Working Man's Cafe
Ray Davies has mixed emotions about the U.S. and globalization. Well, maybe his feelings aren’t so mixed; he makes it pretty clear that he’s unhappy about the tentacles of cultural imperialism squeezing the life out of individual expression on his new release Working Man’s Café. He’s also forthcoming about his frustration with America’s inability to mete out justice for all.
Right out of the box Davies hits the listener with “Vietnam Cowboy” a guitar-slinging rocker about the rampant cultural mish-mash that finds hamburger in China, Sushi bars in Maine and Boston, and cowboys making movies in Vietnam. The title track is a paean to the lost culture of a familiar British street and chronicles the spread of mass market businesses. He laments “Everywhere I go it looks and feels like America.” The little things that made the street familiar like the fruit and veg man have made way for the designer jeans boutique.
Davies is still a romantic and he supplies us with ample love ballads but, like so many of his real life romances, these songs are shadowed by the struggles inherent in relationships. “In a Moment” highlights those momentary lapses of rational that lead to conflict and loss. “Peace In Our Time” is a simple wish to escape the tumultuous upheavals so common in relationships.
If you close your eyes and listen to Working Man’s Café you can hear elements of the early Kinks years, especially on “You’re Asking Me” with its touch of irony and humor and jaunty rhythms. “Morphine Song” continues in that vein with humorous character sketches and music hall, sing-along melody. Davies saves his most caustic lyrics for the American legal system on “No One Listens.” The song concerns Davies’ experience of being shot during a robbery in New Orleans, an ordeal that found no solution in that city’s mixed up bureaucracy. He vents his frustration as he sings “Hey man! I am the innocent party here.” But, again, the dichotomy rears its head as Davies employs a distinctly New Orleans feel for “The Voodoo Walk.”
Strangely enough, for a man who is expressing his dismay over rampant consumerism, corporate tax breaks and lost cultural individualism this album has a distinctly American feel. Perhaps that is the impact made by producer Ray Kennedy who has won recognition for his work with all-American artists Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle – a couple of politically minded artists. There’s plenty of American imagery and musical references on Working Man's Cafe. But I think at the heart of it is Ray Davies love of the place. Despite its many issues, The United States has offered the world a stage for personal expression and Ray Davies offers acute and insightful analysis of the new world.