Album Reviews: Other People's Lives by Ray DaviesDuring the surge of bands like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys in the past few years, The Kinks have solidified a place in the same rarified air as The Velvet Underground: the band that helped launch a thousand other bands. Like the Velvets, it's not so much that their particular sound is being aped -- though there are surely instances of that -- as that a new generation is treading on their blazed trail of aesthetic and attitude.
Kinks leader Ray Davies is not going silently into the night of senior citizenship, but he also isn't interested in trying to out-Kinks the kids. Instead of firmly planting his flag somewhere else, he tries a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The smorgasbord approach leads to some frustrations and misfires on his first official solo album, Other People's Lives, most egregiously the scattershot "Stand Up Comic" and the island-funk of "The Tourist." In the latter case, the "live band at Disneyland" style is obviously tied to the subject matter, which makes it kind of amusing, but still not ripe for repeat plays. In both cases, the social commentary is blunt and obvious; the fact that Davies anticipates this criticism, as he does on "Stand Up Comic," does not make it less valid.
He seems to be more serious about individuals, and, appropriately for an album of its name, there are some affecting character studies on Other People's Lives, starting with its best song, "Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After)," a perfect hymn for all of our discarded New Year's resolutions. Organ plays a big part there, and also helps drive the rousing "Run Away From Time." "All She Wrote" is another sturdy rocker, but is a little too clean -- at once enjoyable and forgettable. More distinct is the cheeky, stately "Is There Life After Breakfast," which is like Monty Python meets The Beatles.
And (to reference another satirist), as with Christopher Guest's films, Davies seems here to be alternately driven by affection and disgust for mankind. When he opens up into a cry of "All we need is a little bit of faith" at the close of the domestic drama "Creatures of Little Faith," it's clear that he's pulling for us. But it's often difficult to tell where the lines are drawn, which gives the album an element of intrigue that it sorely needs. Otherwise, despite its eminent tunefulness, it never wholly separates itself from the pack. -- Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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