Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 11

Ray Davies – Americana Vol 2

There was a strong temptation not to include the second volume of Ray Davies’ ‘Americana’ project simply because I wrote about Volume 1 last year and really what else is there to add at this point? Those of us interested enough surely know enough about Davies to last us to the end of our days, no? Well, perhaps not. There is certainly enough newness in the autobiographical tales Davies’ weaves on this record to keep our interest piqued for at least another year.

Now we have said many times in the past how Davie’s records have long been interested in creating a knowingly mediated and mythologised world. The lavish reissue of The Kinks’ ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ (now widely acknowledged as a classic) re-establishes this truth and as we said last year the Americana project certainly continues the tradition. In both these projects (and in many in between) Davies explores the (his) world via references and imagery that he acknowledges as being created by some form of media. Inevitably too, given age and experience, we find him now referencing himself in this process in a kind of intriguing meta-narrative. At times it is not particularly pleasant reading, as in ‘The Take’ which concludes with a nod to the starfucking excesses of 1970s Rock mythology that, in a 2018 of #metoo memes comes over somewhat vile (the argument being that of course it should because it always was). Yet there is never anything particularly apologetic in Davies’ songs. As an artist he has always rather seen his role as one of observation and construction of oddly illusory realities. It’s all theatre. All showbiz. All rock’n’roll.

What’s more, Davies appears unwilling or unable to escape from the world he has constructed for himself (even when, as he acknowledges on the terrific ‘Tony and Bob’, his self-destructive urges take hold) and as ‘Americana’ now unfolds it increasingly appears as much a conversation with himself as it is an unfurling of personal history. It is both heartening and somewhat terrifying to realise that in his eighth decade of life he is still embroiled in this dialogue, presumably in an attempt to reach an illusive inner truth. Partly of course what makes it so terrifying is the sense that this is an impossible search. Perhaps too this is what makes it so comforting. There is nothing but the journey, nothing but the unfolding eternity of the moments. Nothing but the fragmentary timelessness of the songs.

This notion is captured best on what I suggest is the best individual song on volume 2, the haunting ‘We Will Get There’ (and incidentally, ‘Americana’ feels very much in the mood of records like ‘Preservation’ Acts 1 and 2 in that individual songs play a supporting role to the overall narrative). The song feels both a meditation on this journey to light (in this Davies echoes those notions of quasi-religiosity we mentioned in Trappist Afterland’s Se(VII)en) that is at once deeply personal and expansively global. There is something in this song of age recognising the cyclical nature of time and ‘progress’, something that, as we age, we so often see with our own eyes. Yet is also suggests a broader and deeper sense of moving cyclically through a history longer and more permanent than the ones we fleetingly inhabit. The song seems to nod to the particular bleakness of our times, recognising the inevitability of both further descent and eventual transcendence.

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