See My Friends
Rating: 2.5 stars]
In the wake of a kooky Kinks-themed collaboration with fellow North Londoners in the Crouch End Festival Chorus, everyone’s favorite Muswell Hillbilly and songwriter’s songwriter Ray Davies puts the durability of his seemingly indestructible compositions on the line again: this time with a totally unnecessary but somehow appropriate collection of duets with an absurdly varied, multi-generational clique of hand-picked guest collaborators on See My Friends. Of course, these sorts of dubious late-career moves by rock’s elder statesmen often seem like a safe luxury cruise into the warm tropical waters of retirement, with the artist basking in the glow of prior achievements far away from the demands of creativity. But after toiling some 46 years in the music biz and penning some of history’s most literate pop songs, if anyone has earned the right to a little self-indulgence and pointless musical slacking, it’s Ray Davies.
See My Friends sees king Kink summoning to his musical court a number of worshipful celebrity guests (some worthy, some not worthy) to rework some choice Kinks classics: Bruce Springsteen does his best laid-off steelworker vocal on “Better Things,” Metallica chips in with a hilarious Van Halen-inspired “You Really Got Me,” Jackson Browne shines some Laurel Canyon light onto the quintessential London anthem “Waterloo Sunset,” and Bon Jovi pop-metalize the fragile beauty of “Celluloid Heroes.” But Davies arguably coaxes the best performances out of the alterna-crowd here: “Dead End Street” manages to be both poignant and barroom-ready with the help of Glaswegian singer Amy MacDonald’s flirty verses, Lucinda Williams puts an old-school No Depression twang to “Long Way From Home,” and the late Alex Chilton brings his welcome Memphis drawl to “Till the End of the Day.” Yet sometime-former Pixie honcho Black Francis and Spoon’s Britt Daniel express more obvious clued-in empathy with Davies’ sentiments than anyone else, as they manage personalized but deferential takes on “This Is Where I Belong,” and “See My Friends,” respectively.
Even on the album’s most ill-advised rehashes, namely Mumford and Sons’s hokey coffee-house rendering of the otherwise heartbreaking “Days,” See My Friends proves, if nothing else, that there’s simply no force on Earth malevolent enough to destroy a good Ray Davies ditty.