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The Kinks – Everybody’s in Show-Biz [Legacy Edition]

5.7

Here we are at the tail end of the CD era. It’s over. I am one of those record collector types who enthusiastically shifted to CDs in the early ’90s, bedazzled by the notion that I could finally, truly “possess” my music in a permanent way – in a convenient format and at peak fidelity. I was building a library of music, sadly a library composed of a now all-but-defunct format. And I’ve got like 3,000 CDs – the “legacy” of 20-plus years of searching, attaining and cataloging music. I might as well have 3,000 cassettes.

So here come The Kinks, once again. Here they come with yet another artifact of, aargh, “musical heritage” to litter our living spaces. And here I come with my money, once again. Here I come with my money to “prove” to Ray and Dave that I still love them – I really do. Or did I purchase this CD to “prove” to visitors of my home who just so happen to peruse my extensive, meticulously arranged CD collection, in all its dust-gathering glory, that I am a renaissance man of great taste and sophistication?

Whatever the motivation for its purchase, here I sit with the brand spanking “new,” re-mastered and repackaged edition of The Kinks’ 1972 classic, Everybody’s in Show-Biz. And this leads us to the inevitable existential questions: Does having the new edition of an album I’ve owned multiple copies in various formats for over 30 years make the material any better or different? With this purchase, do I finally “possess” the “true” and “definitive” version?

Nope. All this proves, really, is that one sad, middle-aged man (me) in Atlanta has parted ways with a Jackson in exchange for a defunct slab of digits and what is tantamount to a nifty new trading card emblazoned with a Kinks logo. “Legacy Edition” indeed. *Sigh.*

Still, Everybody’s in Show-Biz sits atop my pile of The Kinks’ second tier, 1970s offerings. And The Kinks were a damned fine band.

OK, enough with the preamble, already. Let’s consider the musical artifact at hand, its history and context.

Everybody’s in Show-Biz was first released in 1972, right after Muswell Hillbillies, the album that is generally perceived, more-or-less, as being the bookend of The Kinks’ “golden era” as a not-quite-as-famous-or-commercially-successful-as-The Beatles-and-The Stones-but-almost-as-good band of the original gangsta British Invasion in its ‘70s incarnation. This is to say The Kinks of Everybody’s in Show-Biz are/were a somewhat diminished but still potent musical force.

Like their kinda/sorta peers, The Beatles, The Kinks were burdened by a musical modus that leaned a little bit too heavily on Tin Pan Alley and not quite heavily enough on rock ’n’ roll. Sure, The Kinks slammed it home and virtually invented “heavy rock” with one simple, fuzzed-out riff in “You Really Got Me,” but that was almost a decade prior. By 1972, The Kinks seemed to think of themselves more as composers and artistes than as rockers. And therein lies the not exactly fatal flaw of Everybody’s in Show-Biz: It seems that The Kinks were in showbiz indeed. The album was a product. And The Kinks had acquired enough financial backup to finance a harelip choir, a string section and a ragtime band to back them up on this somewhat bloated and overblown album that is, still, not without its charms.

What we have here is a damned fine band with a damned fine batch of songs – all of which are tastelessly over-ornamented with too many goddamned kazoos, megaphones (for that old-timey, Winchester Cathedral effect), pennywhistles and glockenspiels.

Remember The Bedazzler? Yes, I’m talking about that kitschy 1970s gadget that was endlessly promoted on television – that thing you could use to affix rhinestones, studs, beads and various and sundry assorted gewgaws to any clothing item? With The Bedazzler, why, you could turn a perfectly good pair of jeans into the cheapest, most ill-advised fashion discotheque ever!

Well, the poor Kinks must have acquired the sonic equivalent of The Bedazzler for Everybody’s in Show-Biz. In other words, Ray, Dave and the boys threw in everything but the kitchen sink on this batch of songs, all but erasing their potency and emotional grist in the process. What we have here is The Kinks, backed up by a bunch of commercial jingle studio hacks – Session Men, if you will.

OK, perhaps that’s taking it a bit too far. With Everybody’s in Show-Biz, The Kinks were probably shooting for an aural approximation of Abbey Road. The thing is, the production and accompaniment on the album is a lot more Lawrence Welk than it is Sir George Martin.

Still, there are a couple-three tracks that make the album’s myriad digressional pathways still worth the journey. For example, the power ballad “Sitting in My Hotel” is one such Long and Winding Road. And then there’s “Celluloid Heroes,” one of Ray Davies’ finest moments ever. Sure, the song is smarmy as all get-out. But the elocution is so universal, so bottom-of-the-barrel, “gee, haven’t we all felt that way sometimes?” that its sheer earnestness overrides its saccharine qualities in a way that holds the potential to reduce even the most cynical, curmudgeonly types (like myself) to tears. The song’s emotional gambit pays off in spades. It’s so cheesy, affected and overwrought that, well, it must be “truth,” or something.

And this leads us to the final burning question of this review: What makes the “Legacy Edition” of Everybody’s in Show-Biz any different than the umpteen other editions? Well, the mastering is tweaked just enough so that a well-schooled listener might notice the complexity of the glockenspiel, kazoo or pennywhistle countermelody that was previously buried in the mix. Oh yeah. There’s also a couple of live recordings from the early 70s that are pretty great – but who listens to live recordings more than once? Not to mention an essay by David Frickin’ Fricke. The re-release does little to shore up The Kinks’ already formidable legacy. But it’s another product we can purchase, another souvenir to gather dust on the giant bookshelf that houses the altar of rock in my Most Exclusive Residence. And I’m sure that loveable scoundrel Ray Davies could offer some wry commentary about that, too.