Monday, December 06, 2010

"Days / This Time Tomorrow"

Ray Davies and Mumford and Sons

Just a little taster from Ray Davies' new duets album, See My Friends. It's not out in the States yet (sorry to tantalize you all), but impatient fangirl that I am, I managed to order a copy from and have been listening to it all day. 

Now, normally I am constitutionally opposed to duets albums.  To my mind, they are even lower on the opportunism scale than best-of compilations -- most often a cynical late-career grab for new market share, wherein a veteran musician lines up "collaborations" with younger artists in order to jump-start awareness of his old hits.  I had thought Ray Davies was above such shenanigans, but apparently not. (Although Ray's notion of "younger artists" seems to include Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, and Bon Jovi -- go figure.)

Translation: this album was not made for the hardcore fans like myself, who presumably already possess seven or eight versions of songs like "You Really Got Me" (performed this time with, I regret to say, Metallica) or "Waterloo Sunset" (performed with -- wait for it -- Jackson Browne, of all people).  Well, actually, I really like the duet with Jackson Browne, but you get my point. We the Kinks faithful do not need this adulterated product. Which makes it even more galling that it is selling like hotcakes over in Europe, giving Ray Davies the chart success that by all rights should have been won by his recent solo albums, Other People's Lives and Working Man's Cafe.  Don't you just hate it when the marketing people are right?

But Ray being Ray, this shameless hustle -- like his equally shameless recycle of old Kinks hits, The Kinks Choral Collection -- turns out to have several very lovely tracks.  And even the kalloused souls of Kinkdom generally confess that this track, where Ray collaborates with the hot young UK indie band Mumford and Sons, is a wonderful thing indeed.

Now, if you're going to perform a cover of a classic rock song -- and especially if you are going to perform that cover with the living legend who actually wrote it -- I believe you need to bring something fresh to the table.  On that score, this track succeeds brilliantly. 

First and foremost, they don't just do one song, they do a medley, yoking together two songs: the 1968 single "Days" with the 1970 album track "This Time Tomorrow" (from Part One: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround). Iconic songs, both of them -- you've got to admire the Mumfords' nerve -- and it was a stroke of genius to combine them. 

"Days" is surely Ray's most wistful break-up song ever, a gentle valediction for an ex-girlfriend, while "This Time Tomorrow" is part lonely meditation on the road, part philosophical musing on the mutability of human relationships.  In both songs, however, Ray Davies is playing with memory. "Days" tenderly recalls the happy moments of this ended love affair, but then it also projects into the future, reflecting on how those happy memories will sustain him in the days to come. (Typical Ray Davies write-off.)  "This Time Tomorrow" time travels more consciously -- "This time tomorrow / Where will we be" -- but as it depicts the jet travel of the touring musician as a sci-fi scenario of space flight, it deftly projects that "tomorrow" eons into the future. Which is probably how the lonely, disconnected touring musician feels, right? In its own way, it's just as poignant and wistful as "Days."

The contrast in tempo between the two songs -- "Days" gentle and folky, "This Time Tomorrow" a banjo-fueled hoedown -- works better than I could ever have imagined (it's also perfect for the Mumfords, who feature virtuoso banjo stylings on all their own tracks).  The song choices also allow the Mumfords to show off their gorgeous vocal harmonies -- for once, I don't miss Dave Davies' harmonies.

I love the Kinks' versions of both these songs, but this is one case where I don't at all mind Ray recycling his classics.  It proves one thing for sure -- your duets album can only be as good as the artists you invite to duet with you.  I suspect that the marketing people wanted Ray to line up artists like Bruce and Bon Jovi who could deliver their own audiences. Of course, that does make marketing sense.  But screw marketing sense:  I'd rather have the enthusiasm and energy that the Mumfords bring to this track.  Watch Ray performing with them -- doesn't he seem invigorated, too?   God bless his little heart.


Anonymous said...

As is usually the case, I'm with you on this.

Beside's the Mumford take (which is truly new and refreshing here) and the vocal by the dame on "Dead End Street" (which is direct and strong), there are not only no new chestnuts here, but the old ones, the real ones, seem abused.

Metallica, Billy Smashing Pumpkins,
Bon Jovi. Why bother?

And to ALLOW Jackson Browne to take a swing at, in my opinion, the already slightly overrated "Waterloo Sunset", not only devalues The Kinks back catalog, but questions Ray's own self confidence, as it seems to make these old chestnuts somehow more common.

Or maybe it is just ka-ching.


NickS said...

That is a lovely track.

It proves one thing for sure -- your duets album can only be as good as the artists you invite to duet with you.

It's funny, I have no argument with your criticisms of "duet albums" as a genre, but as soon as you mentioned duets I though of this quotation of which stuck with me after I read it, "Almost all the cuts feature just two people and their instruments. This is arguably a more intimate musical form than even solo performance, for if music is language, and I have no doubt that it it, than two minds are required."

Holly A Hughes said...

