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Music Review: The Kinks – Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

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The Kinks released Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) during October of 1969. It completed a musical journey for Ray Davies, which began with the power chords of “You Really Got Me,” passed through the adventurous rock of Something Else and Face To Face, finally coming to rest with the scenic and pastoral rock of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Arthur took the style and sound of The Village Green Preservation Society and applied it to a concept album that dealt with broken promises and unfulfilled dreams as presented through scenes of everyday life. It was really a rock opera in that the tracks came together into a unified whole. Its origins were a project for British television that was never finished.

It represented one of the highlights of The Kinks and Ray Davies career. It was a fusion of intelligent lyrics and tuneful melodies. The material had depth, as there were songs within songs that provided hidden delights and textures through many listenings.

Some of Ray Davies’ best creations inhabit the album. “Victoria” was a departure from most of his music at the time. It had pulsating rhythms that would have been perfect for the British pub. “Yes Sir, No Sir” was an anti-war hymn. “Some Mother’s Son” was another criticism of war hidden within a beautiful ballad with exquisite chord changes.

As good as the above songs were, “Shangri-La” was better. The lyrics told the tale of the title character whose resigned and ultimately forlorn life represented British middle class aspirations. The use of an acoustic guitar sound, horns, and a harpsichord gave the music a mystic and even gothic feel.

When accounting for the acoustic ballad “Young and Innocent Days,” the ragtime approach of “She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina,” the brilliant guitar solos of “Australia,” and the harmonies of “Drivin,’” the result is one of the most distinguished albums of the era.

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) contained a wealth of melodies and stories. Ray Davies would soon move in a storytelling direction, leaving behind this wonderful picture of the British psyche and his musical vision.

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About David Bowling

  • This one doesn’t quite do it for me. Although I love “Victoria” and “Shangri La” the rest of the record just doesn’t maintain that standard. Too many horns, too many slow ones, Ray singing too high. This is when I think they jump the shark…

  • Milton

    The best kinks album there is

  • in a career full of unbelievable songs and top top consistency,
    arthur is still my personal favorite kinks album….killer ray melodies, rocking dave riffs and arpeggios, mick doing beautiful drumming, and intense depth of the songs.
    i listen to it and i’m always blown away at how good it is! transcendent. …tip–listen to full album in order with headphones on on a bicycle rolling down the road!

  • sammy jones

    One of the greatest albums and a really nice cover too..I was 16 and this album reminds me of my Young and Innocent Days…