The Kinks – This Time Tomorrow
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
Singer-songwriters are at their best when they’re depressed or pissed off. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be singer-songwriters.
In 1970, when the Kinks were recording what was to become Lola vs. Powerman & the Moneygoround, Part One, principal songwriter Ray Davies was fed up. During the five years that the band were prohibited from entering the United States, he had produced five brilliant English pop albums that contrasted much of what was being played in the psychedelicized American sixties. As a result, the Kinks failed to sell these albums in high numbers, despite the fact that they were critically praised among the press and public alike in the UK. In anticipation of his return Stateside, he retreated into the studio and created Lola, a bitter tongue-lashing aimed at the music industry.
For such a simple concept, Lola is lightly complex. Instead of simply focusing on an examination of the corrupt world of showbiz, Davies also continued exploring his fascination with simplicity and isolation. The duality of Lola restricts its songs from simply being cogs in a larger machine. As with many of the band’s albums, every track stands proudly on its own.
“This Time Tomorrow” is ostensibly a song about the road. Its opening sound effect, a plane taking off of a runway; the line “This time tomorrow / What will we see / Fields full of houses / Endless rows of crowded streets,” a lyric that depicts the constantly changing environments and toiling grind of touring. But “This Time Tomorrow” is more than just a song about concert halls and roadies—it’s a confession.
Over a skipping banjo and a powerfully strumming acoustic guitar, Davies sings the opening lines in a resigned tone, “This time tomorrow / Where will we be / On a spaceship somewhere / Sailing across an empty sea.” Not only does the line admit defeat, but Davies’ voice does as well. He’s almost completely detached from the proceedings, the words quivering as they’re being emitted from his choked throat. Then the piano takes a commanding role, Mick Avory drops a characteristically dusty yet full-bodied drum fill, and the entire tone of the song changes. Davies’ voice and the musical accompaniment pick up in tandem, driving along at a brisk pace, and slowly build momentum.
At the song’s bridge there’s the line, “I don’t know where I’m going / I don’t want to see / I feel the world below me looking up at me.” When Davies sings it, his anxious words are not undercut by paranoia, they’re bolstered by an ardent bellow, as if his severance from the world-at-large is a cause for celebration rather than a desperate, half-hearted plea for help. It sets up the song’s climactic grand finale: a spirited, joyful repetition of the opening line set against a rollicking backdrop of piano, organ, guitar, and crashing drum fills. The “spaceship” and the “empty sea” no longer act as signifiers of loneliness—they’re tokens of relief.
What’s fascinating about “This Time Tomorrow” is that it doesn’t treat societal detachment with fear. Davies doesn’t lament his separation, and he doesn’t straightforwardly embrace it either. He celebrates it. The brilliance of “This Time Tomorrow” is that its subject is completely different from its tone, and yet that somehow becomes the most effective way to communicate the sentiment. Ray Davies doesn’t want anything more than to be alone, a terribly depressing thought—and you’re thrilled at the prospect. Its subtle deception is its calling card.
“This Time Tomorrow” is, like Brian Wilson’s “ Til I Die” or Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” the portrait of a songwriter completely decimated by both himself and the world around him, and miraculously turning his own devastation into a triumph.