Kevin Ayers is a massively underrated 70s pop figure with a run of 70s records as good as anybody’s. His stately baritone reminds of John Cale, albeit mixed with the warped playfulness of Syd Barrett and the observational qualities of Ray Davies. He’s hard to get a read on at first, and he’s never made an obviously “classic” full-length, but that’s mainly because he’s so casual about everything! Delve into the 70s catalog and discover treasures galore, especially if you’re a fan of creative quirky 70s glam pop (Eno, Roxy, Cale, Bowie etc.) He’s nearly up there with those guys, and maybe even better than Cale and Eno as a pop songsmith, but he makes less of a show about it and thus never got the same sort of credit. He deserves the credit!
Joy Of A Toy*
Shooting At The Moon
The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories
June 1st, 1974 (Live with Eno, John Cale, and Nico)
Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy (with Eno and Lady June)
Yes We Have No Mananas (So Get Your Mananas Today)*
That’s What You Get Babe
Diamond Jack And The Queen Of Pain
As Close As You Think
Still Life With Guitar
JOY OF A TOY (1969)
Mr. Ayers’ first LP after leaving The Soft Machine is, simply, lovely. Pure and elegant, cool and collected, full of melody and wit and magically quirky late-60s British art rock arrangements. The album presents a straddling point upon which all sorts of styles were converging – (before anything teetered over into prog rock) – a confluence of folk, psych, jazz, chanson, Velvets-y avant garde, Zappa/Bonzos/Beefheartian humor, and Leonard Cohen/Dylan classicism. This is basically a Soft Machine record, as the entire band backs up Kevin’s amazing baritone (a voice that oozes effortlessly sexy cool). Nearly every track on here hits hard, from top to bottom, and the arrangements are consistently colorful and alive. The A-side here is totally genius – opening with a carnivalesque instrumental fanfare and pushing into four perfectly rendered and inimitable psych pop songs, all of them signature Ayers tracks. “Song For Insane Times” is an incredible example of the elegant jazz pop direction The Soft Machine COULD have taken, as opposed to turning into a dull fusion band. “The Clarietta Rag” is hilarious Syd Barrett music hall, and you cannot get more beautiful than “Girl On A Swing.” The B-side is a BIT less consistent, but that’s mainly due to the psych-chant of “Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong,” more of a Kraurocky psych experiment than a real song and thus an outlier amongst classics. The rest rule: the Lou Reed-gone-psych megaphone rant “Stop This Train,” the pure folk beauty of ‘Eleanor’s Cake,” the darkly haunting Beattles-y “The Lady Rachel,” and the hippie-dippie closer “All This Crazy Gift of Time” – they all make the Kevin mixtape. I’m not sure the man ever truly bettered this debut, and it’s an underrated classic.
SHOOTING AT THE MOON (1970)
This is the farthest out Kevin ever got on record, the closest he ever sounded to the spirit of his original band. To pin it down further: this is like a more stately version of a David Allen-era Gong record (and of course, Allen was a founding member of that original bad). However, while some sources might tell you this is a crazy psychedelic mess (cough cough allmusic cough cough), it’s actually more varied and eclectic and poppy than that. The songs range from avant-garde minimalism to elegant European balladry to distorted Velvets pre-glam. This was Kevin spinning a record with his touring band, which included a very young Mike Oldfield destroying it on bass, and it’s more unhinged than any other Ayers album. From the get-go, simple and wonderful opener “May I” presents us with an even more charming and natural sounding Kevin than ever before – it remains one of his all time great songs, but surely doesn’t clue you into any sort of psychedelic prog album. That all changes with the next two tracks. both nearly Faust-like in their experimental wackiness, and both positively brilliant (particularly the chugging freak-show of “Lunatics Lament”). The next track – “Pisser Dans Un Violon” – stops the record dead in its tracks, depending on your predilection for 8 minute minimalist avant noodling, and serves as the main reason for this record’s “difficult” reputation. I have come to appreciate the jam as integral to the album’s overall warped atmosphere – but I certainly don’t think it’s a whole lot more than a drugged toss-off! Side 2 takes things in a freak-folkier direction, and even includes a ditty of a duet with the Nico-sounding Bridget St. John. The classic here is “Clarence in Wonderland,” a gorgeous Soft Machine holdover that defines Kevin’s nursery rhyme-gone-wrong style. The title track finishes the record off sounding almost EXACTLY like early Gong, with a goofy repetitive singalong riff and insistent horn parts and a dark carnivalesque atmosphere. All that’s missing are the whispered Witch vocals, and I think I maybe even hear a bit of those! All in all – this album is a huge part of the Ayers’ legacy, and while not his tightest record, it’s nutty enough to make total sense as a fan favorite!
