. ‘Holloway Jail’
10. ‘Oklahoma U.S.A.’
11. ‘Uncle Son’
12. ‘Muswell Hillbilly’
1. ‘Lavender Lane’ (unreleased)
2. ‘Mountain Woman’ (unreleased)
3. ‘Have A Cuppa Tea’ (Alternate version)
4. ‘Muswell Hillbilly’ (1976 remix)
5. ‘Uncle Son’ (Alternate version)
6. ‘Kentucky Moon’ (unreleased)
7. ‘Nobody’s Fool’ (demo – unreleased track)
8. ‘20th Century Man’ (alternate instrumental take)
9. ‘20th Century Man’ (1976 remix)
10. ‘Queenie’ (unreleased)
11. ‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’ (BBC Peel Session)
12. ‘Holiday’ (BBC Peel Session)
13. ‘Skin And Bone’ (BBC Peel Session)
Tickling My Fancy:
Baloji & L’Orchestre De La Katuba feat. Kuba ‘Buy Africa’ (Knitting Factory Records) – 15th October 2013
Featured on the post board of Monolith Cocktail a few weeks back, the upcoming project to raise funds and awareness for the AIDS charity, Red Hot + Fela draws together a wide circle of African, European and American artists to pay homage to the electrifying, spiritual and charged protestations of Fela Kuti – perhaps Nigeria’s most revered cultural icon.
Kuti’s songbook is given a contemporary reboot, as you will hear for yourself with this second track taster from that album, ‘Buy Africa’. Reworked by Congolese rap artist Baloji and backed by his slinking, afro-soul band, L’Orchestre De La Katube, the homegrown plea to clean up their own backyard and buy African products as opposed to imports protest, also features American born esteemed Nigerian music maestro, Kuku.
If anyone is worried about Kuti’s legacy being trampled under the foot of ‘so-called’ trendy stars or hip urbanites, worry no more. A copy has been on my desk for the last month and I can assure you that whilst its obviously not on par with the originals, it is nevertheless respectful.
You can hear the tUnE-yArDs, Angelique Kidjo, Ahmir, ?uestlove and Akua Nauro jamboree version of ‘Lady’ HERE.
The Van Allen Belt ‘Songs’ (Nonstop Everything Records) – Available Now.
Fluctuating between psychedelic arias, grandiose cinematic scores, off-kilter jazz and swirling breakbeats, The Van Allen Belt successfully sweep through and cram a myriad of styles and ideas into just one song, where others may use a whole album, without producing, it must be said, a directionless mess.
Originally borne from the filmmaker enthused mind of songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin K. Ferris, in 2007, the group is led vocally by the lyrically dexterous operatic and melting soulful jazz intonations of Tamar Kamin; complemented when on tour and playing live by both electronic musician, percussionist and video artist Scott Taylor and guitar/bassist Tom Altes.
The latest three-track single, Songs, is the first release in three-years from Pittsburgh’s omnivorous collective; a continuation you could say, despite the break, of their last metatextual soundtrack imbued halcyon LP, Superpowerfragilis. Amorphous and often left untethered from a definitive melody or chorus, their free rolling approach is extremely difficult – in a positive way -to pin down.
Contextualised loops and fragrance surreal pop curveballs bring in the eponymous opening suite as Tamar swoons and hops between the enchanted awkwardness of Os Mutants and The Dirty Projectors. Progressive and quite ethereal in atmosphere, ‘Songs’ plays around with what we may recall as familiar sounds, collected from the last fifty or more years, to unfurl a quite challenging sensibility. So the west coast psychedelic scene of the late 60s, the production of Spector, the Fifth Dimension, trip hop, Moloko, Bjork, Parenthetical Girls and Debbie Harry can all make redolent appearances at some point during the performance.
Keeping those polygenesis references to a minimum, ‘Humanist Hymn’ is a more sedately romantic affair. Skipping sampled beats, a gilded piano and flighty but lamentably 70s balladeer vocals once again dreamily reimagine contemporary values and love pained expression “through the monitor of 1960’s production.”
I’m not entirely sure where the African vibraphone jaunt turn industrial electro, watery vocal effects, ‘Taste’, sits in the whole scheme of things, but it’s once again another example of the Van Allen’s illimitable capability to absorb all manner of strange and exotic influences into their ambitious, movie styled, panoramas.
Hardly jumping the gun – numerous blogs and mags have already been posting ‘best of the year so far selections since bloody May -, Monolith Cocktail is itching to reveal its own favourite individual tracks of the year. The Monolith usually posts its ‘choice’ LP/EP deliberations in December or the preceding January, which it will continue to do. However, last year we posted our first ever track list all in one ‘fell swop’. In 2013 the Monolith will gradually unveil its ‘celebrated’ polygenesis choices over a series of playlists, beginning with today’s inauguration, Part One.
Feel free to disagree, harbour resentment or congratulate the Monolith on its choices.
Unavailable on Spotify selections –
De Frank ‘Do Your Own Thing’ From Analog Africa’s Afrobeat Airways 2 compilation.
Uppers International ‘Aja Wondo’ From Analog Africa’s Afrobeat Airways 2 compilation.
Poeticat ‘Center Of The Concrete Square’
GDDLF ‘Casi Negro (Closing Beat)
Bethia Beadman ‘Georgia’ Appeared on the Dark mountain Project’s compilation, From The Mourning Of The World.
Mick Harvey ‘I Wish That I Were Stone’ From Four (Acts Of Love)
Wampire ‘Hearse’ From Curiosity