on 12 April 2006
In a quiet period for Kinks' singles compared to 64-67, this album is something of a surprise. The Kinks compound their concept album 'The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society' with this summary of what it means to be English.
The album has a distinctive sound with drums to the fore and most songs comprise of several distinct parts with shifting rhythms. For example, there's 'Australia' which begins up-tempo and part tongue-in-cheek and ends as a slower paced jam with superb guitar soloing and a full brass section, with the final burst of wobble board seeming to indicate the completion of this journey.
Then there's 'She's bought a hat like Princess Marina'. This one begins slow and shifts gear twice, ending as a fast paced skit that sounds like Chas and Dave doing skiffle.
Behind all the fun though, this album makes some serious points, from the anti-war sentiment of 'Some Mother's Son' to 'Brainwashed', which is as true today of the British public as it was in the 60s - people may have a little more money these days but the same disatisfaction still festers. All in all, this album blows apart the ethos of materialism and leaves us with an old man assessing the worth of his life, via the happy youthful exuberance of 'Driving' to the melacholic 'Young and Innocent Days'.
The final song is 'Arthur', where the band repeatedly concludes "Arthur, we love you, and want to help you, somebody loves you, don't you know it". All in all, 'life is what it is and there's nothing we can do to change it'.
This is a truly great album for Kinks fans wanting to look a bit deeper and I would imagine that the glut of bonus tracks adds little to this already perfect symphony.
Like many fans of this great British band, I've watched the release of 6 Kinks 'Deluxe Editions' since the beginning of 2011 with a certain amount of scepticism. Haven't these albums been done to death already and isn't this just more monetary milking of it? But better than the previous 2004 single issue - along with the gains - there are some minor omissions too. So here are the intimate details for "Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire DELUXE EDITION" by THE KINKS Released 20 June 2011 in the UK on Universal/Sanctuary 273 227-4 (Barcode 602527322742) - it breaks down as follows:
Disc 1 (78:24 minutes):
2. Yes Sir, No Sir
3. Some Mother's Son
7. Shangri La
8. Mr. Churchill Says
9. She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Maria
10. Young And Innocent Days
11. Nothing To Say
Tracks 1 to 12 are the MONO version of the LP "Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire" released 10 October 1969 in the UK on Pye Records NPL 18317 (no Mono version was released in the USA - only Stereo - see Disc 2)
Track 13 is "Plastic Man" - the non-album Mono A-side of a UK 7" single released 29 March 1969 on Pye Records 7N.17724 ("King Kong" from "Village Green..." is its B-side)
Track 14 is "This Man He Weeps Tonight" - the Mono non-album B-side of a UK 7" single released 12 September 1969 on Pye Records 7N.17812 (the mono A-side is "Shangri La" from the album)
Track 15 is "Mindless Child Of Motherhood" - the Mono non-album B-side of a UK 7" single released 20 June 1969 on Pye Records 7N.17776. The A-side is the album track "Drivin'" - the B-side is credited as Kinks featuring Dave Davies
Track 16 is "Creeping Jean" - credited to Dave Davies, it's the Mono B-side of a UK 7" single released 17 January 1969 on Pye Records 7N.17678 - it's A-side is Track 18 - the non-album "Hold My Hand"
Track 17 is "Lincoln County" - credited to Dave Davies, it's the Mono A-side of a UK 7" single released 20 August 1968 on Pye Records 7N.17514 - it's B-side is the non-album "There's No Life Without Love" which is 'not' on here - it's only available on the 2004 single CD version of "Something Else"
Track 18 is "Hold My Hand" - see Track 16
Tracks 19 to 21 are "Victoria", "Mr. Churchill Says" and "Arthur" - December 1969 studio recordings with further overdubs, mixing and editing - broadcast by the BBC in December 1969 on the 'Dave Lee Travis' show on Radio One
Disc 2 (79:48 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 12 are the STEREO version of the LP - Pye Records NSPL 18317 in the UK and Reprise Records RS 6366 in the USA (same tracks as Disc 1)
Track 13 is "Plastic Man" - a Stereo take released in 1969 on a Dutch LP called "Star Parade" on SR International 79343
Track 14 is "This Man He Weeps Tonight" - a Stereo take originally released 25 January 1973 in the USA on "The Great Lost Kinks Album" on Reprise Records MS 2127
Track 15 is "Drivin'" - Previously Unreleased Stereo Alternate Mix from an Acetate
Track 16 is "Mindless Child Of Motherhood" - as per Track 14
Track 17 is "Hold My Hand" - as per Track 13
Track 18 is "Lincoln County" - a Previously Unreleased Stereo Mix
Track 19 is "Mr. Shoemaker's Daughter" - Stereo, a Previously Unreleased Mix
Track 20 is "Mr. Reporter" - Stereo, a Previously Unreleased Remix
Track 21 is "Shangri La" - Stereo, a Previously Unreleased Backing Track
The 24-page booklet is as tastefully laid out as the "Face To Face" and "Something Else" issues - they all have the same generic look. The liners notes this time are again by noted writer PETER DOGGETT (Record Collector magazine) but with contributions from Ray Davies, Dave Davies and Mick Avory of the band. There's photos of the UK album artwork including the legendarily rare 'Queen Victoria' insert that only came with original copies. There's lovely colour repros of rare Euro and US 7" single picture sleeves, trade adverts, newspaper clippings, memorabilia, lyrics to all the songs and there's even input from fan sites etc. The breakdown of the tracks is very well done too - what came from what and why. Both of the discs are also themed - the CDs reflect the light blue and black colouring of the original UK Pye Records LP label - with Side 1 pictured beneath the see-through tray of CD1 and Side 2 beneath the tray of CD2 - all nice touches.
