Music CD Spotlight

Well-respected man

In 1966, Ray Davies wrote “Holiday In Waikiki,” a song that depicted Hawaii as a tourist trap replete with hula dancers from New York City and grass skirts made of PVC. On Other People’s Lives — the legendary Kinks frontman’s first studio solo album — he revisits the subject of tourism with a crucial difference: “The Tourist” comes from the perspective of the natives, who watch drunk, boorish vacationers rattle their dice and bop to “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”

Although the song initially seems like an aberration on an album filled with breakup laments, it eventually emerges as the pivotal track on this collection. In a sense, all the characters on this album are tourists — if not tourists in a foreign land, then tourists in their own skin.

With the possible exception of Randy Newman, Davies is pop music’s greatest character actor, a tunesmith who hides behind elaborate fictional creations. Even when he’s written about himself, he’s usually shifted the angle (trying to talk his brother Dave out of retirement in “Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy,” when in fact Dave had to talk Ray out of quitting) or the gender (expressing jealousy toward his brother in “Two Sisters”) enough to throw listeners off his autobiographical trail. As its title suggests, Davies’ new album finds him continuing to write about “other people’s lives,” but, more than ever, you sense that Davies has focused on characters whose lives intersect with his own. He may not literally be the burned-out alcoholic of “Things Are Gonna Change” or the suicidal wreck of “Life After Breakfast,” but he’s wrestling with his own emotional crises.

Other People’s Lives
Ray Davies
(V2 Records)

Initially, many of these songs seem a bit plain, disappointingly conventional for a solo debut from one of rock’s quirkiest masters, but they grow in stature over repeated listenings. The twists (or the kinks, if you prefer) unfold over time. For instance, the chorus of “Over My Head” isn’t about being overwhelmed or out of your league; it’s about letting your problems fly right over you. And the character who bemoans the fact that “we are such creatures of little faith” happens to be a cheating cad undeserving of faith.

While Other People’s Lives can’t match Davies’ string of brilliant Kinks records from 1966-71, it’s the strongest, most clear-headed musical statement he’s made since those heady days.

Gilbert Garcia

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