“Sitting in my hotel, hiding from the dramas of this great big world.”
‘Muswell Hillbillies’ is often said to the last good Kinks album, yet, his little successor brother, ‘Everybody’s In Show-Biz’, never seems to get any recognition. I’ve always wondered why. After all, the 1972 album continues The Kinks legacy in the same vein. The tunes still feature a brass band, so the drunken and sleazy jazzy feel is still there, and what’s even more important, Ray’s songwriting is still as good as ever. And so are his melodies, not yet “neglected” in favour of lyrics, like they would be on the next few albums. And the concept of this album is a pleasant, loose, simple, accessible and non-pretentious one : life on the road and its ups and downs (mostly downs). So what’s changed then?
First things first, this is a double album with a whole second side dedicated to 11 live performances of previously released songs (mostly from Muswell Hillbillies). And here comes, what probably is the main reason for not liking the record. First of all, this is a strange decision to begin with. Maybe it was all part of the concept? Songs about how boring and pathetic touring is and then an actual live performance to let the listener decide whether those wishy-washy hotel rooms and motorway food was worth the effort? Hardly then, because the live performance is certainly not one of their best. Maybe there was no reason whatsoever. Still, the live side is there and as I mentioned above, it’s pretty messy. By this point, Ray has taken his self-penned character from ‘Alcohol’ too far, to a point where he actually became it (well, at least on stage). In other words, he’s extremely drunk throughout the performance and many times he ends up entertaining himself more rather than the audience. But he’s a fun drunk! All these songs, even though not being particularly good, nor disastrously bad, are just a slice of mindless fun. Come on, people, he even introduces himself as Johnny Cash at some point! Three main complaints though. One, ‘Brainwashed’ is now updated to the current Kinks sound and ends up losing some of its anger and edge due to the horns. Two, ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ is sped up for some reason, a thing which Ray seemed to enjoy doing while performing it, but I’ve never liked it that way. It sounds to me like they can’t wait to get it over with. And three, the biggest complaint, as you already may have guessed, is the song ‘Lola’. Don’t get me wrong, in its original form it stands up as one of their most funny and pleasantly catchy songs. But this is not the original ‘Lola’. This is only the ending of a lively performed ‘Lola’! The crowd happily claps and sings along “Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo-lola” as Ray encourages them to do so. But unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to sing at all. And that’s it. For one minute and forty god damn seconds. Just why? Don’t we deserve the whole performance? Maybe they messed it up really bad, and out of shame, ended up editing it.
But anyway, let us get to the good part of the record : the studio side. 10 originals and every single one of them confidently approaching the “good-to-great” status. Let’s start with the record’s true prizewinning masterpieces, the two ballads. ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ is simply put, one of the greatest odes to loneliness (maybe only next to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – two completely different songs however) and a satisfactory proof that Ray is a master of words. But the music itself is not far behind, either. Nice, intimate piano-driven verses with a barely audible beat and then climactic-like choruses with that powerful swirling organ. Then there’s the anthemic, uplifting and heartfelt ‘Celluloid Heroes’, which is truly one of their most resonant songs ever. I mean, how can anybody not be touched when Ray sings “Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star/ And everybody’s in show biz, it doesn’t matter who you are” ? The other songs, though not rising up to the quality of the aforementioned ones, are still pretty much indispensable. ‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ is a great bombastic up-beat song that perfectly describes the restless, busy day in the life of an important person. ‘Unreal Reality’ is probably remembered for having that grandiose opening, which may be after all, a proof of what Ray Davies was heading to, a more theatrical/musical-show-orientated approach. ‘Maximum Consumption’ and ‘Hot Potatoes’ are both about food, the first having a nice piano melody with ‘Skin & Bone’-alike lyrics, but much funnier (I personally can’t keep a straight face when Ray calls himself a “super-grade performer”, and how about those car-analogies?), while the second is rather countryish, with one of the band’s most catchy choruses to date. And is it just me, or both Ray and Dave’s voices blend very well together here? Never actually realized that before. I see you’re already yawning and constantly checking the clock. OK, fine, I’ll try to keep it short and concise. Dave’s ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ rocks and the mandolin-driven ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ is pleasant enough. ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’ and ‘Motorway’ (whose opening reminds me very much of ‘Powerman’ from ‘Lola’), though not being two of my personal favourites, are still decent enough and well-fitting from a lyrical point of view.
I guess we’re done then. In the end, I’ll briefly justify my rating, that of a 9, by simply saying that I consider the studio side to be worth a 10 and the live one ranking somewhere in the 8’s, though not quite rising up to a 9. Highly recommended!
Categories: Album Reviews