Masks, identity, authenticity – these issues have always absorbed Ray Davies. In the deliciously jazzy “Voodoo Walk,” insomnia and paranoia are let loose for a nocturnal prowl (shades of the Kinks' Sleepwalker album), revealing the dark side of every personality.
The restless rocker “Hymn for a New Age” searches for authentic faith – “But I believe I need something to look up to / I believe / I wanna pray but don’t know what to.”
The album closes with the tender ballad “The Real World,” a portrait of a lost soul moving from town to town to escape a banal reality. Though the character is ostensibly a woman, it could just as easily be Ray Davies, adrift in a dislocated global culture that no longer feels like home. It's a deeply affecting valedictory, a cautionary tale with no moral, ending the album on a haunting note I can't get out of my head.
Now here’s the bad news, at least for American music lovers: although Working Man’s Cafe was released last week in the U.K. and throughout Europe, Davies has yet to secure a deal with an American label. (V2 Records, which issued the CD, recently shut down its North American division.)
While a free version was included in last Sunday’s London Times — yes, this album was GIVEN AWAY FOR FREE to every Times reader in the U.K., some 1.5 million copies – we Americans can only buy it as an import. It was offered for about 48 hours on iTunes last week, and then mysteriously disappeared. What gives?
I can only conclude that Ray Davies is still his usual prickly, slippery self, playing some kind of complex game with the schizo music biz. When I think of all those unappreciated giveaway CDs landing in British rubbish bins, while American Kinks fans can’t even get their hand on a copy – well, it’s so mystifying.
But getting your hands on it will be well worth the effort, I promise. Over the 40-odd years that I’ve been listening to Ray Davies’ music, I’ve learned that his albums tend to grow on me gradually. If I like this one so much out of the gate, just think how much I’ll love it once it really plants its tendrils in me.