While the copyright police are busy tracking down college students and
others who’ve swiped music online, a pop quintet called the 88 has
made away with the soul of Ray Davies. The songs on the band’s addictive
‘KIND OF LIGHT’ album (Mootron/EMK, 3.5 stars) are redolent
with the twee vaudevillian storytelling of Davies’ best years at the
helm of the Kinks – and they’re as compelling as all get out.
Ray always had the proto-metal instincts of his guitarist-brother, Dave,
to keep his narratives rooted in rock. But the 88 are free to range wider
in the Britpop canon, pulling in T. Rex’s brand of apocalyptic momentum
at times, but still remaining within earshot of the country-blues flavor
of the Kinks’ ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ period. The band’s
lead singer and songwriter, Keith Slettedahl, rolls vowels around in his
mouth like gumdrops, and reaches for falsetto at times in a way that would
make Ray himself jealous; toward the end of “Melting In The Sun,”
he scales the register to the Freddie Mercury zone. The band is fully capable
of matching Slettedahl’s enthusiasm for period rock-isms, like the
backward-masked psychedelics that close “Elbow Blues,” some
resplendent echoes of David Bowie’s ‘Hunky Dory’ album,
and, on what must be the ten-thousandth song titled “Sunday Afternoon,”
a bit of Squeeze’s (or perhaps its Elvis Costello’s Attractions
they have in mind) peppy organ. All these references aren’t intended
to belittle the 88, who have charm, energy and riffs to spare. The 88 don’t
wear the various Brittish Invasions on their sleeves; they wear entire suits
made up of swaths of their esteemed predecessors.