Give The People What They Want

The Kinks

Arista, 1981

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing about The Kinks’ late ’70s/early ’80s resurgence is that while frontman/composer Ray Davies may have given in to pressures to produce more commercial music, he never compromised his integrity; instead he re-targeted his gift for mockery from such abstract notions as English aristocracy and schoolyard life to a couple of very concrete ones: his audience, and himself. At least, that’s how I do the math when a professional snark on the order of Raymond Douglas Davies titles an album Give The People What They Want.

And here’s the punchline: they did. Give The People What They Want was another in a string of hit albums for The Kinks, here featuring the same lineup as for Low Budget (1979)—Ray on rhythm guitar and vocals, brother Dave Davies on lead guitar and harmony vocals, founding drummer Mick Avory behind the kit, and Jim Rodford on bass, with the addition of touring keyboardist Ian Gibbons, previously heard on 1980’s One From The Road, as a full member.

The big single here was “Destroyer,” in which notorious riff-pincher Davies picks his own musical pocket, taking the skeleton of his early hit “All Day And All Of The Night” and dressing it up in fresh skin. That little novelty is naturally a bit of a spotlight-hog, but don’t let it distract you from the fact that this is one of the boys’ stronger outings from this period. “Around The Dial” is a suitably energetic opener, turning up the guitars on a hard-hitting rant about the death of free-form radio and the takeover of the corporate machine. The title track follows, a slamming, hooky broadside against the bread-and-circuses cravings of the band’s own audience, Davies winking all the way as he condemns the very thing he’s in the process of doing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album is otherwise populated with a string of solid-to-very-good album cuts, notably witty mid-tempo numbers like “Killer’s Eyes” and “Yo-Yo,” and edgier rockers like “Add It Up” and “Back To Front.” The standouts among the remainder are three.

First is “Destroyer,” proof positive that recycling is a good thing, wherein Davies rewrites an over-the-top declaration of passion into a hard-rocking sketch of a damaged, self-destructive mind. The fact that, in another bit of recycling, it guest-stars Lola, just adds to the meta-ness of the whole exercise.

Second is “Art Lover,” a genuinely unsettling narrative in which a grown man tries to justify his fascination with little girls on the playground as entirely innocent. For two verses it’s unclear if this is a sweet song of devotion or a prettied-up cry for help from a pedophile, creating tension that’s finally broken by the revelation that “You’re just a substitute for what’s been taken from me.” So, he’s simply a bereft father pining for the daughter he’s lost... or is he? Either way, this song stands as proof of Davies’ craft and fearlessness as a songwriter.

Third is album-closer “Better Things,” the single moment on this disc wherein Davies leeches the acid from his pen and delivers a sincerely optimistic and expansive anthem. It came as no surprise at all that when Davies was seeking guest stars to duet with on songs from his catalog for 2010’s See My Friends album, he invited Bruce Springsteen to sing this tune with him, and Bruce accepted.

In the end, there’s nothing remarkable about Give The People What They Want—how could there be, given the truth told in the title—but it’s a dependably solid album with flashes of brilliance from the determined, prolific, endlessly clever pen of Ray Davies.

Rating: B+

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