It must say something when the fan and critical favorite of an artist you absolutely adore remains one of your least favorite albums in that artist’s classic-era catalog. Such is the case with Kevin’s third release, a trickily titled collection of psych pop ditties that share space with a long orchestral experiment, a bizarre proto-Tom Waits spoken word goth theater song, and the extended stripped down blues rumination of the title track. There are only 8 songs on this one, and that includes the pretty but tiny closing instrumental “Lullaby.” It’s a brief and unassuming record, and I have never been able to shake the sensation it was a compilation, tossed together with outtakes from the previous two. Research tells me that isn’t true – but this is the first Ayers project to feel rather uneventful, and the first sign of his imminent…laziness. That being said: though it’s more of a grower than the albums surrounding it, it is indeed full of brilliant stuff. Kevin never again tried anything like the hugely orchestrated near-instrumental opener “There is Loving Among Us There is Loving,” and all the pop songs are per usual casually perfect (“Margaret” is one of his more romantic and lovely ballads). “Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes” is the standout as far as “songs” go, a chugging stylistic outlier that points to the glam-poppier direction Ayers would take in the future. The slow-as-molasses bluesy title track is an Ayers classic, but aside from the wonderful guitar hook running through its veins, the song is more about the atmosphere than anything else (which, actually, goes for this entire record). In the end, I like everything here, but nothing HITS me like on other Kevin albums and I’d never recommend it as a go-to representative album like some other people do.
This is Mr. Ayers’ tightest and most convincing early platter. With two relatively experimental records out of his system, the man starts to bring in the pop in a major way at this point – here is mostly charming and quirky blues pop, albeit with affectionate nods to The Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett coloring up the works. The A-side showcases a goofy soul side of Kevin, complete with lady backup singers and horn charts. Speaking of horns: the horn hook in the hilarious should-be-classic “When Your Children Go To Sleep” is surely one of Ayers’ great moments on record. “Shouting in a Bucket Blues” is another brilliant piece of writing, and one of the man’s signature tracks, though Steve Hillage’s noodly guitar playing is perhaps a BIT much. 4 great songs, performed with effortless charm and mildly glammy swagger. The B-side stretches out more…the 8 minute repetitive centerpiece “Decadence” sounds like the greatest Velvets outtake never released. Cute ditty “Oh! Wot A Dream” was a tribute to the aforementioned Barrett, and the calming “Hymn” sports one of Kevin’s most transfixing melodies. This man could really do no wrong in the 70s – his charm and laid back psych-pop is so natural and relaxed, his taste so classy, as long as he was being himself and allowed to play around in the studio, he was certain to pop out quirky and memorable gems.
THE CONFESSIONS OF DR. DREAM AND OTHER STORIES (1974)
It’s 1974, and our man Kevin is making the only proper art rocker move by making a proper concept album! Of course, I’m not sure this is a real concept album at all – but it’s dominated by the titular side 2 progressive suite, largely instrumental, very repetitive and very conceptual. This is indeed the closest Kevin ever got to straight up prog rock, though that’s not true for the entire record. One thing hits you immediately upon listening to this record: production value has increased IMMENSELY, with a totally cracking band and the sort of ferociously tight 70s production you associate with Bowie and Floyd and Elton (and of course – this WAS Kevin’s debut for Island records, Elton’s home). Everything on here sound fabulous, from the playing to the engineering to the arrangements – never before has Kevin seemed so downright PROFESSIONAL. The “pop” A-side on this record is as good as anything in the Ayers catalog. Funky hilarious opener “Day By Day” continues the soul experiments of the previous record, and the 8 minute epic “It Begins With A Blessing” expertly alternates tense quiet verses with big bombastic sections (this is a good time to mention that this record is full of lady “black-up” singers, a la Dark Side Of The Moon – a clear model). We also get the guitar-driven “Didn’t Feel Lonely Till I Thought of You,” the first major example of Kevin’s newfound guitar partner Ollie Halsall, who would stay with Ayers until Ollie’s untimely death in the early 90s. As mentioned earlier, the B-side contains one big suite, full of some beautiful melodic music and also some lengthy dafter sections – but overall an engaging and creative piece. And yet, even for all its record-making prowess, this is never going to be my favorite Ayers record. It’s stuffed with too much instrumental padding and often forgoes its creator’s laid back charms in favor of dense impersonal art rock. Kevin sometimes gets lost in a sea of session players and bombast, and parts of the album make me long for the simplicity of the earlier tracks. However – the man was on a roll and this is still a peak-era Ayers platter.
