Ray Davies and The Kinks returned during 1975 with another concept album. Soap Opera was a more cohesive effort than their two previous Preservation albums, as the music was just plain better. The lyrics told the story of a music star that changes places with an ordinary human in order to understand what a normal life was like. I have also seen it interpreted as a regular guy who re-imagines himself as a superstar living an ordinary life. Whatever the fertile imagination of Ray Davies had in mind, the finished product tells the common stories of ordinary life.
Another thing that sets it apart from his previous releases of the same style was the return of his sense of humor, which while campy in places, is always welcome. Starmaker making fun of his wife’s tastes in “Ducks On The Wall” is a witty treat. “Rush Hour Blues” is his subtle but biting commentary on the banality of spending time traveling to and from the job each day. Add in his drunken humor of “Have Another Drink” and the wistful humor of a failed love affair in “Holiday Romance” and you have a good sense of his British wit.
The album’s strongest point was the music. There are a number of beautiful ballads, plus some straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll. The production was impeccable and more than makes up for the triteness of some of the stories.
Throughout a large part of his career, Davies has celebrated ordinary life, but not so clearly as on Soap Opera. In the past, he had visited and explored the pastoral side of life in the English countryside but there is nothing idyllic about these songs, as they explore the gritty realism of everyday life that is very familiar to tens of millions of people each day.
There is also an autobiographical element to the production; Davies has often substituted his own name for that of the protagonist when performing the material live on stage. There was a continual attraction by him to the working person, but with the realization that he was a rock star and would never share their life experiences. These songs, meant to be performed, would be as close as he would get to doing that.
The album ends when the star realizes that he is just another face in the crowd. The final track, “You Can’t Stop the Music,” is the realization that personal stardom will eventually fade but his creations will live on, which was a philosophical statement by Davies as he looked forward to, at least in his mind, an uncertain future.
“Everybody’s A Star,” “Ducks on the Wall,” and “You Can’t Stop the Music” are a near return to The Kinks’ classic style of rock ‘n’ roll. While the stories seem like a Ray Davies solo project, these tracks find The Kinks in full rock band mode. Elsewhere, “Nine To Five” is a short but brilliant ballad where the gentle melody supports the boredom of the work place lyrics.
Soap Opera is not one of the upper echelon albums in The Kinks discography, nor is it a good introduction to their legacy. It is an album that looks into the creative mind of Ray Davies at a specific point in time. While there is some good music to be found, the album is best approached as a link in The Kinks’ chain of music.