This is not a column about my new favorite movie, “The Darjeeling Limited.” This is not a column about the soundtrack to that film, which is also excellent. This is a column about how “The Darjeeling Limited” reignited my love affair with the best British band not named the Beatles: The Kinks.

People have said all sorts of nasty things about Wes Anderson’s tendency to get a bit cutesy, especially with familiar devices repeated ad nauseum – and in this particular movie, the easiest examples of that are the three scenes that feature slow-motion tracking shots accompanied by Kinks songs.

Yeah, it might be predictable, but damn if it’s not beautiful. The songs used this time around, “This Time Tomorrow,” “Strangers” and “Powerman,” are all from their near-perfect 1970 LP Lola vs. The Powerman & The Money-Go-Round, Pt 1. The album is funny, smart and chock full of hits (“Lola” and “Apeman”), and songs that certainly could have been. From start to finish it’s a forceful indictment of the record industry. For all its period-quirkiness, the album holds up remarkably well. And it’s probably only the band’s fifth or sixth greatest album.

At the Kinks’s core were brother guitarists Ray and Dave Davies. Ray wrote most of the songs, but Dave was no slouch, usually contributing two or three gorgeous songs per album. The tension between the two seemed to fuel the band’s breakneck creative pace, but it also threatened to tear the band apart on numerous occasions – think the Gallagher brothers if Oasis didn’t suck or John and Paul if they were related. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Like most of the bands lumped in with the British Invasion, The Kinks started off as something of an R&B group. Early hits like “You Really Got Me” were trademarked by a unique distortion that lead guitarist Dave Davies achieved by shredding the speaker cone of his amp with a razor blade. In addition to an especially keen sense for melodies, the band balanced heady songwriting with power chords and two-chord riffs that put them firmly in the league of contemporaries The Rolling Stones, Animals and The Who. For all the glory of those early years and their fuzzy fury, what makes the Kinks so important was the band’s transformation from an R&B outfit that worshipped whatever came out of Chess Studios to being the most quintessentially British band to land on the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Its maturation began with 1965’s The Kink Kontroversy, but its new direction wasn’t fully realized until 1966’s Face to Face. By that time, the band was incorporating music hall, English folk and even more diverse influences – Hawaiian guitars and Indian instruments – for a sound that could only be called English pop. Along with expanded musical horizons came newfound lyrical depth that included stunning character portraits, sly social commentary and lilting laments about all things British.

From there it was onward and upward for a run of five-star, indisputably awesome records that were hugely influential and popular: 1967’s Something Else by The Kinks, 1968’s The Village Green Preservation Society (my favorite), 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), 1970’s Lola and 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies.

Not too many bands have runs like that, so why is the Kinks’s legacy not considered on the same level of rock bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who or even the Beatles? For one, the group’s exposure in America took a major hit when a touring ban stopped it from exploiting the world’s largest pop market from ’65 to ’69, the band’s prime years. After that came an ill-advised “theater incarnation,” and though they recovered a bit in the ’80s, the band’s refusal to reunite now and play early hits to arenas damages its reputation in the digital age.

So thank God for Anderson’s beautiful slow-motion shots of Adrien Brody, because as clichéd as some people might believe them to be, they will inspire people and maybe get the Kinks’s music into the hands of a few new listeners.

Cargo no longer has a mohawk (but refuses to take another headshot). Tell him he’s made a terrible mistake at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.