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Flashback: The Kinks’ “State of Confusion”

30th June 2008

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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:

Long Distance

Once A Thief

Noise

14 Responses to “Flashback: The Kinks’ “State of Confusion””

  1. David L. Says:

    Glad to see someone accknowledge this awesome album (although I’m very fond of both “Young conservatives” – which unfortunately isn’t outdated when it comes to politics – and “Labour of love”, and not so crazy about the extra material. This album made me a fan, when I was ca 11 – my brother had the LP, I didn’t even know about The Kink’s 60s & 70s past then.
    “Don’t forget to dance” is totally perfected even more on “To the bone”, which I’m sure you know.
    Especially glad to see another one beside myself rave about “Property”, which is PURE F-IN’ DYNAMITE!!! Ray should revive it in his shows. Man, that’s lovely gloomy and real.

  2. admin Says:

    I adore the “unplugged” version of Don’t Forget to Dance on To The Bone. I also think that the title track for “To The Bone” is an absolute killer of a rock song and I love it. Thanks so much for commenting–The Kinks are my favorite rock band of all time, so I’ll be using this platform for the occasional Kinks post going forward. We did a piece on “Low Budget” a while back. You can find it here: http://culturespill.com/?p=139

  3. Mark trafford Says:

    I love this album,i have all of the Kinks material and love the oft maligned arista years…young conservatives…is a punk song…lol…listen to the words…and i think you may find ray had a crystal ball…Mark.trafford.

  4. greg Says:

    I am glad you are re-appreciating this fine album, however I must agree with the above posts that Young Conservatives is a great rocking tune, as is Cliches of the World and the title track…dont really care for Beranadette, Dave is screaming too high pitch for me…Property and Heart of Gold and Definite Maybe are winners also.

  5. Casey Says:

    Great Album, just another one in a long list of albums by the Kinks! Ray and Dave deserves alot more credit then they recieve!

  6. admin Says:

    Tell me about it, Casey! Most underrated rock band of all time, hands down!

  7. eirik, norway Says:

    Great album, a little weaker than Low Budget, a little stronger than Word of mouth!

  8. admin Says:

    You know, I think Word of Mouth gets a really bad rap–but no doubt, State of Confusion is a hell of an album. Check out our piece on Low Budget–we love that one too: http://culturespill.com/?p=139

  9. Chris Hanrahan, Jakarta Says:

    State is the pinnacle of The Kinks’ much underrated 80s output in my view. I remember buying it as soon as it came out because I was afraid it would quickly be deleted. It turned out to be quite a hit, though. Young Conservatives is lyrically spot on, as astonishingly prophetic of the Blair/Clinton political landscape as the Soap Opera ‘soundtrack’ was an anticipation of reality TV. Property: an amazing take on the break-up of a marriage; you can feel Ray’s pain. Heart of Gold: so warmhearted, you wouldn’t have thought the cynical, sarcastic sod had it in him — my favourite track on the album as a matter of fact.

  10. Jeff Ihde Says:

    Awesome record and definitely very underrated. Its interesting how people have different favorites. For me, State of Confusion, Come Dancing, Property, Cliches of the World and Heart of Gold are my favorites. As previously mentioned, the bonus tracks raise this record up another notch. Once a Thief, Noise and Long Distance are all outstanding songs. I had originally bought the cassette version in 1983 just to get Long Distance. I had never heard Once a Thief until the CD reissue. Great song!

  11. Kevin H Says:

    Heart of Gold is one of the greatest Kinks songs ever recorded, as are a number of others: The title track, Property, Don’t forget to Dance, Come Dancing, Cliches of the World, and Long Distance. This is prime Ray, and State of Confusion is sadly overlooked by the rock critics, and historians of today. This could, of course, be said about tons of Ray’s music, as it is in a class by itself. God save the Kinks!!!

  12. admin Says:

    Absolutely–just another of many Kinks gems tossed under the rug of critical neglect.

  13. Hans-Henrik Christensen Says:

    Agree, and more than that. Muswell H, VGP, Lola versus (this album, I rediscovered last year and S of C are for the time being my favourites.
    Yes, Kinknks have been underrated, but it´s like real art. Ray and the band grow WITH and not FROM the time.
    In 50 years or more they will stand as a landmark for modern rock, aside with Beatles, butr with a far longer career.
    Good comments from you all.
    Time will save the Kinks!

  14. tim Says:

    The biggest mistake Ray and Dave ever made was to let Mick leave. On State of Confusion lisen to the drums on the song Noise, Mick’s drumming is full of great fills and the song is quick. Ron Wood played a gig with Mick a few years ago and said he was a great drummer. Some other songs that really showcase Mick would be 20th Century Man (Muswell Hillbillies), Add It Up (Give the People What They Want), This Time Tomorrow (Lola), and Dave’s song Rats (Lola). With State of Confusion being their last really successful album and the last album Mick played on, you can see they let one of their greatest assets go.

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