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THE KINKS Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire): 50th Anniversary Edition gets 9/10


The Kinks
Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) 
50th Anniversary Edition
BMG

9/10

This year marks the 50th anniversary for music released in 1969 and The Kinks are no exception, deserving the praise and recognition for their contribution to this remarkable year in history. Now The Kinks have re-released their 1969 album Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) is a deluxe special anniversary reissue, complete with obligatory bonus tracks and unreleased material.

But what is it about The Kinks that makes them so god damn cool? Back in 1964, The Beatles wanted to hold your hand, but The Kinks wanted you to kick in your speakers. From the moment a hole was punched into the band’s pre-amp speaker to create a dirty, rough sound for You Really Got Me, The Kinks proved they were different.

Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) was written as a concept album, the creation of frontman, Ray Davies, for a television show which was never produced. Fortunately, the album was released and as taken directly from the liner notes for the album’s release: “Arthur Morgan … lives in a London suburb in a house called Shangri-La, with a garden and a car and a wife called Rose and a son called Derek who’s married to Liz, and they have these two very nice kids, Terry and Marilyn. Derek and Liz and Terry and Marilyn are emigrating to Australia. Arthur did have another son, called Eddie. He was named after Arthur’s brother, who was killed in the battle of the Somme. Arthur’s Eddie was killed, too—in Korea.”

So what do you get with the reissue of Arthur? The box set includes 88 tracks over four CDs, including five unreleased tracks and 26 unreleased versions; all the mono and stereo versions you can poke a stick at; four reproduced 7” vinyl singles Drivin’, Victoria, Shangri-La and Hold My Hand; 68-page deluxe book with essays, new band interviews and rare images; Reproduced posters and photos; and there’s even a Kinks metal pin badge.

Disc One is the original stereo album with a 2019 remaster. Opening with the toe-tapping Victoria, were treated to the British patriotic whimsy The Kinks are known for, but tracks such as Some Mother’s Son show a serious side to Davies’ elegantly assembled songwriting. Drivin is pure joy and we can all have a laugh with Australia. Shangri-La is a highlight on this album, transported into Arthurs’ living room through harmonies and horn sections. Almost like a history lesson, Mr Churchill Says transports us back in time, while for lovers of baroque pop She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina delivers the goods and ends on a kazoo infused all out skiffle shuffle. The delicate Young and Innocent Days is enough to take your breath away and we are then swiftly brought back to the earth for Nothing To Say. Arthur ends the album with a country twang and it is here you realise why this album is being reissued with such celebration.

The rest of disc one features alternative takes and disc two gives it all to us again, in an original mono format.

Disc three, The Great Lost Dave Davies Album Plus is the biggest highlight for this box set. The contentious relationship between brothers Ray and Dave Davies is no secret and has always been in the spotlight. Dave’s debut solo single Death of a Clown (1967) was released on a Kinks album, but often his work was only discovered as a B-side. This compilation releases the solo work that Dave Davies was working on around the time of the release of Arthur in 1969. The lost album features 12 tracks but with this special release, an extra eleven alternate versions are included. Dave Davies songs tear at your heartstrings with gently strained vocals evoking innocence and fragility and should be enjoyed in isolation of any comparison to Ray Davies.

Disc four is for demos, rehearsals, BBC versions and remixes and includes the previously unreleased track The Future. Don’t expect to hear a long, lost Kinks track here – the song is credited to Arthur and the Emigrants with guest vocals from Ray Davies, and is a sweet, little doo-wop ditty.

For those who haven’t explored further than The Kinks’ greatest hits, this box set might be a little overwhelming. But the album on its own is worth revisiting or discovering for the first time. For fans and the curious, the inclusion of the Dave Davies compilation makes this a worthwhile reissue and the reproduced singles on vinyl is a nice touch.

Arthur was born just a plain simple man,” but there’s nothing plain and simple about The Kinks.

KAREN SAINSBURY

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