Ray Davies had uncanny knack for wistful nostalgia and in some respects he was the pioneer of it in the late 60's, his was a more reflective and humorous look at British society, although sometimes when I listen to some of these songs I sense an acerbic viewpoint coming through, a question of whether it's a good thing to be stuck in the past. Nostalgia is a good thing but to stay in its midst for too long means not being able to adapt to change, and British society endured considerable change post World War II. I'm reminded of the year I spent living in London, arriving at the end of winter and being confronted by the renowned cold and grey skyline, natural light seemed non existent just a foreboding greyness that made everything seem dull and lifeless. As I became more confident in my surrounds I actually became fond of the winter months even autumn with its hint of a winter to come. I remember going on long runs on a Sunday morning near Wallington in the south, crisp mornings where the freshness of the air seemed harsh on my lungs, yellowy leaves scattered on the paths I was always fascinated by the houses in London, semi detached houses that had stood for decades, so much history.
Autumn Almanac was part of that period of songs that led up to the concept album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, Ray Davies found considerable material in his interest in the changes of British society, from class changes to the onset of swinging London, songs like Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Well Respected Man and Waterloo Sunset. Davies is able to convey a sense of nostalgia in Autumn Almanac for people of his parents generation that sense of continuity and routine was essential coming out of the ravages of war. He sings about watching football on Saturday and roast beef on Sundays and going to Blackpool for holidays, the comfort of routine and simplicity. I think the lyrics are ambiguous in that it's difficult to tell whether Davies is lamenting change or whether he is poking gentle fun at such old fashioned thought. He sings of living in the same street and never wanting to leave it, and that the only people he ever meets are the ones in his street sensing a certain fear to go beyond the confines of home. I had friends in London whose parents and grandparents lived in the same area that they were born in and had lived in the same house for 30 plus years and were very devoted to their routine and not interested in going beyond that, which isn't a criticism it just seems like such a British ideal.
I think Ray Davies worked out pretty early on that he needed to come up with a musical palette that provided the right setting for his lyrics, the rhythm and blues style that was a firm part of their earlier repertoire wouldn't provide the adequate soundscape. Instead Davies went back to the music hall sounds that were a prominent part of family entertainment when Davies was growing up, the sound was more acoustic, sparse but always melodic. Always a highlight for me was the drumming of Mick Avory but then I'm always partial to drummers with a jazz background because they are such good timekeepers, they can be busy but never distracting and that is an art in itself. Autumn Almanac was a big hit in the U.K reaching #3 but it seemed to polarise critics who felt that Davies was becoming something of a one trick pony in his deconstruction of British society, I think reviewers failed to see the continuing originality and craftsmanship that was still building in the band. Th material the Kinks recorded during this period were influential on other bands, for example I don't think you would have seen an album like Ogdens Nut Gone Flake from the Small Faces which explored similar nostalgic themes if it wasn't for the Kinks.