Friday, 17 March 2017

"Muswell Hillbillies: Legacy Edition" by THE KINKS (2014 RCA/Legacy 1CD+1DVD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Life Is Complicated..."

It seems strange now with the hindsight of 46 years distance that 1971's hugely articulate "Muswell Hillbillies" by THE KINKS was such a commercial dog. Their newest platter and first with RCA Records was released November 1971 on both sides of the pond - but barely managed a No. 100 placing in the US LP charts with a big fat zilch in the UK.

But then again 1970's "Lola Versus Powerman..." and 1971's Soundtrack to "Percy" (both on Pye) hadn’t bothered British LP charts either. In fact - excepting obvious crowd-pleasing hit singles between the LPs like "Lola" and "Apeman" and despite the musical-excellence of what Raymond Douglas Davies & Co. was collectively producing - the public seemed utterly indifferent – especially in their native Blighty. I can recall this album being in bargain bins for decades. Commercially this most British of bands were adrift in arguably their most creative period...

And that's where this rather excellent 2014 'Legacy Edition' 2-Disc reissue of "Muswell Hillbillies" comes in - determined to get us all to see the error of our fatuous ways. Armed with nine Bonus Tracks and a new DVD of period recordings on Disc 2 (all restored) - here are the cups of tea and pints of beer in the Archway Tavern...

UK released 19 December 2014 (10 November 2014 in the USA) - "Muswell Hillbillies: Legacy Edition" by THE KINKS on RCA/Legacy 88843093772 (Barcode 888430937727) is a 2-Disc Reissue and Remaster [1CD + 1DVD] that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 CD "Muswell Hillbillies - The Original Album" (72:30 minutes):
1. 20th Century Man [Side 1]
2. Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues
3. Holiday
4. Skin And Bone
5. Alcohol
6. Complicated Life
7. Here Come The People In Grey [Side 2]
8. Have A Cuppa Tea
9. Holloway Jail
10. Oklahoma U.S.A.
11. Uncle Son
12. Muswell Hillbilly
Tracks 1 to 12 are their 11th album "Muswell Hillbillies" - released 24 November 1971 in the UK on RCA Victor Records SF 8243 and in the USA on RCA Victor LSP 4644. Produced by Ray Davies - it peaked at No. 100 on the US LP charts - didn't chart in the UK.

13. Lavender Lane
14. Mountain Woman
15. Have A Cuppa Tea (Alternate Version)
16. Uncle Son (Alternate Version)
17. Kentucky Moon
18. Nobody's Fool (Demo)
19. 20th Century Man (Alternate Instrumental Take)
20. Queenie (Backing Track)
21. Muswell Hillbillies Radio Spot

RAY DAVIES - Vocals, Guitars and Keyboards
DAVE DAVIES - Vocals and Guitar
JOHN GOSLING - Keyboards and Accordion

Vicki Brown - Backing Vocals on "Skin And Bone" and "Holloway Jail"
Ken Jones - Harmonica on "Here Come The People In Grey"
Mike Cotton Sound [Mike Cotton, Trumpet - Alan Holmes, Clarinet - John Beecham, Trombone and Tuba] – play on the LP cuts "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" and "Alcohol" and on "Lavender Lane" in the Bonus Tracks

Disc 2, DVD (NTSC, Region 0):
1. Have A Cuppa Tea
2. Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues

3. Till The End Of The Day
4. Waterloo Sunset
5. The Money-Go-Round
6. Sunny Afternoon
7. The Virgin Soldier March
8. She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina
9. Alcohol
10. Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues
11. You Really Got Me

What the track list on the rear cover of this Legacy 2-Disc issue doesn't advise is that there's more footage on the DVD in-between tracks than is listed above. "The Virgin Soldier March" section includes the whole of the (rather rough) opening credits to the 1969 John Dexter movie "The Virgin Soldiers" starring Lynn Redgrave, Hywel Bennett, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Patrick and an uncredited David Bowie as a soldier (Wayne Sleep is credited). It features Ray's music playing throughout with the Mike Cotton Sound being the brass band accompanying him. There is also a short interview with Carl Foreman (clearly a fan of Ray Davies and his articulate writing) discussing how Ray's incendiary British lyrics were re-written/softened by the American studios so as not to offend or illicit riots in Washington (marches that didn’t materialise). There is also interviews with the clearly bemused/amused owner of the grimy Archway Tavern Pub in North London and patrons supping pints being asked how they feel now that they've been immortalised on the gatefold album cover (cue more laughter). The Mike Cotton Sound brass ensemble are also introduced by Davies to the live audience at The Rainbow and play with The Kinks on three tracks -  "She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina", "Alcohol" and "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues".

