KAYE – Edward Rogers (Zip Records, 2014) Michael J. Mand, June 28, 2014 For those of you unfamiliar with the name Kevin Ayers, let’s just say that he was a major factor in the inception of the psychedelic music scene in England in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He has been associated with the likes of Syd Barrett, Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno, John Cale and a host of others and he was a founding member and the bass player of the band, Soft Machine. Throughout his career, at least the early portion, Ayers struggled with alcohol and drugs. He died in his sleep in February, 2013, at the age of 68, and his passing made only a slight ripple in music news basically because he lived much of his later years as a recluse in the south of France.
Fortunately English expatriate and current New Yorker, Edward Rogers, has taken it upon himself to offer a living legacy to Ayers on his latest album, KAYE, the title of which is a direct reference. Although, not a concept album in the literal sense of the word, the music of Rogers’ past permeates this collection in a most engaging manner and the influences are most obvious. The over-arching message of this collection might appear, if one were to infer from the song titles, to be one of measured pessimism – a longing for the better, simpler times of the past that are history – tempered with reluctant acceptance of the age in which we live today (“What Happened to the News Today”). That’s what it would seem on the surface. But upon closer examination, it’s more than calculated compliance; there’s a healthy dose of maturity. The message is clear and the lesson is learned. Rogers has come to terms with his present and KAYE is how he lets us in on this.
The album opens strongly enough with “My Street”, a song that could have come straight out of an unreleased Velvet Underground session; but this is not unusual for Rogers. “My Street” sets the tone both musically and verbally. He sings about where he was born and how it was supposed to be; how he thought it would be. But in the chorus he sings: “…it’s all changed now; some say for the better. But I remember back and disagree”. Even the negative imagery of the past is depicted in a positive light: “…The chimney smoke gave the evening moon a misty glare.” Often revisionist memory clouds the reality. And he concludes: “On the street where I was born, here I am on the street forvever to stay”, figuratively, of course. So the message is clear. It’s all changed for sure, but it’s no longer a problem; it was once, but no more. Life was simpler, but we grow up…if we’re lucky. And that is what KAYE is all about.
The title track is a personal statement of thanks from the singer/composer to his subject. It’s a painfully honest tribute to Ayers who lived the life and lifestyle of a rock ‘n’ roll artist in all ways and who was an obvious influence on Rogers. The chorus expands on the words found on a note next to Ayers bed when he died: “You don’t shine if you don’t burn.” That was Ayers doctrine in one sentence. Perhaps, in some way, it’s Rogers’ as well. (Aside: that note that was found was not thought to be connected to Ayers’ death.) To add impact to the fitting tribute, Rogers does a respectable cover of a Kevin Ayers’ single, from 1974, “After the Show”. The song actually appears earlier on the disc. It’s a more pop oriented song than one would expect from Ayers, especially if you are only familiar with his Soft Machine material (as I am).
Although not nearly as “out there” and avant garde as most Soft Machine albums – certainly you won’t hear “all that jazz” – KAYE does follow the Machine’s multi-faceted path of its long player albums. There is the usual dose of unconventional rock ‘n’ roll paired with songs of uncompromising beauty. We listeners are captivated by the folkier melody of “Copper Coin”, with harmonies reminiscent of the pre-‘Saturday Night Fever’ Bee Gees, and guided by the energizing guitar work of virtuoso, Pete Kennedy of The Kennedys. “Coin” is followed directly by another vocal-driven song with even stronger harmonies, “Borrowed and Blue”, the closing lyric of which might imply downright abjection: “Nothing left to say but to stay away, Time won’t heal truth revealed today, Too much hurt wasted needlessly, The dream was lost by reality”, but who’s heady melody indicates otherwise. We get it.
KAYE is capped with “Peter Pan Dream” which, in its eight minutes, lays it all out on the line. Growing up is inevitable, even desirable. A child’s life may be appealing in its simplicity and lack of responsibility, and we’d all like to hold on as long as we can, but eventually it must be left behind: “The real world caught him and it wouldn’t go away. Forced to face the realities of today, he and his shadow now here to stay.” As are we.
Great albums seem to come in threes and KAYE is the third in a string of gems that began with 2010’s SPARKLE LANE and continued with PORCELAIN, released in 2012. All three were either produced or co-produced by Don Piper who is almost always seen to Rogers’ left when they perform on stage. Once again they call upon his usual cast of musicians consisting of Sal Maeda on bass, Kennedy, Piper and James Mastro on guitar and Joe McGinty on keyboards, all of whom clearly understand Rogers’ music almost as well as he does. The only new name (for me, that is) is drummer, Dennis Diken. Admittedly, Rogers does not possess music’s strongest voice – an argument could be made that that distinction belongs to his friend, the lead vocalist from The Zombies, Colin Blunstone – but his voice is more than adequately expressive and appropriately emotional and suits his songs rather well. Besides, his support team is spectacular.
Even in the narrower world of the music industry, Rogers understands what we all, artist and listener alike, must accept; that we’ve probably aged out of mainstream music. Popular music targets a younger audience and commercial success will be granted to a new generation, one that has figured out the digital world. For the rest of us it’s just about the music, only the music. And quite simply, KAYE is a superior album best absorbed as a single successful unit with its individual working parts all achieving a common goal. The Peter Pan dream is over, but a responsible adult remains and that, my friends, brings us ultimate satisfaction and greater rewards. Rogers understands this.
Ultimately, we are reminded that Kevin Ayers may be gone, but we live on. We don’t forget the past – we’re not supposed to – but, for better or worse – the decision is ours - we live in the now. And so does KAYE.