Although See My Friends, the new album from former Kinks frontman Ray Davies, doesn't contain a single new song, Davies says he encountered surprise after surprise while making it. The record features revamped versions of Davies' classic Kinks songs, made collaboratively with other artists — including Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, whose song choice came as a particular shock.
"I naturally thought it would be one of the usual suspects like 'You Really Got Me' or 'All Day and All of the Night,' but he chose the song 'Better Things,' " Davies tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen. "That was a minor, minor success for The Kinks in America in the 1980s when we were touring. But I thought about it and listened to the original Kinks song, and it really has some Bruce Springsteen in it. It seemed to be a natural."
Davies says he was also stunned by his collaborators' musicianship. Metallica turns in a cranked-to-11 take on "You Really Got Me," the performance of which Davies compares to that of an accomplished actor: "Suddenly, as they go on, they switch into gear and become this great force." Meanwhile, Mumford & Sons' medley of "Days" and "This Time Tomorrow" presented Davies with an unusual dilemma in post-production.
"When you mix, you usually bring up the individual instruments and try to make them better by moving, cutting and pasting with digital technology," Davies says. "But I realized you couldn't do that with this group, because they were such a unit. And that's [a] sign of a great band, when all the parts work together."
One collaborator is notably absent on See My Friends: Davies' younger brother Dave, The Kinks' lead guitarist. Tension between the two brothers contributed to the band's split in the mid-1990s. Davies says a reunion isn't out of the question, but that if it happens, it will be on specific terms.
"If I perform again with my brother, it will not be in a position of peace and harmony, because that's not a great situation for us," he says. "The fire and energy is the important thing. It's the thing that made us fight and punch our way into a career."