Wednesday, February 13, 2008

“In A Moment” / Ray Davies

I keep forgetting that Ray Davies’ new album, Workingman’s Café, is coming out in the States next week – I pre-ordered mine so long ago (plus I already have the UK version, which was released last November, and the 10-track freebie from the Sunday Times—but I had to have it all; after all, this is RAY).

Ray Davies performed this new track from WMC last night at the Tibet House Benefit, which unfortunately I did not attend (anybody who saw me there must have been hallucinating). It’s a natural choice for Ray to have done last night, not only because he wrote it in New York, but also because it doesn’t sound like an old reworked Kinks song--this is the new solo Ray, and I love it. I love the loose-limbed rhythm of this song, Ray’s breathy vocals, the almost reggae-like way he accents odd syllables. It’s really a mood piece, not a story—coming from one of the world’s great storytellers, that’s surprising--but that just proves Ray’s willingness to grow as an artist.

A single harsh guitar strum wakes us up, then Ray begins, in a husky earnestness: “Sunlight, and the city / is barely awake.” I love that time of day, too; I’m captivated at once. As he says at the end of the verse, “Still I love the dusk, the dawn / Between times / They are mine.” He tries to pin it down in the bridge, saying, “Everything around is so transitional / Momentary lapse of rational.” Those abstracts seem out of place in a rock song, I’ll admit; they grated on my ear at first. (Plus “rational” doesn’t seem right – shouldn’t it be “rationality”?). But as the song goes on, I realize that the struggle to put things into words is a big part of what’s going on.

After all, being only human—and Ray’s a great chronicler of human failings—we often overreact, or read a situation wrong, or just plain have lousy timing, don’t we? And often it's those things that kill a relationship, not the grand romantic twists of fate. With tantalizingly vague descriptions, Ray depicts those knife-edge moments when love turns to hate, or joy to pain; when you change your point of view, or just look away, and suddenly the whole affair goes sour. “In a second you can look away / Turn around to find it’s all changed.”

That tripping syncopation and staggered syntax are perfect for a song about relationships going out of kilter. Even though he tries to end on a positive note – “But in a moment / Hope will find a way” – it’s not very convincing. If anything, this song is kin to a couple of sleeper Kinks gems I’ve always loved, “Stormy Sky” and “Lost and Found” – it’s got the same floating-above-it-all quality, a philosophical detachment that I find oddly comforting. Sure, things are crap, but we can rise above it, can't we?

I suspect this won’t go down in the pantheon of great love songs – but then the Kinks were never big on simple love songs. (Tortured love songs, that’s another matter.) But the restless dreaminess of this song is totally seductive. It’s a watercolor, not a big broad canvas, but drawn with all the delicacy and feeling of a master.

In A Moment sample

9 comments:

Iñaki said...

It's a wonderful song, one of my favourites from WMC and I hope he keeps playing it live. I love the theme.

Uncle E said...

The new album sounds great! Will be picking it up, along with Mr. Lowe's anniversary edition of Jesus Of Cool, next Tuesday!
By the way, I have a Ray song I cannot find listed on any disc I've ever seen. Could even be a Kinks song, for all I know. Don't even know the name, but it's about Ray buying a new shirt and getting arrested on a murder rap because it's got a blood stain...or, as Ray sings it, "It's got a bloooooood staaaiiinnnn".

Holly, please help!

Mark said...

Thanks for making me listen to this song again! I had forgotten how much I like it. The music does have a hopeful feeling to it, and I like the way Ray accents "the" in the phrase, "or the sunlight."

Uncle E, I found the song you're talking about! According to the Unofficial Kinks website, http://kinks.it.rit.edu/ the song is called "The Shirt," and it only appeared on the CD "The Singles Collection/Waterloo Sunset." This was a 2-CD set, with the first CD featuring the Kinks' hit singles from the 1960's, and the second CD featuring some previously unreleased songs that were related to Ray's book of short stories, "Waterloo Sunset." Sounds like a good song.

Uncle E said...

GREAT! Thanks, Mark! Yeah, it's a realy cool, kina jazz-noir type song, very un-Kinkish, but great nonetheless.
Thanks again!

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks for the info, Mark -- that song didn't ring any bells with me. Just when you think you know a guy's catalog...

Julie said...

One of my favorites on the new album.

bill said...

Nice review of one of the outstanding songs on an outstanding album. The song threw me at first, going from minor to major and back verse/chorus but it all makes sense now. 'One More Time' is my favorite on the album, but things shift over time. Keep up the good work!

Mark said...

Did anyone else see Ray perform this song on Letterman? It was pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

I did see Ray do this piece on David Letterman, and for once, the studio didn't cheap out. There was brass, bass, about three or four background singers, couple of guitars, and Paul Schaefer on keyboards. Paul even tried to harmonize with Ray.

It is on Youtube.

Rich