When Malcom McLaren’s term “New Wave” landed in the lap of Seymour Stein at Sire Records, where the phrase was promptly used to soften the image of the punk songs that would never have found their way to radio otherwise, it’s a safe bet that the last band either man had in mind at the time were The Kinks, a group in their third decade who, by 1983, had already danced themselves into the sunset of their creative peak. Unwilling to be typecast by the dead era they helped define–an era when all you had to do to make it big was grow some bushy hair, sing about holding some girl’s hand, and package the whole thing as “The British Invasion”–The Kinks happily spent the early 80s graffitying its tombstone instead by cranking up the amps and thrashing their way around the globe from one arena to the next, chasing the glories of younger bands that they themselves made possible twenty years prior–Duran Duran, The Smiths, The Jam–and producing that great document of the arena rock era in the process, 1980’s One for the Road.
But even as they thrived amid one of the most unlikely resurgences rock ‘n roll had ever seen, few anticipated that the band would also find themselves on the crest of that “Wave” so many rode into the 1980s, storming MTV with their video for “Come Dancing,” one of a handful of powerful singles to emerge from 1983’s State of Confusion, and marking the last time they would ever crack the top ten (“Come Dancing” shot to #6 in the US while, once again, the album and single bafflingly failed to make a dent in their native UK.) And as more contemporary artists went to such desperate lengths to cash in on the latest momentary fad–streaking their spiked hair with every hue in the rainbow and discovering fashion in the torn and pinned-together clothes that the pioneers of punk wore, not to make a statement but because it was all they could afford–the Kinks stuck to their guns, strapping on the same guitars they’d wailed on for decades and invoking the nostalgia of memories paved for parking lots and bowling allies built where dance halls were. That the recipe worked as well in 1983 as it did in 1963 confirms a certain timeless chord in rock ‘n roll that anyone with the talent and authenticity can strike.
The Kinks: “Come Dancing,” State of Confusion (1983)
Yet someone writes in the Rough Guide to Rock that songs such as “Come Dancing” were “outposts on lackluster albums.” This has to be the opinion of someone who either didn’t listen to the record or wasn’t there to begin with. To be fair, some of the album’s best cuts were either condemned to cassette-only versions (the peculiarly Dylan-esque “Long Distance”) or tardy reissues (“Noise,” “Once A Thief”), but a “lackluster” record it is not. It’s as though the longer The Kinks defied widespread predictions that they wouldn’t even make it into the 70s as a commercially viable act, the more critics insisted on fulfilling their own prophecy with dismissive reviews. For a band that wasn’t supposed to survive the 70s, it sure is no small accomplishment that they cranked out five instant classics in 1983.
What is even more of a wonder is that the most harrowing among them, the divine “Property,” slumped into obscurity amid the album’s other hits. Along with “Better Things,” “Property” is one of the strongest ballads Ray put to paper since “A Long Way From Home” in 1970. The furiously performed title track speaks for itself, and mammoth hits “Come Dancing” and the prom-closing “Don’t Forget to Dance” are the stuff of rock ‘n roll immortality now. State of Confusion did serve up a couple of clunkers in the merely noisy “Young Conservatives” and “Labour of Love,” but what album DIDN’T include filler in those days? In that context, State of Confusion plays like the masterpiece that it is, closing with Dave’s delightfully blistering “Bernadette” and marking the end of Mick Avory’s tenure as the Kinks’ drummer. State of Confusion is every bit a classic now as it was in the 80s, and hardly warrants the dismissal and neglect it increasingly endures.
State of Confusion Outtakes: