New albums by the Who and Kinks? Maybe they should quit while they’re ahead

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People are all a-twitter about the possibility of new albums from both the Who and the Kinks. But those nurturing the hope for another Tommy or Village Green Preservation Society need to adjust their expectations — as the results could more resemble Endless Wire and Everybody’s in Show Biz.

Since the end of their heyday, fans of both bands have purchased and repurchased new iterations of classic albums. This gets old after a while, especially when we are told the best version of a record in question could be the mono LP that we bought new, ages ago. By comparison, new songs by these reconfigured bands have a certain appeal and will always pique the curiosity of a long-time fan.

It’s not impossible that these proposed albums, if they should ever appear, could be well-executed musical statements that fulfill the potential and close the loop for these once-brilliant bands. I’d like to see that happen, and will most likely download both of them at the earliest possible opportunity. I’m rooting for these teams, even if the odds aren’t in their favor.

Any old-timer artist who releases an album of new material deserves accolades, more so if it’s any good. But reactivating the band’s name, especially with key members absent, changes the equation. And it could come out differently than what we’d expect or want.

Consider the Beach Boys’ 2012 reunion, That’s Why God Made the Radio. Fans were clamoring for a continuation of Smile or Sunflower; we ended up with something that reimagined The Beach Boys Today.

In 1964, the Who and the Kinks both released their first albums — and they arrived as blues-rocking affairs chock full of covers. Neither gave much indication of the bands’ ultimate potential, or that one would be so much more favored than the other.

The Who recorded eight studio albums before Keith Moon’s death and two more with Kenney Jones before dissolving in 1982. Live at Leeds and the 2006 comeback Endless Wire round it out to an even dozen of those worth owning, although the latter makes the case for leaving things be. The two bands released an equal number of great songs, but the Who was the band that Mom, Dad and the rest of the world always liked best. We don’t know what Ray Davies really feels, but you can imagine his frustration about Townshend’s greater commercial success.

Townshend reacted to this new stage by ensuring that each record connected to the last with great pains to avoid repetition. Ideas were continued from one album to the next, not recycled. Davies, through 24 Kinks studio albums, did differently. In 1972, he began a series of theatrical concept albums based vaguely on his personal history and philosophy.

They sold miserably, partially because a lot of the content was, well, miserable. Davies’ reaction was to keep publishing these little plays, with a few great songs on each blended with too much filler and narrative. They all failed, while illustrating the classic insanity definition — doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Setting aside the idea that a great band succeeds due to chemistry between the members, the respective Daltrey/Townshend and Davies brothers axis provide a measure of authenticity. But who else? Pino Palladino and Zak Starkey are good enough Entwistle/Moon stand-ins, and there is something cool about recasting Beatle progeny into a key role in a competing band. As for the Kinks, charter bass player Pete Quaife died in 2010 and drummer Mick Avory would apparently rather play golf than interact with Dave Davies. So the new model Kinks would probably best succeed with its final rhythm section, Jim Rodford and Robert Henrit.

All the great old Who and Kinks albums are mostly composed and conceptualized by the guy in charge, but others chipped in. Dave Davies has always added one or two songs and would presumably do so for any reunion, especially since he has recently positioned himself as an equal architect of the Kinks’ sound. Dave, however, has an inconsistent talent to go along with his hard-to-fathom voice. He could come up with something akin to “Living on a Thin Line” or the caucophonous screeching that took over many of his later efforts. It’s up in the air, if a cursory listen to his I Will Be Me is any indication.

John Entwistle isn’t around to challenge or augment Townshend’s grand ideas, but the Who has a secret weapon. Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother, has been part of the touring band since they reconvened. Simon’s Denial, released earlier this year, contained songs that were unavoidably Who-ish, certainly he has a few more up his sleeve. Their inclusion would break the monotony and lessen Pete’s load.

Lyrics would be an issue, as old people-angst won’t be as interesting as the teenage variety. We don’t want to hear how Townshend didn’t die when he got old. Davies, who wrote several songs about the pitfalls of aging when he was in his 20s, faces a similar conflict also fraught with danger. Truth is that none of us, in the band or otherwise, are as interesting now as we were when we were younger.

With all that has changed, audience attitude is at the forefront. We no longer go to a big show, if we go to shows at all, in anticipation of hearing new songs. And when we buy an album, new, repackaged, or otherwise, we no longer repeatedly pore over every track accompanied by the lyric sheet searching for thought and meaning. These days we need a reason to listen, or we move on to something else.

Past greatness in and of itself doesn’t cut it anymore. David Bowie underscored this with 2013’s The Next Day, which amused a select few but went unnoticed by the general Bowie-speaking public. But Bowie did it right by completing the record in secret and announcing its completion weeks before release.

The Who and the Kinks would be wise to follow this path, to do it in private and letting us know just moments before ready. That way there’s less pressure on them and we don’t have to get excited — or disturbed — by something that won’t ever happen.

Charlie Bermant

Charlie Bermant

Charlie Bermant is the author of 'A Serious Hobby' and 'Imagine There's No Beatles,' available from Amazon or directly out of the backseat of his car. He works for a small daily newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Charlie Bermant
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