With his memoirs, short-story collection and autobiographical one-man shows, Ray Davies has hardly lacked for personal projects as the Kinks have wound down and out. But not counting an album made from the show, this is his first full-length album away from the band and his battling brother Dave (who, if you’re keeping score, released his first of numerous solo albums a quarter-century ago).
Working with a no-name cast, Davies makes the transition gracefully, crafting a breezy hour’s worth of material that is more stylistically varied than usual — and, with its swamp guitar, Memphis soul and slinky jazz touches, more American. But Davies’ still-rocking sound is aging better than his words, which too often substitute old-man grumbling (about things like internet gossip) for the cutting satire on which he once staked his reputation, and never meet a cliche they don’t like. With “mountains to climb, a day at a time,” he puts two together. With “when the mist clears, the sun will shine again,” this king of solar songology (all hail “Waterloo Sunset”) goes to a much shallower well. Even for a sentimentalist of Davies’ rueful standing, this is a bit much.
Recorded mostly in 2002 and 2003, Other People’s Lives includes the title cuts of a pair of 2005 EPs: “Thanksgiving Day”, a thoughtful dissection of American holiday reunions, and “The Tourist”, a caustic commentary on those who have sightseeing among those who don’t. The highlight is an invigorating three-song sequence: “Is There Life After Breakfast?”, a plummy bit of self-loathing ending with a resounding “Yes!”; “The Getaway (Lonesome Train)”, a nifty mood piece despite its reprisal of a sunny Sunday afternoon; and the horn-primped title cut, which would have us think these tunes are character sketches when we all know they’re X-Rays of the artist.