Arthur (or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire)

The Kinks

Reprise Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


In a recent discussion on a mailing list I'm on, the subject of concept albums was brought up and bandied about. There was the usual pros and cons discussion, and then somehow we wandered off into discussing who, exactly, put out the first concept album in rock music history. A lot of the usual names were discussed -- Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, Hawkwind -- and then someone mentioned that the Kinks were at least one of the first, with their 1968 release The Village Green Preservation Society and its 1969 follow-up, Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 .

"The Kinks?" thought I. "The 'Come Dancing' guys?" So, curious, I hied myself to my local library and found a copy of Arthur to check out. Lo and behold, not only was this a concept album, but a pretty darn good one that (unlike a great deal of the High Concept music from the late sixties and seventies) aged well. Loosely summarized, Arthur is about the generation following World War II in England -- disenchanted, iconoclastic, and searching for some answer in their lives -- and their parents, who survived the war and now wanted little more than a kitchen garden, a used car, and furniture bought on credit. If this sounds a wee bit like the relationship between the 1980s and now in the US, you're paying attention.

See, therein lies the neat part. Arthur, in addition to being an excellent piece of music, has a great deal of relevance to who we are today. Just like in "Some Mother's Son", we're sending young people off to war for a reason we're not quite sure of anymore. Just like in "She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina", we're willing to go into debt to slavishly imitate our celebrity idols. Just like in "Australia", we think that moving on or finding somewhere new might bring us the gold and the end of the rainbow -- but it rarely does. In many ways, the world that Arthur presents is an analog of the world of today, and what Ray Davies and company had to say about it can bring us some understanding of where we are and what in the hell we can do about it.

It doesn't hurt that there are some rockin' tunes on Arthur as well. Songs like "Drivin'," "Nothing To Say," and "Brainwashed" are tightly performed and a whole lot of fun -- which is more than you can say for some attempts at 'serious' rock and roll. Arthur manages to neatly strike one of the toughest balances out there; it is both a worthy message and a fun bit of music to listen to.

Needless to say, I think there'll be more Kinks in my future. (Save your jokes, guys.)

Rating: A-

User Rating: A



© 2003 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.