If there was one thing Ray Davies was, besides brilliant, it was unpredictable. After nearly a decade of producing all types of concept albums, that ranged from pastoral British music to tunes fit for the Broadway stage; he and The Kinks reversed direction once again and returned to their roots by issuing a self-contained rock album.
Their 1977 brand of rock ‘n’ roll was smoother than their power chord based material during the 1960s. It was probably more in tune with American rock than British rock music. Dave Davies had matured as a guitarist and it was his expertise that dominated the sound. Ray Davies kept his excessive impulses under control as the songs were tight and the lyrics incisive. At times his stories moved in a dark direction, but they were always interesting. It all added up to one of their better albums and the beginning of a new phase of their career.
The original vinyl release had a flow to it despite the songs not being connected in any conceptual way. The album began with “Life On The Road,” which after a mellow start, evolved into a rocker that set the tempo for what would follow. “Mr. Big Man” and the title track were both Dave Davies propelled rockers. The first contained biting lyrics of a former friend who hit it big and left all his friends behind, while the second was just a plain old rock romp. The last song on the first side of the original release, “Brother,” began the darker type lyrics by exploring the topic of changing relationships.
“Juke Box Hero” was one of those witty Ray Davies concoctions that was a tongue-in-cheek song about the importance of music for the fans. The trilogy of songs, “Sleepless Night,” “Stormy Sky,” and “Full Moon” contained pleasant melodies that belied the dark stories. The music was bluesy in places, rocking in others, and soaring at times. It remains one of the better ten minutes of music in the Kinks catalogue. The album came to a satisfying conclusion with the thoughtful and philosophical, “Life Goes On.”
Sleepwalker was a solid and satisfying return to a rock sound by The Kinks. It represented the cerebral type of rock that would dominate their music for the next several years. It remains an essential listen in the career of The Kinks. Enjoy!