JUNE 1ST, 1974 (LIVE WITH ENO, JOHN CALE, AND NICO) (1974)
(no grade – live album)
You gotta love the 70s. This is a live concert recording of a concert starring four low voiced art rock legends, and in this company Kevin comes across like the most normal guy on Earth. Eno kicks things off with killer bizarre-o renditions of two “Here Come The Warm Jets” tracks. They’re both raging and essential for Eno fans. Cale follows with his gothy cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” and then Nico does 9 minutes of The Doors’ “The End,” and I wish I had those 9 minutes back. It’s a self-important slog, that track. The B-side is all Kevin, and there aren’t any surprises. The songs sound like their studio counterparts, with Cale’s viola screeching through as the only real novelty. As a curio, this is totally worth a listen.
LADY JUNE’S LINGUISTIC LEPROSY (WITH ENO AND LADY JUNE) (1974)
(no grade – side project)
There’s a fine line between bizarrely off-putting and endearingly eccentric, and Kevin almost always falls into the latter camp. This is the only record in his classic run that falls into the first camp, though it’s not a proper Ayers record by any stretch of the the imagination. It’s an album credited to “Lady June,” regularly known as June Cramer, a matriarch/painter/poet who opened her apartment to a slew of Canterbury musicians in the 70s and created a little scene of her own. It was through her window that did fall Robert Wyatt into a lifelong wheelchair, and it was in her apartment building that did live Mr. Ayers. This is essentially a vanity project, put together by Kevin and Eno at home for their poetess friend. It’s full of odd stoned spoken word pieces and Eno electronics, with a few Ayers-y pop pieces that are less songs and more cute rambles. If you’re familiar with Gong, imagine an entire record of their scary stoner lady whispering and you’d be close to the mark. June’s poetry readings take center stage half the time, and they’re as wacky and bizarre as you’d expect from a British gal associated with prog rock and jazz in the 70s. This is the very definition of a “curio,’ not essential at all, not really pop music, but worth hearing once for huge Ayers or Eno fans.
ODD DITTIES (1976)
This is a compilation of singles and outtakes, but if you pretend like it’s a normal album (and I see no reason why you can’t do that), it’s a totally classic pop record. One reason this is vies for the title of greatest Ayers record: the emphasis is on Ayers’ humor and charmingly twisted British wit. It almost sounds like a Kinks album! It’s certainly the friendliest and funniest album in his catalog, and because it’s a comp, it lacks the occasional filler and tossed off tracks that sometimes crop up on the proper records. Whoever sequenced and designed the album did an incredible job of making it feel like a real proper release, and I’d probably say this is the GO-TO Ayers record for a newbie. The only thing is lacks, then, is the progressive slant that some of the man’s fans get into – but if you like him for his personality and pop smarts, you can’t go wrong. Classic pop jams include “Butterfly Dance,” “Soon Soon Soon,” and “Gemini Child,” all full of great melodies and 70s rocking band interplay. There are also a handful of excellent alternate versions of album tracks – the French version of “May I” almost works better than the original! The ONLY thing that takes down from the absolute top possible rating: it ends with two cute “island” songs – both fun and quirky, but both so slight as to almost float away on a giant coconut. That being said – Nilsson’s “Coconut” is about the same, and I’ve never ragged on that one! Everybody: if you love classic British pop music, get this album.
