Review Summary: Face to face with excellence.
The Kinks just had a knack of nailing a few certain traits with such effortless adeptness that they managed to churn out a number of superb pop records in the sixties, albums that stand the test of time as well as any Beatles or Stones record even though they didn’t achieve anywhere near the same levels of popularity in their day. It’s albums like Face To Face
that make it more puzzling as to why The Kinks didn’t really hit the same commercial peaks as the aforementioned groups, as its 14 songs are consistent, vibrant, catchy and utterly deserving of a comparable level of success.
Maybe it’s because of the group’s ill-fated US trip early in their career, which saw them scuffling with the wrong folk – record company folk who would remain bitter and spoil their chances of breaking into the lucrative stateside market like their contemporaries had the opportunity to. The Kinks missed their chance to be part of the British Invasion like they should’ve been, and although it seems rather shameful on the one hand, in hindsight, in the other palm may rest an unlikely, but rather astounding side-effect.
Perhaps their almost closed-door relation to America caused The Kinks to evolve into what we have come to know and love them for – a distinctly British band, crafting pop songs rich with witty, ironic character portraits and poignant nostalgia. It was on Face To Face
that this style truly showed its potential, with Ray Davies’ song writing evolving a considerable amount from previous efforts. Cuts such as the witty ‘Dandy’ or the slightly more pedestrian ‘Session Man’ bore witness to Davies’ changing style of writing, always sounding genuine and clever, with lines like “He’s not paid to think, just play” on the latter, and “Dandy, you know you’re moving much too fast / And dandy, you know you can’t escape the past / Look around you and see / The people settle down” on the former, adding a touch of pensiveness to proceedings, elevating the songs above mere whimsy and into the realms of something much more poignant.
The band had grew with their frontman too, moving away from the hard-rocking sound of the past into a more gentle and subtle approach, often crossing over into folky territory wherever it seemed necessary to reflect the particular tale Ray Davies was trying to sing about. It all comes together superbly on numbers such as the rambunctious ‘Party Line’, the sombre ‘Rosie Wont You Please Come Home’, the jovial ‘Holiday in Waikiki’, and more than anywhere else, on the album’s crowning glory, ‘Sunny Afternoon’.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ deserves a special mention as it shows what The Kinks did best. It’s the play-off between softer verses and harder choruses, the balance between retrospection and contemporary British issues (“The taxman’s taken all my dough”), and the general air of genuineness and relatability that made it a deserving #1 and one of The Kinks’ best and most defining songs.
Face To Face
is similar to that particular song in many ways. It has its jovial, energetic moments alongside its more moody, sombre pieces, but whether it’s an emotional peak or trough that the band is trying to express, it doesn’t change much in terms of style, and more importantly, quality. The track list is consistent; the songs are vibrant and varied, and the song writing memorable and packed with characters and personalities relatable and entertaining to virtually anyone, not just us Brits. Conclusively, Face To Face
is simply a superb Sixties pop record, and one that would prove to be the first in a line of many, as the succeeding years would come to evidence.