The Kinks’ much-lauded Englishness, it always seemed to me, had as much to do with their rinky-dinkiness as it had to do with Ray Davies’ lyrical themes or the music hall eccentricities of the music. That is, they always sounded (certainly with their post-1965 work) a little smalltime. And that’s not to knock it – it all adds to the group’s peculiar charm (if you listen beyond the hits, you realise what a weird little band they were).
Australia reaches for anthem status but never quite gets there. It’s not big enough, or big enough sounding, to have that kind of universal appeal. A clever and rather beautiful song it’s, as with most of Davies’ best work, both celebratory and melancholic. Harking back to the time when British people could move to Australia for £10, it sells us the Utopian dream of the continent at the same time as hinting at why people might have wanted to leave Britain in the first place. Working through all that are odd little voices, a neat Beach Boys pastiche (smaller and more intimate than McCartney’s Back in the USSR) and musical twists and turns that keep the listener on his/her toes. It ends with a three-and-a-half minute instrumental segment that features some lovely, and plinky, lead guitar and superb horns.
And although it’s clever and arch (and perhaps a little sarcastic), I find it all rather moving.