The KINKS – ” Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Pt.1 “

Posted: January 14, 2021 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Much like the ebbing away of these unprecedented times, 50 years ago, the music world was coming to terms with the end of an endemic fever that had changed the face of society. As the Fab Four scrambled to studios to release their break-up albums, the Kinks seized that large Beatle-sized hole to mock the very system that had taken them to those dizzying, and ultimately suffocating heights, in their 1970 album “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Pt.1”, which has been re-released and remastered in a glossy deluxe format.

The Kinks were the contrarian’s choice in the 60s music scene, the swagger of Mick Jagger and the Jesus-like appeal of John Lennon meant that Ray Davies and co. found themselves dwarfed in the zeitgeist of their era. Far from nobodies nonetheless –  such tracks as  ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’ belong in in the same pantheon as the ‘Hey Jude’s and ‘Angie’s of this world, but alas their popularity found itself dwarfed by the canonisation of their British Invasion counterparts.

“Lola” gave the Kinks an unexpected hit, and its crisp, muscular sound, pitched halfway between acoustic folk and hard rock, provided a new style for the band. However, the song only hinted at what its accompanying album, “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One”, was all about. It didn’t matter that Ray Davies just had his first hit in years — he had suffered greatly at the hands of the music industry and he wanted to tell the story in song. Hence, Lola — a loose concept album about Ray Davies’ own psychosis and bitter feelings toward the music industry.

He never really delivers a cohesive story, but the record holds together because it’s one of his strongest sets of songs. Dave Davies contributes the lovely “Strangers” and the appropriately paranoid “Rats,” but this is truly Ray’s show, as he lashes out at ex-managers (the boisterous vaudevillian “The Moneygoround”), publishers (“Denmark Street”), TV and music journalists (the hard-hitting “Top of the Pops”), label executives (“Powerman”), and, hell, just society in general (“Apeman,” “Got to Be Free”). If his wit wasn’t sharp, the entire project would be insufferable, but the album is as funny as it is angry. Furthermore, he balances his bile with three of his best melancholy ballads: “This Time Tomorrow,” “A Long Way from Home,” and the anti-welfare and union “Get Back in Line,” which captures working-class angst better than any other rock song.

These tracks provide the spine for a wildly unfocused but nonetheless dazzling tour de force that reveals Ray’s artistic strengths and endearing character flaws in equal measure. [The 50th anniversary edition of Lola Vs Powerman is expanded by three discs filled with rarities that span the decades. The Kinks needed to cast a wide net for this 2020 reissue since Lola received a healthy double-disc expansion in 2014, one that unearthed the outtakes “Anytime” and “The Good Life,” which are both here in new mixes. “Anytime” also seeds the newly created “The Follower — Any Time 2020,” where new spoken word elements are interwoven with the original track. There’s a lot of this kind of thing on this 50th Anniversary Edition, including several “Ray’s Kitchen Sink” tracks, which contain Ray Davies and his brother Dave discussing the album’s songs while music plays in the background.

A bunch of mono mixes and alternate takes, most previously reissued, are here along with an “Apeman” from Unplugged, selections from the Ray-starring production The Long Distance Piano Player, Ray singing “Lola” with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, and a version of “A Long Way from Home” from Ray’s 2006 Austin City Limits.

Some of this is strange, much of it is good, and all the worthwhile cuts were on the 2014 set, so this is for the hardcore Kinks fan, the one who appreciates the oddities of the bonus material instead of cursing the absence of unheard music (which likely does not exist).] What makes this album one of the Kinks’ most peculiar is its scattergun genre usage: the opening track, ‘the Contenders’ exhibits this vision, with a slow percussion and jaunty acoustic guitar transitioning, without warning, into a hard-rock crescendo. Initially this breathes freshness an invigorating freshness, but as the album progresses, this indecisiveness and laid-back approach towards genre makes this album difficult to fall in love with. For example, a song like ‘Apeman’, which is such a strong single, falls flat because it is surrounded by a weak music-hall tribute in ‘the Moneygoround’ or weird George Formby pastiche “Denmark Street”. With Christmas approaching, see this album as a box of Celebrations songs like ‘Get Back in Line’ and ‘A Long Way from Home’ sit like a Bounty amongst the fantastic ‘Lola’ and ‘Rats’.

Thematically, Lola Versus Powerman, can be lumped together with Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here or Pulp’s This is Hardcore as it is an album with the clear, age-old message – the music business is called a business for a reason – to cripple and pornographise the artistic expression and freedom of musical creation for profit and growth. On ‘Powerman’, the band channel their disgust for the abusive relationship between executives, artists and their music while ‘Top of the Pops’ is a brilliant slapstick satire about the process of making a hit, with Davies evoking the forced enthusiasm of the industry in his vocal performance. In fact, it is a crippling indictment (and brilliant foresight) of the band that the quip “I might even end up a rock’n’roll god / It might just turn into a steady job” rings true today, with bona fide legends such as David Crosby having to sell their publishing rights for money. No industry revolution will never be started by this album however – Davies misses the mark by not making his message cohesive enough. It is no surprise that ‘Lola’ was the first song written off the album, as every song feels like an attempt to make an LP to surround the big hit. The exotic nature of the iconic steel guitar on that track spreads its tentacles through the album and eventually looms large over them, stifling the listener to enjoy them only moderately.

Ray Davies described his oeuvre as “a celebration of artistic freedom (including my own) and the right for anyone to be gender-free if one wishes” and the bonus tracks offer an insight not only to how the album was created, but how the band transported their complex product to the stage with some roaring live tracks. What is clear is that despite its somewhat disjointed nature, Lola Versus Powerman is still a vibrant expression of what the Kinks became so famous for: variety, innovation and joy.

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