Kinks – Essential Kinks (review)

Kinks – Essential Kinks (RCA/Arista/Legacy) review

The Kinks sound monstrous in this new career-spanning collection

With all the negative talk about the music business lately, it’s easy to overlook the good things still happening. Case in point: Legacy Recordings’ Essential series, which has not only compiled some of the finest career-spanning retrospectives, but also improved (oftentimes drastically) the sound quality in the process.  A fine example of this is the recently-issued, two-disc set, The Essential Kinks.

This marks the first time that the entire Kinks’ 50-year journey has been captured on a single collection.  Yet, even if you already own all of their material, you’re going to want this one – the improvement in sound is just that good.

As a huge Kinks’ fan, I’ve always felt that their early singles sounded lousy on CD – all midrange and no punch.  That’s where The Essential Kinks really shines.  “You Really Got Me” jumps out of the speakers with the opening crunching power chords of Dave Davies,  But,  there’s also warmness that just isn’t on other CDs, and you can actually hear the tambourine, which means it’s crisp on the high end too.  Just hearing this improvement is worth the price of this disc alone.  But, everything here sounds better.

On “Tired of Waiting For You” Pete Quaife’s bass is more prominent. “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” always sounded too tinny, yet here it’s given the muscle it deserves.  “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” and “Set Me Free” sound bigger.  All these early singles really shine.  As the band moved away from bombast, their songwriting actually improved.  No other rock band better captured the British spirit quite like the Kinks, with tracks like “Waterloo Sunset,” “Victoria,” and especially, “The Village Green Preservation Society.”

As this 48-track collection unfolds, you realize that it’s impossible to hit on all the essential Kinks tracks in just two discs.  While most everything is here, there are a few surprises too. Several songs from their lesser-known Seventies’ output for RCA show that the band continued to make great music, even if their album sales were lagging.  Take the chugging “Here Comes Yet Another Day,” from Everybody’s in Showbiz, or the folksy “Sweet Lady Genevieve,” from Preservation Act 1.  Their live output is showcased as well, with a rousing concert take on “Til the End of the Day” from 1972, and a crowd sing-a-long of “Lola” from 1979.

The late Seventies saw a resurgence in the band’s popularity, and songs like the blistering “Destroyer,” and the jangly “Better Things” still sound great today.  And, you can’t forget “Come Dancing,” which was a surprise MTV hit in 1983.  The Dave Davies’ sung “Living on a Thin Line” is an underrappreciated gem.

As an added treat for those who buy the physical disc, the booklet comes packed with testimonials to the band’s influence.  Everyone from David Bowie, and Pete Townshend, to Iggy Pop and Fountains of Wayne all sing praises to the Kinks.

The Essential Kinks is an excellent window into the world of this great band.  The improved sound quality makes it indispensable, even for die-hard fans.  And, if you dig what you hear here, there’s plenty more to enjoy.  —Tony Peters