Hang on a minute, the new Ray Davies album, free with a Sunday newspaper? What is this world coming to? Well whatever people think of the sales ploy, it’s worked. Ray’s second solo offering, Working Man’s Café, is sitting in thousands of car stereos and has probably reached many more ears than if it merely graced the shelves of HMV.
It’s still available to buy with two extra tracks for the die-hard fans, but I’m sure most have had their fill. Working Man’s Café is a far cry from The Kinks classics and those looking for a ’60s blast from the past will be left disappointed. But that’s not to say it’s a bad album. On the contrary, there are a handful of excellent songs with very powerful messages, lovely melodies and some great musicianship.
The golden era of The Kinks’ twee English pop, singing about cream teas, days out with the family and the great Sunday lunch is gone and Ray now looks at the world through darker eyes. Vietnam Cowboys delves into the issues of globalisation and the title track, one of the best on the album, is a tribute to the greasy spoon and the modern way of life. Working Man’s Café is a reflection of grown-up living rather than the naivety of a youngster with no worries. While looking out of that café window, Ray sees how the world has changed and the stresses of today, from the loss of the fruit and veg salesman to mortgage repayments.
The literal descriptions in Ray’s lyric writing are still very much a part of this album, none so more than in Morphine Song, apparently about his own experience of the emergency room after being shot by muggers in New Orleans. Such a difficult and bizarre time of his life is accompanied by an uplifting score, a childlike, catchy chorus and some lovely backing vocals, which add a nice contrast to Ray’s now deeper and hoarse voice. The song builds and grows into a euphoric tune with bursting brass before crashing down to a simpler state, with just a little guitar and a pubby piano.
The Ray Davies we all know and love is still very much here, but his voice and the way he sings is completely different. In You’re Asking Me, he even has the tinges of a later David Bowie.
A much softer sound comes through in Imaginary Man, where he looks at his own impact on the world with a melody not dissimilar to some of the Brit indie groups of today.
But with the good, comes the bad and the very ugly indeed. Although the album is not over-produced, it is a little flat in parts and too clean for my liking. Everything fits very nicely together, but there’s not much that can get you really excited.
It’s very much a Ray Davies album and some of the accompanying musicians don’t get a chance to shine. An occasional Hammond is lost in the background, the percussion is soulless and it’s only the backing vocals that really reach out to grab you.
Some of the songs are a little dull and a few of the lyrics can be a little embarrassing, but the better tracks make up for them. One very strange occurrence is the closing song, The Voodoo Walk. Where this song came from I have no idea, but it should have been relegated to the desktop trash can.
After such a personal and heartfelt album, it ends with a song about the zombie people and demons with pointy ears. It’s horrid and dated, with Ray even adding his own ghoulish growl. Nasty.