The three-way foldout digipak offers a new period photo on the left flap with tape boxes pictured beneath each CD and its see-through tray. The 28-page colour booklet is a pleasingly well-endowed affair - pictures of Ray alongside black and whites/colours of the decidedly longhaired five-piece band. The booklet's front and back cover reproduce that photo where the 'Cats On Holiday' shop is all but obliterated by aluminium sheeting. The four-leaf foldout display of centre pages shows foreign picture sleeves for "20th Century Man" (Japan) and sheet music to "Supersonic Rocket Ship" as well as trade adverts and reviews - it even has a 26 June 1972 ticket stub for the Free Trade Hall in Manchester with Steve Goodman as the support act. IRA ROBBINS of New York provides the very entertaining and well-written liner notes - examining the album's themes of Her Majesty's Government interference in normal people's lives - inner city alienation - people in red coming to take him away - all of this working-class British angst wrapped up in American imagery of Shirley Jones, Errol Flynn and Doris Day.

ANDREW SANDOVAL - who handled all of the Universal 'Deluxe Editions' for The Kinks Pye years - is the Project co-ordinator once again. But the big news is a new Remaster - the first generation tapes transferred by RICHARD WHITTAKER at FX Mastering in London and the Remastering carried out by the vastly experienced VIC ANESINI at Battery Studios in New York. Anesini is a name I actively seek out - he's sprinkled his knob-twiddling fairy dust magic on the catalogues of Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Nilsson, Santana, The Jayhawks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mountain, Carole King and many more. This album was always a muddy mess to me - compounded by that 'Flexi' vinyl crap RCA engaged in at the beginning of the decade. There are hissy moments still on this remastered CD (the acoustic beginning of "Holiday" is just one of them) - but those slide guitars on "Holloway Jail" and the barroom piano on "Have A Cuppa Tea" now have more oomph for damn sure. That drum and guitar intro to "Skin And Bone" has fantastic punch all of a sudden - and there are other moments too. A good job done that's allowed the LP to breathe anew...

As Ray sings "...I was born in a welfare state...ruled by bureaucracy...controlled by civil servants...and people dressed in grey..." on the brilliant opener "20th Century Man" - you gather our Douglas is concerned once again for England's no-longer green and pleasant land and especially its increasingly homogenised and divided populace. Many critics commented on the depth of the song themes and lyrics (there's a lot of them) and their social commentary and insight – but it didn't seem to move the buying public in the same way. Just after the albums release - RCA put the song "20th Century Man" out as a US 45 in December 1971 (RCA Victor 74-0620) with the equally hard-hitting social consciousness of "Skin And Bone" on the B-side. But despite the lyrical/musical strengths of both sides - there were few takers. RCA Britain didn't even bother to support the album with a 7" single - their first UK 45 on RCA Victor being the new "Supersonic Rocket Ship" in May 1972 – which in itself acted as an advance promotion for the "Everybody's In Show Biz" double in August.

The hippy dream is dead and nailed to the wall in the brilliant "Alcohol" where some floozy has fleeced a heartbroken sucker. And The Kinks begin to sound awfully like Lindisfarne's "Fog On The Tyne" and Fotheringay's "Peace In The End" on "Complicated Life" (the accordion and guitars are so much clearer now). You also notice how well Davies has integrated the Mike Cotton Sound brass ensemble into the witty "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues" and the slide-guitar sneak of "Holloway Jail". I never was a fan of the 'Hallelujah Rosie Lea' cod nostalgia of "Have A Cuppa Tea" (a big nod goes out to Typhoo) - but I'm loving the slide acoustic guitars of "Uncle Son" where The Kinks sound like Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance three years before the event. Recorded 17 October 1971 at Morgan Studios in Willesden, London - the album finisher and title track "Muswell Hillbillies" could easily be one of those Rolling Stones Country-Rock jaunts they throw so effectively into the Blues-Rock mix of their albums ("Let It Bleed" and "Sticky Fingers" jump to mind).

And as ridiculously good outtakes - you'd have to call "Lavender Lane" (a sort of acoustic "Waterloo Sunset"), "Mountain Woman" and the superb piano pain of "Kentucky Moon" - more evidence of the album's greatness (even the rejects were hitting the mark). The 50-second Radio Spot advert tells of "Album of The Year" from many American publications - but the public itself thought otherwise. It's also nice to see the Old Grey Whistle Test and Rainbow footage so clean - and dig those credits to "The Virgin Soldiers" movie from 1969 with Raymond Douglas Davies credited for the music (his full name used).

I'd admit that the hiss levels on some tracks are disappointing - but as I re-listen to this excellent remaster - I'm digging it more and more and my admiration for the LP has gone through the roof. Fans apparently magic-markered their song requests onto paper plates at gigs - flinging them stage-ward as the Band played. Flick your schizophrenic paper plates this way and hope for a reply...

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