The Kinks

Marble Arch Years

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This will take some explaining for American audiences and perhaps even British fans who aren't first-generation Kinks fans, or for those who weren't fanatical record collectors at the time. Marble Arch was a record label, but it wasn't a label that the Kinks recorded for, at least not directly. As explained in the liner notes to Castle's triple-disc box, Marble Arch was a subsidiary of the Kinks' label, Pye. The label created the spinoff, naming it after the famed London location, as a way to offer cheap mini-albums to an audience who wouldn't buy LPs because they were too expensive. So, every release on Marble Arch was shorter than the average U.K. LP, usually weighing in at ten songs, at a considerably reduced price and, in the case of the Kinks, also offered singles that had yet to appear on albums (although there would also be album tracks). In short, they were a lot like the American versions of British albums at the time, which also boasted abbreviated, jumbled track listings. That means there is no particular sound to the Marble Arch years, nor was it a particular phase in the group's development (it's not named after a studio they recorded at or a house they all lived in, for instance) -- it's simply an elegant name for the Marble Arch recordings, which were pure product at the time. Pure product gains luster in the rosy view of nostalgia, of course (particularly for those who didn't live through it and just pick up albums based on covers or discographies they read in specialty magazines), and so collectors are primed for a collector's box like this -- a mini-cardboard box containing all three Kinks Marble Arch releases in mini-LP sleeves that reproduce the original artwork, down to the pictures of other Marble Arch releases on the flip, with a thin paper insert of liner notes that mimics LP inserts at the time. Really, the only difference is that the pure mono mixes are included instead of the simulated stereo that populated some Marble Arch releases, but that again will likely satisfy those collectors who like the appearance of historical purity yet don't mind sonic revisionism. The uncredited liners claim "these 'budget' albums shouldn't be underestimated as they introduced many a fan to the Kinks' music," before admitting that they're "probably best remembered for their colourful, and now collectable sleeves, rather than the music they presented," and that's the truth and also the problem. Sure, the sleeve of Sunny Afternoon is delightful, not just for the colors but because it places the Kinks in a psychedelic setting where they never belonged, but is it worth buying all this music that you already own (perhaps several times over) again, particularly since one of these albums is an abridged version of Kinda Kinks? Perhaps -- if you are one of those fans introduced to the Kinks through these albums or if you love collector's bait. But for most listeners, this is an easy item to pass by, no matter how skillfully and accurately it's presented.

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