The Kinks released their 23rd and last studio album, March 29, 1993. Three years later Dave and Ray Davies folded the tent as the band dissolved. Whether they realized at the time that this was their last album is unknown but it joined one of the better, if under-appreciated, discographies of music in rock history.
Phobia is one of those albums that has grown on me. Maybe I’m a tad nostalgic because it’s the last Kinks album to date and the Davies brothers have shown no inclination of creating another, but who knows.
Ray Davies had covered many of the topics contained here in the past but here, they took on some darker tones. Politics and social complaints shared the stage with some personal observations. Many of the tracks fit together well and formed a more cohesive feel than some of their recent albums. Yes, there were a few clunkers and at 16 tracks spread over 76 minutes, I can’t help but think it would have been a stronger album had three or so tracks been eliminated.
The two Dave Davies tracks are opposites, quality-wise. “It’s Alright (Don’t Think About It)” struggled to be average but “Close to the Wire” is one of those songs that make you wish Dave had been more active as a songwriter. His guitar playing and lyrical ability had aged well and they were on display here.
The album started well. Ray Davies always had strong views about life. “Wall of Fire” found him turning his critical attention toward the environment. It may have been a little harsh, even for Ray, but it was powerful. “Drift Away” was another song of escape, a theme he had explored often through his music. Of course for Ray Davies, there was no escape.
“Still Searching” was philosophical and wistful. In some ways there was always hope that he would find what he was looking for but on the other hand, I don’t think he would have been nearly as interesting musically had he done so.
The album got more spotty after its strong beginning. “Hatred (A Duet)” explored Ray’s relationship with his brother. I have always been amazed how he was able to take the ordinary and examine things that most people just ignored and passed by. “Only A Dream,” “Don’t,” “Babies,“ and “Somebody Stole My Car” found him on firm ground.
I wish “Surviving” could have been the last track, as it would have provided a fitting conclusion to the band’s recording career. It was an introspective song from Ray Davies, one of rock music’s ultimate survivors.
Phobia was The Kinks’ swan song. It may not have been the equal of some of their classic albums, but it was solid and presented some of the strengths of the band well. Who knows, maybe Ray and Dave Davies have one more grand farewell opus in them but until that day, Phobia will have to do.