Make no mistake about it: Ray Davies is a British icon, through and through.
Aside from being the primary songwriter for legendary early English rock band The Kinks, the 72-year-old boasts a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) title, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth just last month.
And yet Sir Ray Davies’s first solo album in nearly a decade is a wide-eyed, open-arms ode to all things America.
Based largely on his recent memoir, Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story, Davies’s new album—fittingly titled Americana—uses his complicated relationship with Uncle Sam to come to terms with his own long, fruitful, and at times difficult (including being mugged and shot in New Orleans) career and life.
Fittingly, Davies recruited Americana music powerhouse The Jayhawks to back him on his first solo effort since 2008’s Working Man’s Cafe. And its title track—whose accompanying music video premieres here exclusively at The Daily Beast—embodies the sweeping cinematic theme of “the idea, the vision of America itself,” as Davies describes it.
The song jubilantly evokes American rock music in many of its forms—from the jangly twang of the Jayhawks’ alt-country guitars, to the pastoral namechecking of wanting to live “where the buffalo roam,” to the Spector-esque Wall of Sound overdubbing, to the use of Beach Boys-like blissed-out vocal harmonies.
And the music video, shot as a performance at The Kinks’ Konk Studios in London, features Davies in a plaid working man’s shirt, boots, and a black Stetson. He dryly gestures as he waxes poetic about America’s “great panorama,” and reminisces about watching Westerns on film and wanting to live out his silver-screen fantasies.
Other songs on the album openly reference the language of Americana, from “Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys” to “The Great Highway” and “A Long Drive Home to Tarzana.” But not every reference to the U.S. is adoring: On power-pop single “Poetry,” Davies takes time to reflect on America’s dark underbelly of consumer culture and materialism.
“I kneel down and say grace for the comforts the world bestows on me / And the great corporations providing our every need / And those big neon signs telling us what to eat / And every shop window goods are designed to please / Oh but I ask / Where is the poetry?” he asks in the chorus.
And yet, on “Americana,” he lovingly sings, “It’s an epic ride / But it’s a long, long drive,” and he’s happy to take it.
Americana is out April 21 via Legacy Recordings.