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

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 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 reviews@somethingelsereviews.com
  • Tom Callanan

    I couldn’t disagree more, particularly with regards to The Kinks. ‘Village Green’ is the perfect argument. What critics considered Ray’s best work, generally involved songs expressing a sense of wistfulness, lost innocence and the loss of tradition (eponymous, on that record). I would argue that it would be EASIER to write those types of songs, as an older band. The Kink’s last major his was ‘Come Dancing’ (1983). That song seems to have inspired another band on the same label in 1987 (Grateful Dead’s ‘Touch of Grey’. In case you don’t know, ‘Touch of Grey’ is a hair dye in the US). So much for not being able to use the topic of AGING to get a hit singles….

    The revered Kink’s records of the mid-60’s sold FAR less than the 70’s concept albums, partially, as a result of The Kinks being banned in America (although, some of the songs later wound up in commercials, so hoping Ray had some of the publishing on those…).

    ‘Everybody’s in Showbiz’ was my first concert…and the first of dozens. I LOVE that record. The Kinks, unlike the Rolling Stones and The Who..toured the US, relentlessly. The 70’s and 80’s albums (even the multiplatinum ones) do not reflect the connection that The Kinks developed with their American audiences. ‘One From the Road’ is a better testament (of course, I was in attendance).

    The last time that I went to see Ray Davies (solo), I stopped at a restaurant before the show to have a drink. Somebody randomly pulled out a guitar and started playing ‘Harry Rag’ and LITERALLY everyone in the restaurant was singing along. It continued for another 30 minutes. At the concert, the person to my left drove to Boston, from St. Andrews..and the person to my right, drove up from PA. There was very little publicity on this particular tour – and the place was packed.

    Ray invented the MTV ‘Unplugged’ concept with Storytellers. The video to The Kink’s 1993 song ‘Shattered’ is amazing (okay, the record sucked). ‘To The Bone’ was fantastic. ‘Yours Truly Confused, N10′ (bookends my original argument; he wrote it for his daughter’s young band, from the perspective of an older person who was resentful of the gentrification of her neighborhood). After moving to New Orleans, Ray did exactly what you would expect: write a song about tradition – from the point of view of an American (‘Thanksgiving Day’… complete with a ‘Tell Mama’ reference). Apart from ‘Alice’s Restaurant, that is the song played on Classic Rock stations on Thanksgiving.

    Pete Townsend tried too hard (‘Rough Boys’ era) to compete with the punks that he inspired (Clash, Jam) and genuflected at the feet of Bruce Springsteen – when everyone was doing that (he should have been genuflecting at the feet of Van Morrision, Bruce’s primary source). At the same time, The Kinks sent up those bands with the release of ‘Father Christmas’ (b/w ‘Prince of the Punks’). Same with Neil Young and ”Rust Never Sleeps’ and ‘Rockin in the Free World’). Guess which songs gets a lot more airplay.

    The Who (and Paul McCartney) will always have a receptive audience in the US, as a result of their appearance at the NYC concert, post 9/11. They have the right to record and release, whatever they choose.

    I don’t know, maybe it’s an ‘American’ thing.