That's a great way of putting it! I think that's why the Jerry Lee Lewis duets album worked -- Jerry Lee was digging his duet partners -- and the Sinatra one, with its phoned-in partners, left me so cold.

Rich, I'm still on the fence about "Dead End Street," but I think in the end I'll like it. It's one of my special favorite songs, and I sense that Amy McDonald is on the right wavelength indeed.

KarmaSartre said...

At my mother's funeral, I recited the lyrics to "Days", just changed the line "You took my life" to "You gave me life".

scottmandu said...

Fellow RingTone Michael from Ottawa sent me the file of Ray and Bruce's track a couple weeks back, and as much as I love both of them, it really didn't work for me.
You on the other hand, have picked a winner. Why am I not surprised? It's great to have you back on my MacBook screen. Thanksgiving must have been fun, you were gone so long I was in withdrawal.

Anonymous said...

Just in case you guys missed Ray's Op Ed in The Times:

The whole Lennon thing this week made me ache to hear the greatest Beatle song they never wrote, that is, The Ruttles send up "Cheese And Onions."

Does anybody have a tissue?


Betty C. said...

Hello Holly,

Last weekend was my "See My Friends" weekend, and I guess I am feeling much more favorable about the album than many other Kinks fans. Maybe it's because I just saw Ray at a magic concert in Paris and I feel like he can do no wrong.

Here is my take (adapted from something I posted on KPS, so you may have read something like it if you're a faithful KPS reader.)

First, I really don't understand what all the dissing and fuss is about. It's a fun concept, some songs work very well, some not so well. Sure, I have to gag a little at Metallica (it could have been a little fun had there never been the Van Halen cover....) and Jovi, but other than that, I don't have any problems with the duo choices.

Personally, like you, I absolutely adore the Days/This Time Tomorrow combo. I also like everything the 88 is on. It may not be revolutionary, but it's a nice tribute to the band that toured with him.

As for the "Better Things" controversy, I have to say WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL? First, I don't see why so many Kinks fans seem to be so down on Bruce Springsteen, who is quite a well-respected man in the songwriting department last time I checked at least.

I agree Bruce's voice does not stand up to Ray's on the song,which we can all be gleeful about, but I also would say that "Better Things" is the Kinks' most Springsteen-esque piece, at least melodically, so why not? I always felt "Better Things" was poorly produced and the new version is more powerful IMO.

I am also a Jackson Browne fan (is there something wrong with that?) and love the "meeting of the underrated songwriters" that the new version of Waterloo Sunset represents. It's an unlikely pairing, as Ray explains on the CD sleeve, but for me it works and is indeed very touching.

Besides, in my book, Ray has earned the right to work on any projects he wants to: musicals, choral arrangements, collaborative songbook efforts...whatever keeps him going and touring, because I sure want to see him in concert again.

wendy said...

Interesting discussion, the topic of covers (with the added duets issue here) is a source of endless fascination to me. I really like the take on Days/This Time Tomorrow. Haven't heard the Dead End Street rendition yet - a bit leery of that because the original is soooo utterly gripping.

I run hot and cold on whether it's ever OK to redo anything - if it was perfect the first time (according to me!), you do so at your own peril. But you never know - I would have said, for example, that no one should ever cover I've Just Seen A Face; how do you improve upon such a sublime performance, why even try?

Well, a friend of mine did it - he slowed the tempo down astronomically, basically transforming it into something closer to a dirge, and by the end tears were streaming down my cheeks. A completely different take that just happened to work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Betty C,'s just that we expect so much more from Ray. We think there is still something in the tank and are afraid that this particular direction (old covers with name and semi-name current and erstwhile rock stars) can only lead to Ray's pitching his golden hits in some 4:00 AM time slot in an infomercial opposite the SHAM-WOW! dude.

Despite his years, some of us don't think that Ray is ready for the Senior Tour yet. We think he can still hold his own against the young guys.

And Wendy, I'm with you on the covers...what was Steve Martin (who I like very much) thinking when he did the remake of "The Out Of Towners?" That's Jack Lemmon's movie, only his (whistling through his broken tooth cap while trying to convince Sandy Dennis that spending the night in Central Park was the way to go) and can only EVER be his.


Holly A Hughes said...

It's a fine line, indeed, between becoming a fixtures on the oldies tour and still being commercially viable. If Ray can tread this line successfully, he'll be in the minority. And he hasn't got the best track record on shrewd business/marketing strategy . . . nevertheless, word is that he's got an album of new material (provisionally titled "Americana") nearly ready for release, so don't consign Ray Davies to the K-Tel universe just yet.

Betty C. said...

Ray's NYT's OpEd piece on John Lennon almost makes it sound like "Americana" could be a book...there's a little confusion about that going on, I have also read it could be a CD/DVD...???

Anonymous said...

Loved the K-Tel reference, Holly.
And when things get real tough for Ray, maybe he can combine forces with that other 4:30 AM, channel 126 icon and noted pan pipeist:

---all through a soft focus lens featuring doves, harps, waterfalls and most importantly Zam's agony/ecstasy mug.