Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) came out during a rough time for The Kinks. Released in late 1969, it was their first album since the commercial failure of the album 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society', and the departure of Peter Quaife, one of the founding members of the band. The album was originally composed by Ray Davies as the soundtrack for a television play, about a character named 'Arthur' is actually based on Davies' brother in law, who had emigrated from England to Australia.
This album is actually a concept album. It is not widely known as one, as it is not usually mentioned in the presence of other concept albums of it's time. The first part of the album is used to describe the England that Arthur once knew. The album is ushered in with the upbeat Victoria
. And soon moves onto other songs like Some Mother's Son
; a slower song that is about War, and really makes the listener think about the cost of War, and the toll it leaves on family life.
One of the things that The Kinks are famous for, is their use of the power chord. They were one of the pioneering groups to use the power chord and use them to write very catchy riffs. One song that makes good use of this is Brainwashed
. It employs a catchy melody and very good guitar work. A lot of the music present on this album would make fans of the Kink's classic 'You Really Got Me' very happy.
Of course, no Kinks album would be complete without seeing the humorous side of the band. Songs like Australia
employ quizzical melodies, and others like She's Bought a Hat like Princess Marina
use flat out humor. This particular song starts off with very elegant sounding harpsichord. The lyrics then reveal the life styles of several middle class Britains who buy things to make themselves feel like upper class. It's quite comical when you listen to it, but I won't spoil anymore of the lyrics for you, as they are truly funny.
One of the things that I love about the Kinks, is that they are able to play songs that use hard rock like riffs, and then you never really know what the next track will be like. It could be a soft acoustic ballad, a humorous spoof on everyday life, or a track that just generally blows you away. The thing that really hit me about this album, is I have a lot of fun listening to it. It's not often that I have the amount of fun from listening to an album as I do from this one. Usually I will listen to, and like albums because they take me places. With this album, it takes the listener somewhere, and ensures that the listener has fun at the same time. I haven't seen very many albums do this before.
Musically, this album is excellent. Interesting guitar work, great melodies, and a good overall mix of different styles. This album does not only keep the listener satisfied, but also keeps the listener wondering where it will go next. When we look at when this album this released, and what kind of conditions it was recorded in it, it is amazing that it turned out so well.
Ray Davies: Vocals, Guitar
Dave Davies: Guitar, Harmonica, Keyboards, Vocals
John Dalton: Bass Guitar, Background vocals
Mick Avory: Drums
John Gosling: Keyboards