The rock star’s autobiography is big business these days, but rarely are they as revelatory, or as informative as they could be and even rarer do they actually make for enlightening reading. There are, of course, honourable exceptions. Indeed, both volumes of Julian Cope’s autobiography are wildly entertaining (whether you are actually a fan of his music or not), to the point where they should be the measuring stick against which all autobiographies and memoirs should be measured, regardless of who they are by.
Ray Davies’ life story is more compelling than most rock stars, being born to a large family, The Kinks having been a vital part of 60s British Beat Boom, and the subsequent fact that they were prevented from touring the USA during their most commercially successful years, before releasing a bewilderingly diverse run of albums throughout the 70s, then finding a comfortable position as rock’s elder-statesmen in the late 80s and early 90s, before calling it a day in the middle of that decade.
One of Davies’ first moves following the disillusion of The Kinks was to write X-Ray, a book of memoirs detailing his and his band’s precarious rise prominence. The Storyteller is a largely live album on which Davies reads from his book, punctuating the reading with performances of suitable songs from throughout his career with the aid of a backing band.
The spoken word passages are by and large good-humoured, with Davies being both winningly self-deprecating and not beyond a bit of well-timed audience interaction. I can’t think of many performers who could lose and then win back their audience in the same chorus in the same way that Davies does during “Tired of Waiting”, but he’s such a seasoned professional that he can read his audience as well, if not better, than any performer.
Davies backing band are well drilled, yet they never get anywhere near the spotlight. Instead the focus is very much on Davies, which given that The Storyteller is effectively his first solo release following the break up of his much-beloved band, is exactly as it should be. Few fans would opt for the live versions of the songs delivered here over the studio originals, but that’s not the point of The Storyteller, instead the focus is very much on Davies story, which is delivered with suitably light-fingered professionalism.
The live performance on The Storyteller is bookended by a pair of rather lumpen studio recordings, which add absolutely nothing to proceedings. Perhaps they were added as Davies wished to give his fans value for money, but really they are unnecessary and many will opt to listen to omit them when they listen to the live album.
I can’t think of many rock stars that would be able to pull off what Davies does on The Storyteller. Yes, book-readings have become increasingly popular over the years, but here Davies manages to find a balance between book-reading, gig and self-deprecating stand up.