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Schoolboys in Disgrace
The Kinks

RCA LPL1-5102
Released: December 1975
Chart Peak: #45
Weeks Charted: 14

Ray DaviesIf one were to simplify the old guard of British rock & roll by drawing a straight line, left to right, between the angelic Beatles and the demonic Rolling Stones, one would probably place the Who slightly to the left of the Stones and the Kinks a couple of notches to the right of the Beatles but well to the left of Townshend and company. Ray Davies may display a full share of Dionysian darkness and disorder at times, but his craziness is usually admirable and engaging, and the Kinks, if idiosyncratic, are essentially lovable.

Perhaps never more so than on Schoolboys in Disgrace, probably their best LP since Everybody's in Showbiz and a welcome relief from the ambitious but tired Preservation Act opus. Since Davies seems curiously committed to the concept album (the disappointing Soap Opera was the last), the least one can ask is that he pull it off without having to shore up his exposition by using aesthetically weak material. Schoolboys is a bit thin in spots -- "Education" sounds like long-winded filler; "No More Looking Back" is no "Waterloo Sunset" -- but it boasts at least one major song ("Headmaster") and several highly enjoyable minor ones, many of them composed and performed in delightful full-throttle, neo-Fifties and Sixties rock & roll styles. The story, according to a red-herring liner note, recounts the formative years of Mr. Flash of Preservation Act fame, ostensibly letting us in on why he became such "a hard and bitter character...[who] in future...would always get what he wanted." In actuality, most of the record is lovingly, even sentimentally, nostalgic ("Schooldays were the happiest days of your life/ ...And I'd go back if I could only find a way") and even the bad times don't seem to have left any permanent damage.

The Kinks - Schoolboys In Disgrace
Original album ad art.
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The bad times include a (possibly) blameless romantic misadventure with a ravishing Lolita ("It wasn't lust, it wasn't rape/ It was just a mistake") and a traumatic caning by the cruel headmaster. "I'm in Disgrace" is a terrific rock & roll song about erotic confusion and shame, and the musically wonderful "Headmaster" rises to true desperation with its final sexual imagery of cane and bare ass: "Don't tell all my friends I bent over/ ...Don't make me take my trousers down." After the beating, however, Schoolboys reverts quickly to its basic comic structure, reestablishing the tone which has been set by such sunny parodies as "Jack the Idiot Dunce" and "The First Time We Fall in Love." Vocally, Davies sounds like he's putting on even the Band in parts of "Schooldays" and "The Last Assembly."

Because it does not really try very hard to hit a seriocomic home run, Schoolboys in Disgrace isn't one of the Kinks' great albums. But the fact that its limited intentions are often exceeded by the sheer talent of its creators happily proves that this band from Muswell Hill is still a vital force in contemporary rock & roll.

- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 3/11/76.

Bonus Reviews!

Another semi-concept set from Ray Davies and company, featuring words and music from the man many feel is the most brilliant composer to come out of the British pop explosion. This time he's dealing with education: its hypocrisies, the excessive emphasis society places upon it, the real reason for it (being able to make friends, etc.), the humiliation of school, and the fact that no matter how awful it is, we all tend to look back at it as something special. Styles are generally more basic than the last few LPs, with emphasis on good, solid rock and the harmonics of Ray and brother Dave. As always, Ray changes his vocals to suit the mood of the song, reverting to the '50s, being contemporary, or moving into some yet uncategorized area. Probably the most solid set all the way around in several years. Best cuts: "Schooldays," "Education," "The First Time We Fall In Love," "The Hard Way," "The Last Assembly."

- Billboard, 1975.

Yet another original cast recording -- in the big production number, Ray Davies indicts "Education" for its failure to teach the Ultimate Cause. Go get 'em, Ray. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

As the last of The Kinks' overt conceptual exercises, Schoolboys... was further proof that Ray Davies's best "plays" happened when he focused his observational skills into singular songs, rather than fleshing out an idea over the course of a whole album. Like Soap Opera, this is only recommended for hardcore completists. * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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