The Kinks ‘Sleepwalker’ Arista Records 1977
The Kinks were well into their career by 1977 long enough that the English punks were calling them boring old farts!
Ironic because ‘You Really Got Me’ recorded by The Kinks in ‘64 is arguably a template for the Punk sound. As history shows The Kinks survived many musical eras - Psychedelia, Heavy Rock, Prog, Punk and New Wave – and continued to deliver fine albums well into the ‘80s.
The Kinks celebrated their 50th anniversary a couple of years back but sadly never officially reformed for the occasion. Guitarist Dave Davies and younger brother to Ray was recovering from a stroke and Ray was busy with his solo career.
However the legacy of The Kinks lives on with fans and musicologists alike regarding them as one of the most influential bands of all time.
A tribute band made up of ex-Kinks sidemen (Mick Avory, Dave Clark, John Dalton, John Gosling, Ian Gibbons, Jim Rodford) aptly named The Kast Off Kinks, is currently working around England doing charity gigs. And to show there’s no bad blood, they’ve been joined on stage by Ray and Dave on several occasions.
Dave is well again and currently gigging on the east coast of the States. And the perennial Ray is as active as ever writing, recording and performing.
Sleepwalker, released in 1977 was The Kinks’ first album on US based Arista Records. Arista was the brainchild of producer-mogul Clive Davis (check out the film documentary on Clive - very enlightening).
The relationship with Arista for the Kinks reignited their career and finally gave them some commercial success in the States after having already delivered 18 albums and over 20 hit singles in the UK, including Kinks Klassics such as the aforementioned ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All of the Day and all of the Night’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Lola’.
This belated recognition is bittersweet considering the musician’s union had banned them from performing in the States for four years in the 60’s. According to Ray this was due to a punch up at a TV studio where some anti-English comments were made.
Sleepwalker also signaled the end of the Kinks’ conceptual album run, It was a fresh approach from Ray.
Starting with ‘Life on the Road’ - and by that stage The Kinks knew plenty about that - with lyrics seeming to suggest it’s about a young Ray leaving home to wander the streets of London.
After a gentle intro Dave gets the band into gear with some typical Kinks riffing then it shifts from a fast-paced rocker to a lamenting ballad. One of Ray’s great skills as a songwriter is to tell a story and be musically engaging within the confines of a 3-4 minute pop song.
Next is ‘Mr Big Man’ where a church-like organ intro by John Gosling heralds the Dave Davies signature guitar riffing. Dave stretches the notes while Ray could well be singing about some of the record company execs he dealt with, harking back to ‘Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround’ perhaps?
“Now I bet you’re losin' count, of the people that you used,
But Now we’re gonna see the vicious side of you“
The title track ‘Sleepwalker’ continues the formula with a solid guitar riff but employs clever use of stereo production. Using alternate verses, Ray’s vocals come from the left channel for one verse and the right for the other.
Nothing new you might think, yet when the song’s tempo changes and Gosling’s piano is the only backing it has a very pleasant impact on the ears.
Not hard to guess who the next song ‘Brother’ is about. The album is loaded with power ballads and this is surely one of the most poignant.
“The World’s Goin Crazy and nobody gives a damn anymore”
Ray’s conservative side shows through as it famously did on the classic ‘The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society’ release from ‘68.
The track’s hymn-like chorus is reinforced by a fine solo from Dave. His guitar work on Sleepwalker is reminiscent of their previous album ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace‘ where his playing was first class throughout.
After the emotional overload of ‘Brother’ its time to get rocking with ‘Juke Box Music’ a fun song with some bongos and another excellent Dave riff to kick it off. But Ray’s lyric hints at girl trouble.
“It’s all because of that music
That we’re slowly driftin’ apart.
But it’s only there to dance to,
So you shouldn’t take it to heart.”
The song has an excellent instrumental finish with a crescendo of acoustic guitars layered by staccato guitar from Dave.
Next is ‘Sleepless Night‘ penned and sung by Dave. Its obvious here Dave’s vocals compliment Ray’s perfectly when they sing in chorus, but solo vocals are not Dave’s instrument, not having the expression or tone of big brother Ray.
Dave’s woes are about a female neighbor who goes full throttle on lovemaking at midnight. The trouble for Dave is that it used to be with him but now it’s with someone else.
‘Stormy Sky’ is a lazy paced ballad sung by Ray with a melancholy emphasis.
My album favourite ‘Full Moon‘ is the next track. Everything about this song is evocative and moving - the way its delivered and the message are both perfect.
Ray Davies is at his song writing best as he alludes to periodic nocturnal disturbances.
“Haven’t you noticed a kind of madness in my eyes?
It’s only me, dear, in my midnight disguise.
Pay no attention if I crawl across the room.
It’s just another full moon”
When Ray bursts out mid song with “full moon sits there like a great white balloon“ it will give you the shivers.
The Closing track ‘Life Goes On‘ has a helping of black humor, with a cynical treatment of suicide.
“I turned on the gas, but I soon realized,
I hadn’t settled my bill so they cut off my supply,
No matter how I try it seems I’m too young to die“
The CD release of Sleepwalker from the late '90s contains 5 extra songs. ‘Artificial Light’, ‘Prince of the Punks’ and ‘The Poseur’ (which was initially intended to be the album’s title), plus 2 versions of ‘On The Outside‘, one from 1977 and one a later 1994 mix.
If you think Ray was writing great songs back then, have a listen to ‘Americana‘, his latest album done with the excellent Jayhawks backing. Follow up with the book of the same title.
Sadly The Kinks bass player of 18 years Jim Rodford died while gigging in Florida in January this year.
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