There's resignation, defiance, and practicality in the way Ray Davies assesses his career these days. Of course the onetime leader of the Kinks would rather be writing, recording, and playing new music than revisiting songs he wrote 40 years ago. Of course he'd rather focus his time on albums like Other People's Lives and Working Man's Café, the two barely heard records of new material he's released since 2006. But fans want "You Really Got Me." And "Lola." And many of the other songs Davies stamped in the rock & roll history books.
That's why, after launching his solo career in earnest five years ago with two albums of new songs, he's revisited old Kinks favorites on his latest two albums, 2009's The Kinks Choral Collection and this year's See My Friends. "These things didn't happen by design," he says. "It seems like they did, but they happened quite casually. They weren't deliberate."
Still, Davies refused to just go in and re-record his old songs. He says he was hesitant to undertake either project at first, but eventually settled into concepts — working with an orchestra on the former and duet partners on the latter — he could live with. Davies then arranged blistering garage rockers and paisley-textured nostalgia to suit their new settings.
The Choral Collection mixes classics "Waterloo Sunset" and "All Day and All of the Night" with deep-album cuts like "Big Sky" and "Do You Remember Walter?" See My Friends taps big stars Bruce Springsteen and Metallica, along with newcomers like Mumford & Sons and a couple of artists you've never heard of. "The secret to this kind of album is to let it be a collaboration album — let the artists have their way," says Davies. "It's important to keep that."
Davies' current tour skips the projects' revisionist approach, instead stripping old and new songs to their original foundations. The Los Angeles quartet the 88 (which plays on See My Friends) backs Davies onstage. In a way, the show takes another glance at Davies' storied history — this time through a relatively clear filter. "It's more of a journey," he says.
Though the past couple of years have been dedicated to the two projects, Davies has been writing "bloody simple songs" for a new album too. He's even working with original Kinks drummer Mick Avory on some of them. But, Davies adds, still flashing that ornery spark that's a big part of the band's turbulent history, "he's not the greatest drummer in the world, but when he's right, he's perfect for my kind of narrative."
No surprise, then, that you probably shouldn't hold your breath for a Kinks reunion anytime soon. Davies blames his guitarist-brother Dave for holding out. "I don't know what he's holding out for," he says. "Life's too short. I'd love to work with them again, but really, there's not a chance."