The Kinks have survived 35-plus years in the music business not just because they are talented, but because they are versatile. While few could have predicted their transformation from a derivative beat group to the godfathers of Britpop, even more surprising was their successful stint as arena rockers in the late 1970s. With their recordings for Arista Records, The Kinks experienced the greatest commercial success of their career, even if they were losing their footing artistically.
Compiling the group’s Arista output, which spans 1977 to 1986, makes good sense. It’s largely agreed that The Kinks’ albums from that period were wildly uneven, so it’s nice for fans of the big radio hits to have a concise collection of the group’s best material from those albums. It’s also a good sampler for fans of the earlier work, who might not be as appreciative of this hard rock material. There is hardly a trace of the ravers who recorded “You Really Got Me” here, and even less of the wry sentimentality that went into “The Village Green Preservation Society.” The Kinks in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were something like a bar band from Ohio, albeit a very good bar band.
Several of the hard rockers on Come Dancing (“Catch Me Now I’m Falling”, “Do It Again”, “Destroyer”) were staples of Top 40 radio in their time, and deservedly so—they were big, loud, and catchy. The title track is an ‘80s pop classic which, for a brief moment, recaptured the sweetly sentimental Kinks of old, and was their biggest hit in years. Other tracks are lost gems, such as the gorgeous “Full Moon”, which cleverly borrows from their “Johnny Thunder”; “Sleepwalker”; and Dave Davies’ “Living on a Thin Line”, a lilting, bittersweet paean to England’s glory days.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of clunkers as well. “Low Budget” and “A Gallon of Gas” are awful countrified blues numbers made even harder to stomach due to Ray Davies’ moaning about being poor during the commercial peak of his career. The testosterone-fueled live versions of the older hits “Lola” and “You Really Got Me” (the latter sounds like The Kinks imitating Van Halen imitating The Kinks) pale in comparison to the originals, and are probably included only to make casual fans feel like they have all The Kinks’ big hits.
Listening to Come Dancing elicits very strong and contradictory feelings. It’s impressive that the group, especially the usually sweet-voiced Ray Davies, was versatile enough to make such convincing hard rock. And some of these songs are really good. Coming from such a fantastically talented group as The Kinks, however, that’s just not enough. This is a band which, 10 years earlier, was putting out entire albums of phenomenal songs, not just a few good singles. Come Dancing may be a good time, but it’s not the stuff that made The Kinks’ legend.