The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Muswell Hillbillies

The Kinks

The split personality that is Ray Davies 'genius is never more apparent than on this 1972 classic. Though the Kinks 'initial breakthrough was built on ruffled-shirt decadence and guitar distortion, Davies early on revealed a nostalgic yearning for a simpler England, the Village Green and the local pub. But the price paid is steep: none of the many characters in Muswell Hill seem able to escape the modern world. Beset by alcoholism, starvation, jail and "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues," they take refuge in their dreams, and even those turn out badly. In "Holiday," the narrator lies on a beach only to be burnt by the sun, with the sea "an open sewer." In "Oklahoma U.S.A.," the punchline is "If life's for livin 'then what's livin 'for."

This troubled 1972 masterpiece might just be the grandaddy of alt-country

Unrelieved gloom? Hardly. Davies 'affection for his characters and the Kinks 'skill with a hook shines through. Despite the hard times amidst the omnipresent "People In Grey," his songs allow that a sense of community will grant a shoulder to lean upon, a friend to share a cuppa tea, a tune to hum. More than that, his "Muswell Hillbilly" can imagine the West Virginia he'll never see, the there of not-there, and the most powerful nostalgia of all.