Although Give the People What They Want was the 18th full-length album by The Kinks and was released nearly two decades after their actual debut, it has a feel as fresh and vigorous as any debut album. The sound is strong and contemporary, the lyrics are biting and direct, yet the message is more mature, philosophical, and satirical in nature. Best of all for the music listener, the album is interesting and entertaining with solid material throughout. With all this being said, it is somewhat amazing that the album has been pretty much panned and ignored by the rock press (and fans) for the past thirty years. This is part of why Classic Rock Review exists.
The Kinks started out in London shortly after The Beatles’ American breakthrough in 1964, in what came to be known as the original “British Invasion”. They came to prominence with simple, rocking pop songs in the mid 1960s. They later evolved towards theatrical rock and concept albums through the late sixties and early seventies. By the late seventies, they had seen alot of their earliest work co-opted and repackaged by acts in the punk, new wave, and hard rock genres. In this environment, chief songwriter Ray Davies came back with an album that not only shows this younger generation that The Kinks can do it just as well but that they can do it even better.
Listening to Give the People What They Want one has to keep reminding themself that this is a band approaching middle age, as there is so much youthfulness
Give the People What They Want by The Kinks
|Released: August 15, 1981 (Arista)
Produced by: Ray Davies
Recorded: Konk Studios, London, May, 1979 – June, 1981
|Side One||Side Two|
|Around the Dial
Give the People What They Want
Add It Up
Back to Front
A Little Bit of Abuse
|Ray Davies – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Dave Davies – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Rodford – Bass, Vocals
Mick Avory – Drums, Percussion
Overall, the album is very dark and cynical, with the exception of the finale “Better Things”, which offers a refreshing ode to optimism during the closing credits. Prior to that song, each offers a cynical look at a different subject facing people in 1981, ranging from the entertainment industry to crime and criminals to basic inter-personal issues. The sound is raw yet beautiful, capturing the dynamics of a garage band with the skill of cutting edge and smooth production. As producer, Ray Davies seemed to know exactly how much flavoring to sprinkle on the basic rhythms lead by his brother and lead guitarist Dave Davies.
The opener, “Around the Dial” is a very entertaining and interesting song that laments the downfall of a cool and edgy radio DJ, who disappeared inexplicably. It starts as the simplest of songs, with one sustained chord played over and then a simple hard rock riff, but then floats towards some interesting and melodic changes in the middle. It is followed by the album’s title song that laments the deterioration of popular culture and the crass and cynical dishing out of entertainment. This is all set to definitively punk rhythm and chant, complete with its own shock lyric on the Kennedy assassination.
Many of the songs that follow also reflect a higher end punk sound. But to say this album was “influenced” by punk would be almost a travesty. The Kinks were one of the true inventors of the genre, a dozen years before it even became a genre. By this point in 1981, punk had about five years of mainstream fame and recognition. With the production of Give the People What They Want, it is almost like the Kinks were stepping in to show these young punks how to do it with actual musical skill.
Further, this album contains some moments that could not be constructed by these punk bands on their best day. “Killer’s Eyes” is a haunting yet beautiful song about a person beyond help and beyond hope – a killer and the effect his actions have on his family and friend. It is a moody and melancholy masterpiece with outstanding sound. Another song with an excellent sound, perhaps the best on the album is “Yo-Yo”. Once you get past the repetitive use of the “yo-yo” symbolic lyric, this is a very interesting and entertaining listen that addresses the challenges of married life with its changing expectations and perspectives. It is very unique as a down beat song with a very upbeat beat.
The rest of the songs that make up the heart of the album are all upbeat and modern mixes of punk new wave and ska with their own distinctive issues. “Predictable” about the mundane, boring, regularness of everyday life, “Add It Up” on the change in someone who comes into money, “Back To Front” laments double-talk and could have been the theme song to Catch 22, and the minor hit “Destroyer”, a look at the effects of drug use that shows that the band doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a bit of self-plagiarism.
But just when you get settled comfortably into the album’s punk/new wave vibe, it takes a radical turn with the last three songs. The first two of these are quite disturbing but may very well be ingenious. “Art Lover”, is creepy in that seems to be sympathetic to a stalker and possible pedophile. Adding to this creepiness is the fact it is sticky sweet, almost like a children’s song, and leaves one to think that Davies must have been trying to be provocative or sarcastic, because it is hard to think that the song’s message is to be taken literal. “A Little Bit of Abuse” follows with a light-hearted look at domestic abuse and battered wife syndrome. It is put together in a slow bluesy, pleasant, and melodic pop-rock package that in no way sets the mood for such a heavy subject. Again, it appears to invert the true message by demonstrating the absurdity of the common excuse making for such actions. Together, either these are brilliant, deep psychological masterpieces or we’re reading too much into it.
The closing “Better Things” then goes on to break the mold of this pessimistic album with a happy and hopeful song of hope. It concludes Give the People What They Want, a weird and wonderful ride that is true rock n roll at it’s most legitimate.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1981 albums.