Pazz and Jop 1971 – #8

The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies

My first thought was that this fit in nicely with early ‘70s southern rock, which is a neat trick for a bunch of Brits. I’ve seen it described as country rock, but I don’t accept that: it takes more than a little slide guitar to make something country. There are bits of blues, and music hall piano flourishes. But what it really feels like is the song score for a musical theatre production: each track has that sense of a character stopping to sing part of the story. “Holiday” was the first place I noticed this (I even had the basic dance steps worked out in my head), but it could apply to pretty much anything here. The lyrics are rather glum in spots (the theme is essentially the destruction of a way of life thanks to government overreach in a specific London suburb), but done in such a fun way that you probably wouldn’t notice without reading the lyric sheet. Under the hauntingly beautiful melody of “Oklahoma U.S.A.” lurks the dark heart of an unsatisfying life. Other favourites include “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues”, “Skin and Bone”, “Alcohol” (check out Brad Paisley if you want an actual country song with this title) and “Holloway Jail”. The closer, “Muswell Hillbilly”, returns (somewhat) to the southern rock mode (Ronnie Van Zant would’ve owned this tune), and offers a hint of rebellion to the attempt to fit everyone into “identical little boxes”. From beginning to end, there isn’t a weak song on this record. A lovely surprise from a band I’ve never paid much attention to.

(Originally posted on Facebook, March 27, 2021)

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