"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 amazon.fr 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.