thekinkspicturebookWas there ever such an explosively exciting introduction in British rock history as the gonzoid opening riff to 'You Really Got Me'? It sounds vicious enough now, the distorted power chords sound achieved by Dave Davies slicing the speaker cone of his amp with a razor blade, if set off against Ray Davies' slightly fey, very English vocal, so what people made of it in 1964 can only be wondered. Certainly BBC DJ Brian Matthew's odd introduction of them as "five more representatives of the shaggy set" seems comically out of turn. It's a key milestone in the development of the British rock'n'roll boom from rhythm and blues to full fledged rock - it has been argued that it represents the start of heavy metal - yet as this six CD box set, the first in the band's history and partly curated by Ray, ascertains it's only a small part of what made The Kinks such a hugely influential and successful band.Working sequentially after that out of place opener (it was, in fact, their third single) the story of The Kinks begins. As with many British bands of the era, they had to work plenty of undistinguished Brit-beat, post-Beatles Merseybeat cribbing and R&B standards out of their system while trying to find their style. Hearing an early recording of Ray's own version of  'Stop Your Sobbin'' it's easier to appreciate how much his future paramour, Chrissie Hynde, would later make it her own - while the unreleased 'Don't Ever Let Me Go' uses exactly the same riff and solo in a much cleaner, practically jaunty setting. Singles three and four, the latter 'All Day And All Of The Night', seem to come from somewhere completely other in this context, so much grittier are they than everything else they were doing in 1964 on this piecemeal evidence.Things gradually change. 'Who'll Be The Next In Line', covered by Queens Of The Stone Age, has an insistent quality, 'I Go To Sleep', also later taken on by the Pretenders, is a gorgeous pulsing piano ballad and that riff makes another return appearance on 'I Need You', but the psychedelic air of 'See My Friends', adapting the drone of Indian raga, is the first real indication that in terms of songwriting and arrangement Ray Davies is pushing at the style's self-imposed boundaries. In early 1966 came the first sign of a marked change that would help the band carry all before them in the following years as, while the rest of disc one still has plenty of sappy love and loss songs. Ray Davies was gradually discarding the desire to trade on America's musical terms. This may have been aided by the American Federation of Musicians' refusal to grant the band work permits for four years over their livewire and fisticuffs-prone live shows, cutting them off from the active British Invasion, but it allowed Davies to explore the realm of social commentary and observational character study, a virtually new language for British pop. 'A Well Respected Man' was the turning point, a stab at middle-class self-satisfaction and emptiness despite their being "oh so healthy in his body and his mind". That a song about the hollow soul of the talking-down bourgeoisie should later turn up in Juno is surely as ironic as anything Davies would go on to pen. 'All Night Stand', here in demo form seemingly recorded via short wave, analyses a selfish alpha male in a failing relationship. While 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone' seems to be taking the observational skill to the band itself, trying to find their way back to terra firma amid the whirl of fame and Ray and Dave's celebratedly fractious relationship.Disc 1, and indeed Kinks phase one, finished. Phase/disc 2 starts in spring 1966 and Davies is putting away childish things and moving into the narrative world he seemed more comfortable with. Kinks Song Everyone Knows #3, 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' opens this CD, albeit in a less appealing alternate take. While not everything works - 'Mr Reporter' is as epically self-regarding as the Stereophonics' 'Mr Writer' on the same subject, ie how rubbish music journalists are. Davies' abilities to write self-regard, egotism's after effects with a degree of sympathy that reaches into these first person parables, still comes across as highly skilled. Kinks Song Everyone Knows #4 'Sunny Afternoon' manages to make the listener emphasise with tax rises by judging how they affect a spoiled aristocrat oblivious to his poor little rich boy whining. 'Rosy Won't You Please Come Home' mixes a pretty Beatlesy harpsichord effect with the perspective of worried parents concerned about what state their offspring has got themselves into with the rebelliousness. 'Village Green' precedes the onset of full-on pastoral concept album territory by recalling his romanticised youth. 'Session Man', on the other hand, is actually about a session player - "he reads the dots and plays each line, and always finishes on time... He is a session man, a chord progression, a top musician". 1967's Something Else album, often labelled the first of their four or five year golden age, provides 'Two Sisters', an internecine tale in which one sister tries to come to terms with the other's free and easy lifestyle. There's also another lifestyle comment with the sketch 'David Watts' as later covered by the Jam and 'Mr Pleasant', essentially an advance warning of the difficulties of the work-life balance, which introduces more than hints of the great British music hall tradition in its oompah brass and knees-up arrangement. Oh, and here's Kinks Song Everyone Knows #5, the completely unimpeachable 'Waterloo Sunset' (further listening tip: search out Elliott Smith's live cover) followed by one of Dave Davies' in 'Death Of A Clown', continuing the 'Two Sisters' theme into self-examination over the passing of time and the absence of a younger man's fun.Preceded by the escapism of 'Lavender Hill' and the glorious everyday life sketch of 'Autumn Almanac', and doubtless aided by his enforced stay at home while his contemporaries were conquering new lands, Ray Davies' observational peak was reached in 1968 with The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Ray's treatise on the innocence and experience of quiet English village life and its place in the world, a detailed, iconoclastic love letter to an idealised past and of glorious sun-dappled memories of a certain Englishness (see Kinks Song Everyone Knows #6 'Days'). Seeping into the first few tracks of CD 3, are the songs from and around this classic album. You can hear the foundation stones of all sorts of bands that play up their very parochial pastoral presence. The title track listed culture of their shared past, "preserving the old ways from being abused, protecting the new ways for me and for you", treading that fine line between irony and meaning it. (That CD 3 starts with Dave Davies' rousing rocker 'Love Me Til The Sun Shines' is slightly odd sequencing, though).The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was a commercial flop, so Davies went for the concept rock opera card. 1969's Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) was a song cycle about the country, the superficiality of modern life and the hope of the future. Some of it returns to harder roots but it's very much a companion piece to The Village Green Preservation Society and its highlights just about match those. 