The Ultimate A To Z Of Album Reviews By Gary Steel – K

Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘K’.

 

K

Kansas – Monolith (Epic)

1979/Evening Post

On Monolith, Kansas fail to exploit the cover’s allusions to the death of modern man and the return of the American Indian, yet come up with a musically impressive album full of majestic pomp and splendour.

The flowery lyrics deserve to be ignored, but on Side 1 – particularly ‘People Of The South Wind’, ‘On The Other Side’ and ‘Angels Have Fallen’ – they use an airy mix of acoustic guitars, violin and orchestra to counterpoint effectively and seamlessly with raging heavy metal. 6/10

 

KC & The Sunshine Band – Do You Wanna Go Party (Epic)

1979/Epic

The James Last of the disco set. I’m asking you: is that a recommendation? 3/10

The Kinks – Low Budget (Arista)

1979/Evening Post

The Kinks are one of rock music’s most important and influential groups, yet they are under-praised and in recent years have gone virtually unlauded. Low Budget should right this situation.

In their early days responsible for some of the first and finest hard rock music (1964’s ‘You Really Got Me’), Ray Davies’ vehicle for expression quickly moved into satire and social observation (‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘Lola’) and then into only partially successful experiments with theatrics.

Now they are back in fine form, proving that Ray Davies has lost none of his Noel Coward-influenced wit or his sharp, observational eye on tracks such as ‘A Gallon Of Gas’, ‘National Health’ or, in fact, the majority of songs on Low Budget.

Davies’ songs nearly always take on the personalities of the subjects he’s singing about, similar to Ian Dury in this respect. The group’s sound is full of rediscovered energy and power, and the rhythmic base is one of the strongest on any non-disco record. 7/10

 

The Kinks – One For The Road (Arista/EMI)

1980/In Touch

A double, One For The Road is the first live Kinks album since the scrappily momentous Live At Kelvin Hall (1967), and while it further proves their historical significance, it does little to convince that the band are creatively alive into the 1980s.

The material is largely divided between late ‘60s pop giants (‘Lola’, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘David Watts’) and recent work (‘Pressure’, ‘Low Budget’). As a bonus we get two period-piece classics (‘All Day And All Of The Night’, ‘You Really Got Me’) and a foray into mid-‘70s theatricality (‘Celluloid Heroes’). There is much more but it never attempts to cover all the ground. Where, for instance, is ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’?

Somewhere in the mixing/engineering of this album the live atmosphere has been sucked up and replaced with a radio-playable sterile sheen. This effectively dissipates the excitement from the early material.

The newer songs are basically mediocre when stripped of the gutsy production of the Low Budget album. Much of the achievement of The Kinks is glossed over here, which is saddening.

It looks like the Americans have picked up on The Kinks at last, long after their creative demise. It’s heartening to know that we can safely forget The Kinks of now in the knowledge that they’re getting their long-earned dues from suckers who’ve learned of their greatness long after the event. 5/10

 

Kiwi Animal – Wartime (Brent & Julie Records)

1983/TOM

Kiwi Animal are Brent and Julie, whereas Smelly Feet was just Brent. Smelly Feet released three excellent records, some neat songs, and presented himself in concert as a genuine alternative (and genuine oddity).

Kiwi Animal’s first EP is nowhere near as definitive or charming. They may very well have great songs in their repertoire or in their heads, but Wartime is slight in terms of impact.

The five snippets of songs are played on acoustic guitar with Brent singing his words and Julie singing hers. It works, it’s pleasant, but the lyrics fail to communicate the simple insightful truths of ‘Song For The Whole World’ or ‘You’re A Person’, and the songs don’t stick in the memory.

Perhaps next time, with more minutes and a clearer direction, they may produce something more fertile. 6/10

 

Kraftwerk – Computer World (EMI)

1981/Evening Post

Kraftwerk grew up in the torn, barren cultural wasteland of post-World War II Germany – an environment in which art shrivelled up and died for a generation. What would happen to 1950s babies of artistic temperament born into this guilt-laced land? Obvious options were to look back at the art of the Bauhaus for inspiration or to create something new in this vacuum.

Kraftwerk – principally Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter – know that music does not benefit from the abuse of high technology that many British and American bands serve it (and their audience) by rote. With their superior technology comes power, and power misappropriated or abused is akin to fascism. Of this the band is aware, so it celebrates the useful and harmless aspects of that technology.

Kraftwerk’s first recorded works, of the early 1970s, were a wild, flailing, abrasive search. By 1973 they had evolved into something instantly distinct from all other music. Their music had become almost totally electronic – even drums and voices were synthetically enhanced. A classic from this period is the ode to motorway travel, Autobahn.

Kraftwerk spent the past four years out of the public eye automating and computerising its Kling Klang studio and redesigning it so it could be taken on tour this year.

Computer World marks the beginning of a new phase. Kraftwerk sounds more perfect than ever, a veritable audio buff’s delight. The album is an explicit celebration of technology. Titles such as ‘Computer Love’, ‘Home Computer’, ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’ and the riotously funny ‘Pocket Calculator’ express the group’s sense of humour: not satirical but always tongue-in-cheek.

Many so-called futurist bands have used an imitation of the Kraftwerk formula to launch themselves into careers of immense success in the four years of their inspiration’s studio incarceration, but none better the pure tones of the masters. None have appreciated the use of space that is an essential part of Kraftwerk’s aesthetic success – a simple, beautifully uncluttered palette of sound which delights the senses through its perfect rhythm, its spare use of bright note clusters and deep pronounced bass. Music to live with. Kraftwerk: the electronic ecologists. 10/10

 

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