The Best of Kevin Ayers covers his most lucrative years as a solo artist, from his debut album, 1969's Joy of a Toy, up to 1978's Rainbow Takeaway. While there are plenty of inessentials within such a span, this collection does an excellent job at compiling the most appealing cuts from Ayers' first eight albums, excluding his June 1, 1974 release with Brian Eno, John Cale, and Nico. A firm representation of Ayers' non-conformist style, peculiar wit, and outright silliness is contained within each track, beginning as early as 1970's "Singing a Song in the Morning" backed by the Canterbury sound of Caravan. "Soon Soon Soon," taken from 1976's Odd Ditties, a mix of A- and B-sides, has Soft Machine's Mike Ratelidge helping out, while "There Is Loving/Among Us/There Is Loving," from Whatevershebringswesing, displays his adeptness at creating a colorful persona through his music, aided by David Bedford's instrumental guidance. "Rheinhardt & Geraldine" from Shooting at the Moon combines a chiming melody with solid pop essence, and the haunting "Irreversible Neural Damage" is the best track from the otherwise humdrum Dr. Dream album. "Song From the Bottom of a Well" puts Ayers' rumbling, marble-mouthed growl in between the screech of the accompanying guitar riffs, while "Hat Song" and "Ballad of a Salesman Who Sold Himself" are his best late-'70s efforts. Kevin Ayers' work with Soft Machine wonderfully rubs off throughout his solo material, especially by way of the innovative musical style he employs and the inventiveness that erupts from the instruments, but it's his special brand of aloof candor and vocal detail that really gives his music an added bite. This cheerful skip through some of Ayers' best material will most likely spark an interest in his back catalog for those who haven't discovered him fully.
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AllMusic Review by Mike DeGagne