When Ray Davies led the Kinks, he sang with a chip on his shoulder large enough to fill the Albert Hall. The Beatles and Stones were rock stars. The Kinks were the British Invasion's working-class antiheroes, with the mischievous, gap-toothed Davies attacking his prey with sarcastic glee.
His not-so-omniscient narrators considered the repercussions of war (''Some Mother's Son"), the past (''Come Dancing"), and domesticity (''Two Sisters"). Even when Davies failed -- with half-baked rock operas and meatheaded arena rock in the 1970s -- he at least seemed committed.
Which is what makes ''Other People's Lives" -- the first proper Ray Davies solo album, out today -- such a downer. The record doesn't sound bad. Davies's voice is strong, and the studio band he's assembled slides easily from straight-ahead rock to horn-driven R&B. ''Other People's Lives" is ultimately done in by lazy writing, with many of the songs stringing together cliches like strands of DNA. That's baffling considering that Davies, now 61, needed years to complete the album.
Have we underestimated the creative tension sparked by the dysfunctional Kinks family, particularly younger brother Dave? Is Davies so eager to make a clean break from his past that he's forgotten the qualities that made his best work so distinctive?
In ''Run Away From Time," a pep talk for the Ensure set, Davies sings: ''We've still got mountains to climb/ A day at a time. It's never too late/ So why should we wait." In ''After the Fall," supposedly about the breakup of his marriage, Davies offers these clunkers: ''After the deals are done, who will catch you when you fall?" and ''after the mist clears, the sun will shine again."
This, from the man who, as a Kink, gave us ''Lola," ''Victoria," and ''A Well Respected Man," songs steeped in detail, character, and context. Davies didn't just play VH1's ''Storyteller" series. He created it.
By my count, just three songs on ''Other People's Lives" could make a Kinks record. ''Is There Life After Breakfast" turns the cloying platitudes of ''Run Away From Time" inside out. The shuffling ''Next Door Neighbor" finds Davies, in his thick British accent, playing with the notion of suburban mystery. Through a series of ''neighbors" -- Mr. Jones, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Smith -- Davies contemplates the difference between what we see and what goes on behind closed doors. And on ''Thanksgiving Day," the album's closer, he waxes nostalgic for a tradition he never actually grew up with. It's a classic, Davies twist, and a hopeful sign that maybe, after shaking off this rust, the writer will work his way back to another Waterloo sunset.
Geoff Edgers can be reached at email@example.com.