THE KINKS -- To the Bone (Guardian)

The Kinks have always been one of the most overlooked and underrated bands to come out of England. Let's face it--they had some tough competiton in the early years. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who all started out around the same time. Still, The Kinks had quite a few hits of their own. The latest release from the band, To the Bone, is a collection of newly recorded Kinks classics, and the band's first compilation to include tracks covering their entire career. The tracks range from scaled-down unplugged versions, to all-out electric performances.

"All Day and All of the Night" opens the first CD, and it rocks like no other version you've heard. The one complaint I've always had with The Kinks in concert is the sing-alongs, and unfortunately this CD is no exception. The difference this time out is an extremely enthusiastic audience, and a performance to match. Half-brothers Ray and Dave Davies, along with the rest of the band, play every note as if their lives depend on it.

Several of the songs were recorded live at the band's Konk Studios, where they brought in a handful of fans and friends to give the songs a more intimate feel. It's interesting to hear the band's hits (as well as some of the lesser known tracks) played acoustically. "Apeman" is great as always, and older tracks like "Tired of Waiting" and "Sunny Afternoon" really benefit from the updated arrangements. "Do it Again" starts out acoustically, segues into a brief collage of early tracks, then rocks out on an electric version of the song that puts the original to shame.

The second disc is the better of the two CDs. Starting with the ever-poignant "Celluloid Heroes," disc two winds its way through an updated version of "Set Me Free" and several more hits. "Lola" is here (of course), but another sing-along mars the otherwise spirited performance. Just once, I'd like to hear a live version of this song without the crowd trying to sing along. "Come Dancing" is one of those songs that always seemed just a little too happy to me. The new version is more powerful than the original, and comes across much better.

The next five songs in a row are some of the best tracks on To the Bone. Starting with the 1964 B-side, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" (which features some excellent leads from Dave) and going through "Dead End Street," the band rocks. Things slow down temporarily for an acoustic version of "A Gallon of Gas," only to rock out again on the band's first hit, "You Really Got Me." To the Bone also features two new tunes--"Animal" (which sounds like a Tom Petty song) and the title track (which, at times, is eerily similar to "Spooky" by The Classics IV).

When all is said and done, To the Bone shows just how many great songs Ray Davies has written over the years. It makes an excellent starting point for those who may be just discovering The Kinks, and it's a great collection for longtime fans too.

© 1997 Steve Marshall