SWEET DECEIVER (1975)
Due to a glammy album cover, the presence of Elton John on keys, and a promotional campaign bent on turning Kevin into a pop idol, this record often gets pegged as a career-staining sellout. That is far from the truth. However, it IS probably the most casual record in Kevin’s career up to this point, foregoing experimentation and artsy tomfoolery in favor of a more singer-songwriterly 70s pop style. But before you get upset, allow me to inform you that this is still a writer and performer in peak condition, that the production and band on here represent top of the line 70s British pop. Very rarely while listening to this platter does one get the impression Kevin is trying to be a pop star. This is hardly commercial music – often quirky and silly, often elegantly breezy, and very much in line with the man’s previous records. The main issue here is a lopsidedness – the A-side here is as good as anything Ayers ever did, and the B-side peters out with a few unmemorable tracks. The opening trio of the record rules – the incredible and weird glam rocker “Observations” followed by the hilarious comedy track “Guru Banana” followed by the gorgeous folk ballad “City Waltz.” Then there’s the 8 minute Elton drenched “Toujours La Voyage,” essentially “Whateverwebringshesings” part II, a lengthy relaxed blues tune that goes on too long but still sounds wonderful while doing that. The title track opens side 2 on a huge high note, with a lot of great work by Ollie Halsall (now Kevin’s official partner in crime – he even co-produced the record). “Once Upon an Ocean” is a silly caribbean themed novelty song that doesn’t really work, but per usual with Kevin’s 70s records, everything sounds warm and crisp and the band is ace. So flaws and slightness aside, it;s still an essential Ayers album with lots of greatness in its grooves.
YES WE HAVE NO MANANAS (SO GET YOUR MANANAS TODAY) (1976)
Kevin’s polished pop masterpiece, produced by Muff Winwood, the man behind the classic Sparks albums. This takes the pristine cracking sound of the previous two albums and marries it to a consistent and consistently catchy set of pop songs, delivered with an overload of flair and energy and wit! I have heard a LOT of great 70s pop records, and I’d put this right up there with the best of ’em. The atmosphere is glammy and quirky, but always cool, and the band destroys every track. As far as British glammy progressive pop in the 1970s; this is a paradigm. The ONLY track that lets me a down a bit is the late arriving ballad “Yes I Do” – a pretty melody and a good delivery by Kevin, but it’s hard not to wince a bit at the corny lyrics. Otherwise: gems galore. “Mr. Cool” is the best Cockney Rebel song not written by Steve Harley, the gorgeous “The Owl” uses lush vocal harmonies to masterful effect, “Love’s Gonna Turn You Around” could not be catchier and groovier, and opener “Star” is hilarious self-mocking blues-glam. The BiG classics, for me anyway, are “Everyone Knows the Song” – perhaps the most perfect pop tune Kevin ever put together – and the epic aching closer “Blue,” where Ollie really gets to shine on the gee-tar. This isn’t’ necessary the quintessential Ayers record – it’s in his late studio pop style, and owes very little to freak folk or Canterbury or Syd Barrett – but it’s almost certainly the tightest and catchiest and most accessible Ayers record. It’s my personal favorite, anyway!
RAINBOW TAKEAWAY (1978)
The last classic Ayers record, and a very underrated and mesmerizing parting shot. For this baby, Kevin moved on from Muff Winwood and found himself collaborating with Slapp Happy/Henry Cow man Anthony Moore. The result is a record very much in line with glam-pop-era Ayers, and just as great, though there’s a bit of “Dr. Dream” progginess creeping into a few of the tracks. Once again, the band sounds incredible, the production is warm fuzzy 70s pop, and Kevin’s low voice is beautifully cool and quirky. This is one of his most consistent records, with nary a duff track in the bunch and a lot of variety. The title track is a total jam – one of the best pure pop songs in the catalog. “Waltz For You” is the man’s most entrancing slow burner in a long while (the sparingly used backing vocals are utterly haunting). There’s the very Eno-esque “Goodnight Goodnight,” which sounds straight off of “Before and After Science,” and the hilarious closing comedy track “Hat Song.” The heart of the record, though, comes early on in the form of two lengthier artsier tunes. “Ballad of A Salesman Who Sold Himself” is one of Kevin’s most interesting creations, a multi-part story song that points directly towards The Flaming Lips in its dynamics. That tune flows into the “A View From A Mountain,” another very Eno-ish tune with a repetitive synth pattern running against a simple harmonized vocal track and a chugging bluesy rhythm section. Sadly, this in the last time such unique arrangements appear on an Ayers record. But this is essential – get it while it lasts!