ANDREW SANDOVAL, DAN HERSCH (of Digiprep and Rhino fame) and ANDY PEARCE carried out the remasters - and the sound quality is exceptionally good. The STEREO mix in particular is STUNNING - leaping out of the speakers in a way it never did before - beautifully clear. And for American fans who've only ever grown up with the Stereo mix on Reprise Records, the MONO variant on Disc 1 will come as a brutal shock. It makes a lot of the songs somehow bleaker, more focused - it's hard to describe, but I like it. In fact - as with "Face To Face" and "Something Else" - the difference between the MONO and STEREO variants is acute, but never more so than here. Some prefer the stark power of the MONO mix - others the spread of the STEREO version - but this is definitely one of those 'Deluxe Editions' that actually benefits from the presence of both. They're different beasts for sure - but equally admirable.
To the record itself - somehow "Arthur..." seemed to sense that the Sixties was coming to a close, but not on a high note. A lot of the lyrics aren't so much acidic as ponderous as to what the future was going to bring - "...Now I've got children, I'm going grey..." from "Nothing To Say" (lyrics above also) or "I see the lines across your face - Time has gone and nothing can replace - Those great, so great - Young and innocent days..." from the slightly sad "Young And Innocent Days" (a band favourite). The zippy album opener "Victoria" is fabulous as is the layered "Drivin'" - very Kinks - very good. "Shangri La" is pretty yet biting, while the lyrics to "Mr. Churchill Says" now sound ever so slightly disrespectful and even revoluntionary. The guitars on the finisher "Arthur" are so clear too...
Niggles - couple of B-sides left off (but they're available elsewhere if you really want them) and I find these new card-digipaks easy to dent and mark without the outer plastic wrap that was on all initial Deluxe Editions. But these are minor points - at a whopping 42 tracks and with full playing times on both discs, there's genuinely very little to moan about.
To sum up - a superb new remaster on both mixes, properly upgraded packaging and liner notes and extra tracks that actually warrant the title 'bonus'. Recommended like Princess Marina's hat...
on 1 April 2005
Ray and Dave Davies and band put together this catchy bunch of tunes for a late 60's BBC TV special on the state of Old Blighty. Though the show was never aired, BBC's loss was our gain. As either a 'concept' or just plain rock album, 'Arthur Or The Decline and Fall of The British Empire' is not as innovative and varied as 'Something Else' or 'Face to Face', or that 'other one', but it's still darn good and would still make a great soundtrack now, if anyone at the Beeb wants to try their hand at some creative programming. It flows better I think, since it uses or re-cycles song forms and rock guitar licks more intentionally. The best songs are classic Kinks- 'Arthur', 'Shangri-La' and 'Victoria' ( later brilliantly updated by the Fall) and the lesser ones are a lot of fun to listen to in their all their sunset melancholy. I have the previous Castle re-issue with pretty much the same bonus cuts and would trust that the Sanctuary edition matches or excels that one in re-mastered sound.
'Arthur' was originally conceived as a musical television drama, but when the drama never materialised, Ray Davies went ahead and released the music in the form of a concept album. The basic story relates to Ray's brother-in-law Arthur who emigrated to Australia some years previously.
Generally, the music here has a much more 'modern' feel than previous Kinks albums, mainly due to its very rich production and the typical Kinks sound augumented by horns. In many ways 'Arthur' is much more suited to the ideals normally associated with concept albums than 'The Village Green Preservation Society' because it does seem to be much grander in scope.
The songs are generally strong despite the fact that 'Victoria', 'Shangrila' and 'Australia' tend to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Many of the other songs such as 'Yes Sir, No Sir','Some Mothers Son' and 'Mr Churchill Says' relate lyrically to the war years.
There are aspects to 'Arthur' which shows the Kinks moving forward from their previous work. There seems much more sophistication in terms of musicianship, production and general song structure (particuarly in the way a number of the songs have different sections) yet there are times when the sheer scope of the album makes some of the songs sound a little forced as though Ray was thinking of the overall concept well above the merits of the individual songs. This certainly doesn't make 'Arthur' a bad album and it's certainly not overblown anywhere near the degree of The Who's contemporary concept album 'Tommy', yet it doesn't sit quite as comfortably as 'The Village Green Preservation Society'.
There are a number of extras to 'Arthur' (including 'Plastic Man') which are quite pleasant without really being essential.
Overall, 'Arthur' is still one of the Kinks best, however.
on 17 June 2009
By 1969 there were not many lives left for The Kinks, despite piles of critical acclaim for their previous release; The Village Green Preservation Society was sadly a commercial disaster in 1968, similary the life boat single of Plastic Man also fell far short of record label expectations and to make matters worse, the peace envoy for the two feuding brothers, childhood friend and founder band member, bassist Peter Quaife, had decided to call it a day with the band. As backdrops go, the preparation for The Kinks' 1969 outing were not ideal, but instead of playing it say and trying to consolidate the band's position, some could say fighting for the bands very existence infact, Ray Davies typically came up with an outlandish and ambitious project for the release instead, the stakes could not have been greater.
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) released in October 1969 on Reprise/Pye, was not your typical album, it was actually destined to be so much more than that. On its own, this album is a full on concept, telling the story of Arthur and his struggles in Post Empire Britain. But this album was not just that, this album actually was set to be the perfect accompaniment to a film or TV feature, in fact so close was this to happening that a production team had already been assembled to make the film happen. For whatever reason this plan never came off, ultimately ensuring the album never scaled the heights of Tommy by The Who from the same year.
As with their masterpiece from 1968, Arthur was written and produced by Ray Davies, and like with the release from the previous year, it was warmly received by critics and heralded as a masterpiece in its own right, thanks in no way shape or form to the unbelievable amount of quality material recorded by The Kinks in Pye Studios in 1969.
The album begins with Mark E Smith favourite, Victoria, a song which marked a return to form for The Kinks, not that their form had really gone away; a single from the album it still failed to set the world alight, but all the same it is marvellously upbeat and Kinkish, this is perhaps the only time during this LP that Davies is in any mood for playing it safe. In contrast the follow up is much more in line with values of Arthur, Yes Sir, No Sir is split into three parts, maybe even four, a marked departure from anything that The Kinks had produced before, even taking into account The Village Green Preservation Society.
Track 3 is the anti war song Some Mother's Son, I think it's a given that Ray Davies' take on any issue is not your typical one, anyone else would write of peace like it was some kind of buzz word going out of fashion and thus is rather tiresome, here Davies tackles the subject of war through the eyes of mothers waiting for their children to come home from school, a truly Ray Davies twist on a tricky, and easily overblown subject. This quaint way of writing is also apparent for Drivin', track number four, a song basically about ignoring all the issues of the Cold War and astronomical income tax rates by simply driving a loved one away for a picnic in the country, what a beautiful idea. The song itself is actually rather good, with an excellent role for a demented sounding piano.
In the middle of the album are two exceptionally long songs, nearly as long as The Kinks' new love for long album titles. Joking aside, the ambition of The Kinks for this concept album can be found in all its glory with Australia and Shangri-La. Starting with Australia, at nearly seven minutes I think this could be the longest song that The Kinks did during the 1960's, but it honestly doesn't feel that long, it goes from a jolly homage vibe to all things Australia right through to a splendid instrumental at the end, Rolf Harris style saw playing included.
There is however no doubting the crowning moment on this album; in Shangri-La we have the best Kinks song of any album let alone this one, even perhaps one of the best songs ever written. I could never do this song justice with words but we'll give it a go, it basically goes from a beautiful ballad type affair with horns to a much heavier number, building and building to a dazzling crescendo. That's just the music however, the lyrics of this song are just sheer brilliance, cutting and bittersweet, but you really should not take my word for the gloriousness of it, just give this song in particular a listen, my word, what a song!
Other brilliant songs include the fabulous She's Bought a Hat like Princess Marina and the closing rouser, Arthur. As always, this album has been reissued to include some of the other crowning moments from The Kinks from 1969, including the single meant to save The Kinks, Plastic Man and the tremendous B-Side to that single, King Kong.
Born under the darkest and heaviest cloud possible, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) probably did not hit the mark expected by the record label. Like the 68 release, it was however met with the warmth and joy from the critics, most noticeably in this case from America. Sure in 1969 the band had lost a vital member, sure there was no hit single in sight, and certainly the film idea for the album fell through at the last minute, but 1969 ended with that illusive tour of America and lets not forget, the band had just produced the grandest of all musical projects and came out the other side in tact and in glory. They would live to fight another day after this releases, a definite equal to The Village Green Preservation Society.
on 23 June 2011
Great release but where's the Dave Davies B side "There's No Life Without Love"? Also, what idiot thought it would be a good idea to put a totally unecessary, sticky wraparound band on the cover which peels away the wax finish when removed. ( the same for all these re-issues ).
on 26 June 2011
I suppose I should be happy to shell out again (vinyl first time, CD reissue with bonus tracks a dozen years ago) but I do feel a bit, well, a bit milked. What's sticking in my throat is the way the compilers just seem to deliberately have felt it necessary to leave off "There Is No Life Without Love" (b-side to "Lincoln County") as has been mentioned. Additionally, the series has managed to avoid hoovering up the great "Pictures In The Sand", only available on the 1973 US compilation "The Great Lost Kinks Album". So annoying. If they want to sleep well at night, these compilers really shouldn't commit such acts of crass insensitivity. But I guess it allows them to justify issuing a 3D hologram edition in 2019.
PS - "There Is No Life Without Love" is still available on the previous CD reissue of "Something Else By The Kinks" (not the Deluxe Edition) as one of the bonus tracks. All of these '60s Kinks albums really are essential.
on 11 March 2015
A 5-Star album docked one for sound.
(This review is for the 2011 double-disc)
I won't go into the merits of the album itself which is a brilliant classic (and the end of the indisputable Kinks creative, though not financial, golden-era which began with Face-to-Face) but instead talk about the sonics. I've seen many reviews about the superiority of this mastering and the inferiority of the Castle Essential releases from 1998. Well, after comparing the two stereo versions, I'm going to be in the minority and say that this mastering is much too compressed, with a wash of boomy, bassy fog often obscuring the supposedly superior source material. I really WANTED this version to be better since so much care was obviously put into the packaging and track selection. The 1998 release has much more "space" and seems more dynamically intact (i.e. the highs and lows have not been excessively squashed to make the recording louder and bassier). The 1998 version still has a more than acceptable bass presence which doesn't overwhelm the tracks themselves. I also put the two versions to the extremely unscientific "gut-check" test. I found myself head-bobbing and toe-tapping along to uptempo songs like Victoria and Brainwashed on the '98 version but not so much on the 2011 release due to what seem to be more flattened dynamics on the newer version.
As for the mono, I have nothing with which to compare it since the Castle Essentials Arthur was only released in stereo. I'm a huge proponent of mono for most 50's and 60's recordings, including all of the Kinks albums prior to Arthur, but Arthur was released in '69 when stereo had taken priority over mono in the mixing process and many of these mono versions show it. 'Driving' is crisp and punchy, 'She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina' is also crystal-clear and 'Some Mother's Son' has a distinctly different mix. Many of the other album tracks range from a bit muddy to a huge mess ('Shangri-La').
The extra singles on the mono disc, however, show a lot more care in the mixing and often are superior to the stereo versions. The compression on the mono tracks also doesn't seem as extreme as that on the stereo ones.
on 19 September 2012
Kinks music is many things. THey are provincial but taken on the world and great nations. But this is a lesson in rock. The music approaches from every angle, youth, age, love and war but each of the varied tracks explodes into rock. It is the huge outcropping of various themes which limits song length to get on to the next soaring album cut. For me as a Kinks fan this is the one that is undeniable, something to play for those who have yet to recognize a genius equal to and for me greater than The Who, Beatles,or Stones.
on 13 April 2001
After the social satire of their mid-Sixties releases, and their ultra-English concept album VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, the Kinks recorded this, the first (and by far the best) of their 'rock operas'. Released the same year as The Who's TOMMY, it is this album more than any other that demonstrates just what it was that made The Kinks so different from their contemporaries: bombastic parables about a messianic deaf, dumb and blind kid were just not head Kink Ray Davies' cup of tea - more to his liking was a nostalgic (though suprising angry) tale of a quiet suburban man who spends his life sitting by the fireside inside his semi reflecting upon the momentous events that have taken place over his lifetime. Thus, the album opens with a blast of late-Victorian optimism (the fantastic 'Victoria'), before detailing the long decline of British Imperial power: from the First World War (the poignant 'Some Mother's Son'), to the post-war class struggle ('Yes Sir, No Sir'), rise of the middle-class (the music hall ompah of 'She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina'), and on into the Sixties (the reserved resignation of 'Drivin'). Whilst not quite attaining the heights of their masterpiece VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, this album demonstrates why The Kinks have exerted such a strong influence upon so many British bands (see The Jam, The Smiths, Blur, Manic Street Preacher, et al) and contains perhaps their finest song ('Shangri-La'), along with other essential Kinks recordings such as 'Victoria', 'Yes Sir, No Sir' and 'Australia'. A must for any Kinks fan.