Ray Davies just can't get enough of himself. With projects like his "unauthorized autobiography" X-Ray and the recent The Storyteller, the Kinks' leader has increasingly mined his own life and myth for raw material and inspiration. Granted, it's a motherlode in no danger of running dry: One of the benefits of Davies' perpetual underdog status is a backlog of wit and weariness, a prosaic mystique that Paul McCartney or Pete Townshend can no longer recognize, let alone embody.
Thankfully, Davies sifts plenty of topical and even metaphysical worries through his solipsistic filter. Working Man's Café is much punchier and more muscular than 2006's simmering, mid-tempo Other People's Lives, but he still finds time to daydream about globalization on "Vietnam Cowboys," mass communication on "No One Listen," and the existence of God on "The Real World." But the intimacy of tracks like "Morphine Song"—a wry account of Davies' stay at a New Orleans hospital after a mugger shot him in 2004—pushes beyond his own skin and into the world at large. It isn't any kind of breakthrough for the writer of introverted yet universal pop portraits like "Days" and "Waterloo Sunset," but Café draws Davies out just enough to refresh and reinforce his legend.