THAT’S WHAT YOU GET BABE (1980)
It couldn’t last forever! To continue using the word “last,” this was Kevin’s last album for Harvest, and his last major label release. It’s also his first daft question mark of a record. The leap has been made to 80s production technology, though not yet to any egregious degree. But all the edges are smoothed out and the atmosphere is stifled and awkward. It sounds like the label was trying to turn Kevin in a Randy Newman-type smart “novelty” guy, and the record I’m most reminded of here is Randy’s late-70s head-scratcher “Born Again.” That was similarly cynical and impotent “rock” album wherein the genius creator’s once charming personality is swallowed by uncharacteristic production and underdeveloped songs. The material on here is far from BAD, and some of the tunes are actually very appealing, but they are all slight and inessential, and Kevin barely sounds engaged. Clearly he didn’t know how to maneuver in the wake of punk and new wave – he had all but retired before the label put together this production. Even with all the mainstream compromises and lack of energy, this is still a cute and listenable record much of the time, and includes some minor gems. Occasionally it relaxes into the old Ayers groove, as on the Kinksy ditties “I’m So Tired” and “Miss Hanaga,” both positioned at the end of the record. There’s a pair of “I hate the music industry” tunes that fall pretty flat, though the angry psuedo-rocker ‘Idiots” has a fun pop chorus that might have been truly great under different production clothing. Other songs sound fine while playing, but don’t stick with me for the long haul, and that’s problematic for a record whose main export is catchy pop ditties. The title track opens the record and it may be the worst thing on here, a lifeless mechanical essentially AOR tune without much of a pulse. It’s a shame Kevin turned away from his experimental side and stopped serious record-making at this point – in hindsight, he surely could have worked in the Eno/Roxy New Wave style and retained his progressive cred. No need to hear this one unless you’re a huge fan.
DIAMOND JACK AND THE QUEEN OF PAIN (1983)
I cannot find this album ANYWHERE. So I can’t review it. However, I am going to guess it’s not very good. Because most of the material shows up on Kevin’s next release, “Deja Vu,” which was actually recorded BEFORE this one. So he revamped the songs for “Diamond Jack,” then still released the original versions on “Deja Vu” a year later. And that material is exceedingly mediocre – clearly tossed off by Ayers without much thought or care. It’s possible the arrangements and sounds on here elevate the weak songs, but I doubt it.
DEJA VU (1984)
I have no idea what was going on with Kevin in the 80s, but judging by his recorded output, I’m guessing it didn’t have much to do with music. This is as fluffy and inessential as albums come, and really it should be considered an EP – it’s only five new songs, one of them performed twice in two different arrangements. The rest of the album is padded out by a re-recorded version of “Beware of the Dog” that sounds exactly like the 1978 original (from ‘Rainbow Takeway”) with worse playing and engineering, and a cover of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” that is obviously the best thing on here! The new songs are all stacked up at the top of the album, and they’re a continuation of the goofy early 80s pop rock of “That’s What You Get Babe,” albeit with cheaper production. There’s a bit of charm to the slow bluesy opener “Champagne and Valium,” but Kevin has done that sorta song way better already. “Take It Easy” and “Stop Playing With My Hear” ride the sorta bouncy “island” grooves Kevin so often likes to employ, but they’re hardly songs proper. The most old school composition on here is the appropriately titled and very quirky “Thank God For a Sense of Humor,” which sounds like it could have fit on a classic Ayers record with different production. It’s the only sign of genuine life, with a quirky instrumental section and some real melodic ideas. Another nice thing I can say about this album is that, unlike the garish synth pop of the next two, it still sounds here like musicians in a room playing. But these positives can’t do much to elevate what is ultimately a tossed off (drunken?) non-album from a once great artist.
AS CLOSE AS YOU THINK (1986)
We believe in you. Your mate Bryan Ferry called us to let you know he thought you had it in you buddy! You are going to be a star again. Here’s what we’ve got: the most state of the art keyboard technology you could ever want. Programmers and sequencers galore, and wait’ll you hear the reverb we’re working with! Throw that on the drum samples and you’re GOLDEN, my boy. Also, my friend plays saxophone and he’s going to come by the studio to lay down some tasty solos. It’s on, pal. Bring your friend Ollie down to get drunk and play something that of course we’ll just mix out. Can’t have anything sounding too 70s, now can we boychick? Good to know you’ve got some not-terrible songs in tow – I like that 50s throwback “Only Heaven Knows” and that cute little jaunt “Wish I Could Fall In Love,” which sounds like one of your old charmers. But don’t worry, we’ll make sure to suck all the life out of everything and provide you with the most sterile recordings possible. We’re also going to let you record your song “The Howlin’ Man,” probably the worst thing you’ll ever release under your name. Because – pal – that’s what we do. For you. And your career.
THE SYNTH POP STUDIO IN HELL
P.S. We need to fill 6 more minutes so we’ll just re-use “Champagne and Valium” from your previous album and call it “Too Old To Die Young.” Nobody will care.
FALLING UP (1988)
Another upsetting and flaccid synth pop record, though signs of life are starting to show. It’s obvious that Kevin is way way past his glory days, but if you have any interest in his 80s recordings (all three of you), there are exceedingly minor pleasures to be gained from this mush. “Flying Start” has a decent melody – in another era, with a totally different arrangement and groove, it might have been a workable tune. “Another Rolling Stone” forgoes the synth pop sounds and ends up a limper version of a classic Ayers blues dirge. With its mechanical rhythm section sounds and dull vocal performance, its hardly worthy of much praise, but it is a breath of fresh air in its context. Another slow bluesy tune closes the record on a relative high note – “Am I Really Marcel,” which is the best track on here and calls to mind peak-era Ayers more than anything since the late 70s. Kevin references his laziness in the song – whether or not he’s being sincere is up to debate, but this record is nothing if not lazy! Here’s some bad news: the album is also home to the ABSOLUTE WORST track in Kevin’s catalog, and one of the worst songs in my entire record collection. It’s called “Night Fighters, ” and it’s a moronic repetitive 80s crapfest that is so hideous and off the mark it sounds like outsider music. Don’t worry yourself with this record, anyway.
STILL LIFE WITH GUITAR (1992)
Holy moly, he’s back! After a decade of barely-there synth pop crap, Ayers gets back to his strengths with a little acoustic-based singer-songwriter album. At 35 minutes long, with 5 taken up by a new and inessential version of “When Your Parents Go To Sleep,” this is yet again barely an album proper. BUT – it sounds like live musicians playing together in a room, Kevin seems engaged, and the songs are all comfortable (if slight). There’s nothing remotely progressive or art-rocky about this – there’s nothing trendy or ambitious – it’s just an old man set of acoustic strummy little tunes, mostly erring on the right side of the “taste” line. Kevin’s longtime collaborator, guitarist Ollie Hansall, passed away before the release of this record, and whether or not that factors into the proceedings, it’s hard not to hear a mournful quality to the songs here. Parts of this almost sound melancholy enough to remind of Leonard Cohen (who, incidentally, ran into the same production-hell issues as Kevin in the 80s but actually managed to make of them something awesome). Kevin’s voice is surprisingly unchanged – maybe a little lower and more weathered, but because his delivery was always so casual in the first place, it’s hard to tell the difference. None of the these individual songs stick out that much – I’m partial to the very pretty “Thank You Very Much,” the weird folky solider’s song “M16” has some meat on its bones, and it’s sure nice to hear Kevin sing against only a naked piano on the haunting “Something In Between.” This is fans only, but if you’re a big fan it’s definitely worth a listen – this is sort of record Kevin should have been tossing off in the the 80s, if he HAD to toss ’em off!
THE UNFAIRGROUND (2007)
The exact sort of comeback album Kevin needed, and the kind of comeback album more out-of-touch aging rockers need. It’s a complete turn around from his limp record making of the past 2 decades, and nearly brings him back to the heights of the 70s. How did he do it? Simple. He surrounded himself with young people, musician fans keen on producing for Kevin the RIGHT sort of Ayers record. This album sports a big cast of supporting characters, overseen by The Ladybug Transistor’s main man Gary Olson, but including guys from Gorky’s Zygotic Munci and Teenage Fanclub, not to mention cameos from old stalwarts like Phil Manzanera and Robert Wyatt. With all these tasteful smart indie musicians surrounding him, Kevin manages to squeeze out his final classic (albeit, a minor one) – the sound is warm, colorful, and charming, just like the old records, and the album is crammed with exciting string and horn arrangements. If you want to hear a great example of how arrangement and production makes or breaks a song, just listen to the gloriously revamped versions of two “As Close As It Gets” songs on here. This is 34 minutes, but it all works – “Friends and Strangers” and “Cold Shoulder” and “Walk Away” are easily the best tracks Ayers has done since the 70s. His voice has definitely lost a little bit of nuance, but he still sounds essentially the same and in the context he sounds GREAT! Of the all the advertised “comeback” albums I’ve heard, this has to be one of the closest to the real thing. Sadly, it was to be Kevin’s last record.