The Other Brother in the Kinks Releases a Gem of an Album with 'Decade'
Dave Davies' lost 1970s recordings finally emerge on Decade, and they sound raw, ragged and lovely.
Red River Entertainment
12 October 2018
It must be tough being in a band with your big brother – especially when he writes the tunes and calls the shots. It doesn't help when the band you're in is the Kinks – a volatile powder keg of ego, sibling rivalry, and God only knows what else. We all know that Dave Davies can write a decent tune – check out "Death of a Clown" and "Susannah's Still Alive" for proof of that, but can the younger Davies brother consistently deliver the goods? If Decade is anything to go on, then yeah, he can.
Decade has been lovingly assembled by Dave's sons Simon and Martin from recordings made at the band's Konk Studios, throughout the 1970s. The good news is that it hangs together well as an album and sounds cohesive -not a ragbag of demos and half-baked ideas, but a genuine long-playing record. The other good news is that the tunes are strong and don't sound as if they were written by his brother. Well, a few do, but they are family, after all.
In the 1970s, the Kinks were an eccentric arena band, packing them in across the USA and ramping up the rock elements of their sound. English whimsy combined with a loud guitar or two was a powerful draw to your average gig going American, and Davies was a major part of that. If you need proof, then just listen to One for the Road – recorded in a variety of American cities (with a couple of tracks from Zurich) in late 1979, Dave Davies guitar is front and center and propels the band forward with real urgency. On Decade, we get a hint of that, but it's quite surprising that it isn't more, well, heavy, I guess. This is the guy that invented heavy metal, after all.
Does it sound like the Kinks? Only a bit. In fact, it sounds more like the Faces. Davies' strummed 12-string guitar on "The Journey" sounds like it could have come off "Maggie May" and when the steel guitar gets going, you can almost see Rod Stewart limbering up in the wings, with a glass of scotch in one hand and a soccer ball in the other. Davies' nicely ragged vocal style is definitely in the same ballpark as Stewart. The whole album has a laid back and ramshackle feel, which would have worked well in clubs and bars and it's a shame we never got to see more of him as a bandleader. There is a lovely mid-'70s vibe going through the whole album -- nothing forced, but an effortless ensemble performance.
"Same Old Blues" has echoes of pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac and "Islands" has an almost 10cc feel. Not derivative, but fresh and energetic. Some of the 13 songs on Decade would have enlivened any Kinks album they would have appeared on. Only on "Mystic Woman" does the quality control dip a little as it sounds like a fairly typical pub rock workout. It may have sounded great in the studio, or in the back room of a bar, but on record, not so much.
This is a solid piece of work, which hints at a musician with eclectic tastes and a neat way with a tune. "Shadows" tips it's hat to the Allman Brothers and Little Feat, while "Cradle to the Grave" has echoes of Humble Pie, with Davies' turning in a fabulous, heartfelt vocal.
Right now, there's talk of a reunion of the "classic" line up of the Kinks. Dave Davies is 71. His brother Ray is 74. What comes of that is anyone's guess and bearing in mind that both the Davies' brothers have suffered injury and ill health over the last few years, what can we expect from them? They could surprise us. After all, we weren't expecting a top-drawer solo album from Dave, recorded almost by accident 40 years ago to drop in our laps in 2018, did we?