Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Property" / The Kinks

Okay, all you Kinkaholics -- and apparently there are several of you out there -- another Ray song's gotten stuck in my head. This one's from State of Confusion again, but it's a whole 'nother thang. In "State of Confusion," the narrator whines that his girlfriend's moved out because the video machine broke, and you've gotta laugh. There is NO LAUGHING in "Property."

Rock music is full of break-up songs, but this is a rarer thing, a break-up song for grown-ups.

We get the characters' whole history in one sliver of time, one watershed scene, flavored with a mixed cocktail of emotions -- sorrow, acceptance, regret, and, oh yes, relief. The protagonist stands awkwardly in the vestibule, bags packed, sharply aware of all he's feeling, like an out-of-body experience: "When I think of what I'll be losing / It's hard to move along / But it's harder just to stay here / Knowing that I don't belong." I picture him taking a farewell glance at the mantelpiece, where he spots the framed photographs and a clutter of holiday souvenirs -- and he almost loses it. That's a nice realistic touch; that's the sort of thing that does trip you up, when you least expect it.

But what really gets me here -- the truly brilliant effect -- is how Ray describes those objects, with the lovers' fate foreshadowed in every one: "You take the photographs, the ones of you and me / When we both posed and laughed to please the family. / Nobody noticed then we wanted to be free / And now there's no more love, it's just the property." (Remember the Kinks song "Picture Book"? Ray Davies has always been skeptical of snapshots.) "And all the little gifts we thought we'd throw away / The useless souvenirs bought on a holiday. / We put them on a shelf, now they're collecting dust. / We never needed them, but they outlasted us." That rhyme, "dust" and "us," cuts right to the heart.

Then comes a final flicker of regret, Ray's voice straining anxiously upward: "Started off with nothing, started off just you and me " --but he's knows there's no going back. "Now that it's all over, you can keep the property," he concludes. And he's out the door. Slam. Finis.

Of course, a song isn't just words, but I can't imagine these lyrics set more perfectly. It's a midtempo track, with a simple unwavering drumbeat like a ticking clock (because time's running out). The guitar strums dully, the keyboards add an electronic sigh of regret. Both the verses and the chorus repeat the same melodic line over and over, as if the singer's too numb to come up with anything new. It's bouncy, but it's also a circular sequence of notes that makes him sounds trapped. Sure, in the bridge the melody does arc upward, but at the end of every line it sinks into a minor chord, as if whelmed by despair. At the end, things get synth-y (hey, it was 1983) but it works: dehumanized back-up vocals chant "property" like a cruel taunt, echoed by a creepy talking guitar.

This guy's got to leave; he knows it, she knows it. They've talked it to death. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, and somehow I feel that this is a lot more naked and personal than the usual Ray Davies song. Biographical or not, it aches with real feeling. On a day when you just feel like being sad, I can recommend it highly.

1 comment:

IƱaki said...

What can I say, a Kinks song and your blog, you can never go wrong with this combination!

I'm not a grown-up so I've always had the feeling that I don't understand this song "properly", but I can catch the mix of emotions you are talking about. I've always thought there's a strong influence of Chrissie in most songs of this album, and this one is one of them.

Of course I may be wrong, but I like to think that the kids are the biggest part of this property.

I'll do what you recommend and I'll try to listen to it when I feel sad. ;)