Name something that's better than the Klassic Kinks. Mini skirts? Not short enough. Cherry-chocolate layer cake? Not sweet enough. Two hundred pages by J.D. Salinger? Ray Davies could paint existential dysfunction as richly in three minutes. The Beatles and the Stones? Maybe combined. In the mid- and late '60s, Dave Davies' riffs sprouted switchblades in brother Ray's sad, literate pop gardens for tunes as tough, soulful, crisp, compact and brilliant as anything from the British invasion or subsequent rock incursions and coups. Give the People What We Want sports the good taste to leave off "Lola" and "You Really Got Me" -- the band's overplayed, unimprovable "Freebird"s. But this tribute succeeds by capturing that sharp, gutsy spirit of the Kinks in the '60s and smearing it across the Kink Katalog and a crowd of Pacific Northwest acts as diverse as an AA meeting.
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Transcendent garage punks the Makers, one of too few bands since the Kinks that can move you with a wink, turn in a charismatic ham-up of Dave Davies' ballad "Strangers" (note to Sub Pop: Force these guys to start showing their hidden-ace softer side on tour!). Old-timey Baby Gramps takes the Tin Pan Alley-influenced ditty "Sunny Afternoon" and throws in the actual tin pan, along with a bottle of whiskey, plus hobo pickin' and croakin'. Mark Lanegan -- the former Screaming Tree -- moves the Brit blues of "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' Bout That Girl" back to the Delta, giving the dusky-voiced lyrical melodramatist something simple and poignant to sing about.
Yes, even the oft-ponderous keep their heads on straight, and if anything, this bunch of unassuming gems is a touch too populist. That touch, specifically, is The Briefs' kindergarten-punk take on the gorgeous nostalgia of 1982's "Come Dancing." But better silly than foolish -- that's an ethos the Kinks only lost track of (and much less often than they're criticized for) in the mid-'70s. What's most remarkable, though, is how neatly the album's 19 tracks stick together. Sure, the bands have all nailed that Kinksy warmth and unassuming style. But there's more to it. Nikol Kollars is as dark a chanteuse as Young Fresh Fellows are sun-stroked Cro-Magnons, but her trip-hoppy "I Go to Sleep" and the Fellows' woolly, wily "Gotta Get the First Plane Home" share a personality. It's the songs themselves. No mystery: It's the Kinks.