Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a teleplay about a carpet-layer who emigrates to Australia, Arthur sounds more obviously like a concept album than it’s predecessor Village Green Preservation Society, but with the play never having been produced, it stands as a sort of sequel, building on the same themes of how frankly awesome it is to be English, despite the drudgery of suburban working life and the crappiness of war.
It’s a bit of a sleeper in my collection, not one of those CDs I pull out very often, but I think that may just mean that I’ve under-rated it. Not that I’m the only one; two of the singles from the album, Drivin’ and Shangri-La, utterly failed to chart, despite being probably the best tracks on the album and full of Ray at his most charmingly English. The third single, Vistoria, which opens the album, did make the UK top 40 but with none of the success the band had been used to. Perhaps that is just the price to be paid for releasing albums that actually work best in that format.
There is a slight return to the rockier edge of Kinkdom in evidence here notably in the title track and Brainwashed, while Victoria is a joyfully satirical ode to an empire which once reached from Australia to Cornwall.
Contrast with the decidedly downbeat music and lyrics of Yes Sir, No Sir and Some Mother’s Son, which really deserves to be much better known as an anti-war song… and is followed immediately by the ridiculously jolly Drivin’, which is guaranteed to make me grin inanely if I play it in my Mini.
I’m making this sound like a decidely bi-polar album, but the songwriting is brilliant, even when borrowing from Mr Churchill, and while the music does vary from jaunty (Drivin’, Shangri-La) to melancholy (Young and Innocent Days) to just plain weird (She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina) it somehow manages to come together in a way that just works.
The latest release includes both Mono and Stereo versions of the 12 original tracks, plus contemporary single Plasticman (banned by the BBC for including the word ‘bum’… I guess they truly were Young and Innocent Days), a couple of Dave Davies compositions, and a clutch of live performances and alternative takes.
Stand-out tracks: For me, Drivin’ is the clear highlight, but Some Mother’s Son deserves some airplay as we approach Remembrance Day.