'Shangri-La' is a typical Ray thinkpiece on middle class materialism and comfort, 'Some Mother's Son' a genuinely affecting anti-war song, 'Victoria' watches the sun go down on the empire with affection tinged with cynicism. The latter element was in its element on 1970's similarly cumbersomely titled Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround Part One, which is introduced both in the timeline and on here by Kinks Song Everyone Knows #7 'Lola' ("she walks like a woman but talks like a man", remember). But this was a satire on the music industry and their hangers-on, represented here by a not immensely likeable set of songs: 'Get Back In Line', a curious anti-union ballad; 'The Moneygoround', a music hall vaudeville number about who's getting his royalties; Dave Davies' brotherly love ballad 'Strangers' as later heard in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. 'Apeman' was a shuffle about wanting to go back to nature and escape a human race that didn't respect itself any more and was pushing itself to destruction. His no doubt grateful public took it into the UK top ten for the last time in the band's career.The band's next release was 1971's Percy, the soundtrack to a film about a man who finds his penis has been replaced in an operation by that of a womanizer and has to find all the women who might recognise it from its previous owner.Yeah.Luckily, more thought was put into its songs, particularly the plangent 'The Way Love Used To Be'. The more overtly American influenced Muswell Hillbillies has its moments largely through the lyrical touch - '20th Century Man' seems to be an attempt to connect all Ray's lyrical themes, from Englishness to nostalgia to modern day fatigue to small 'c' conservatism - but it's somewhere in the gloopy strings of the former album and the countrification of the latter, the first of five straight concept albums, that Kinks quality control begins to fall off a cliff. And this is halfway through the box set.Phase 3, starting in 1972 and a couple of tracks into CD 4, finds Ray with big ideas about theatricality. That year's album Everybody's In Show-Biz is what it says on the tin. The selections in this box set are piano ballad heavy and about the touring and worldwide star lifestyle and how terrible the latter really is. Highlight is 'Celluloid Heroes', which sounds like what Elton John would do over the next few years but is a bittersweet discourse on showbiz imagery versus reality. The next project Preservation was divided into two 'acts' as seperate albums, both overtly cabaret fuelled with few direct links back to Ray's storytelling recent past as a sop. 'Artificial Man's multi-part form with orchestral breakdowns and modish stodgy rock attempts to invent ELO with mixed results, while 'Mirror Of Love' with its one man band drums and sitcom theme horns is particularly unlikeable. By the end of this disc they've turned into a poor man's Wings.Phase 4 of 4. The fifth disc starts in 1977, the year punk broke. The Kinks' response was to turn into Chicago - MOR, buffed to an FM radio shine, sonically tailored for an expectant American arena market (which took them with open arms to an extent). Nearly all the remaining traces of individualism and iconoclasm have been ironed out, the sort of thing that happens when you've just spent five years writing nothing but songs about the crippling ennui of stardom. Essentially, it's yacht rock, with the odd diversion into hamfisted hard rock shape pulling. 1979's 'Attitude' is a song that starts like a sketch show version of punk and broadens out into a rant essentially about why the young people can't just be nicer to each other. This disc includes five unreleased tracks. Unlikely as it seems in this company, one of them, 'Duke', is the best thing on it because it sounds like they've put the effort in and briefly remembered what they were good at. The sixth and last disc at least, early on, sees token attempts at finding the magic again through Ray writing about English nostalgia and class satire again - 'Come Dancing', 'Million Pound Semi-Detached' - before falling back into conservatism - small 'c' - and, judging by a couple of tracks, big C too. It's jarring to note that the last tracks were released in 1993 and the band were still active in 1996, finding a land where the big hitters of the day - Gallagher, Albarn, Cocker - were professing love for what they'd done thirty years earlier. Going on the second half of the disc the Davies's and latest hired hands were preferring to look towards Chris Rea and Extreme as their own contemporaries and inspirations.Six discs make up Picture Book then, two and a half of which actually contain songs for the most part that you'd want to listen to again. The blurb claims up to a third of the 138 tracks are unreleased, whether at all or just on CD before now, but what is and what isn't a rarity version is erratic. 'Dead End Street', for instance, Davies' lyrical nod to kitchen sink drama and working class social realism, is presented in an unreleased alternate version seemingly recorded through the wall from next door. Their last big commercial hurrah, 'Come Dancing', only appears in an early demo version before the producer talked them out of the reggae overtones and gave it the warmth the nostalgic overtones demanded. Moreover, who is the audience for such a box set? The completists searching out the demos, alternate takes, alternate mixes and live and radio versions will have most of the tracks already and it's certainly not a place for beginners to start, both for those same rarities and the compiler's insistence on giving all eras of the band a fair crack of the whip whether they deserve it or not. On the other hand, at its peak, this is a reaffirmation that when Ray, Dave and band, (Mick Avory and Pete Quaife until 1969), were good they were very, very good. They broke British rock ground, then turned their back on the overdriven stuff so Ray could, to quote Pete Townshend, "invent a new kind of poetry and a new kind of language for pop writing".So yeah, don't buy this, but be very aware of its contents. That's a bit of a fudge after all that exposition and explanation, isn't it? Sorry. It deserves it, in its own way. Let's give it an average overall mark.60%