Ray Davies took his time crafting his first full-fledged solo album Other People's Lives, delivering it in 2006 -- a full 13 years after his last collection of original material, the Kinks' final album Phobia. Such a long gestation period seemed justified, as the album was an exquisitely written set of short stories that benefited from such exacting attention to detail, yet the length of time between Phobia and Other People's Lives also suggested that Davies would not be returning with his second solo album anytime soon. As it turns out, that wasn't the case: Davies hammered out his second album, Working Man's Café, with a speed recalling the '60s and '70s, when new Kinks albums arrived every year. Appropriately for its quick turn-around, Working Man's Café is a looser, edgier record than its predecessor -- there's polish, but the guitars and rhythms jump, there's a vitality to the performances and the songs themselves bristle with contemporary headlines, bearing references to the vanishing middle class, internet isolation, and New Orleans, the site of both Hurricane Katrina and where Davies was shot and hospitalized after defending a female friend from a mugger. Ever the contrarian, Davies doesn't dwell on his own troubles, they're weaved into part of a tapestry of vignettes of a world gone awry -- a common theme in his work perhaps (this is someone who pined for the village green in the midst of the psychedelic revolution), but such ornery nostalgia has fueled much of Davies best work, as it does here. Far from being an angry, impassioned screed against a world gone wrong (turn to Neil Young's Living with War for that), Davies writes with his signature wry, cynical eye, balancing his weary resignation with a sly wit. The songs have more bite than those on Other People's Lives, as do the performances, which makes Working Man's Café more immediate than its predecessor, yet it benefits from repeated plays as well, as those subsequent spins reveal that these 12 songs are as finally honed as those on Other People's Lives. And having these two albums arrive so quickly is proof that Ray Davies is back as a working songwriter, which is something to be celebrated.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine