Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No. 255: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

Band: The Kinks
Album: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A loose concept album, the Village Green record takes the Sgt. Pepper concept and actually fleshes it out. What if the Kinks were a community group looking to celebrate the hamlet life?
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Again, the Kinks' early records -- along with the Who -- really set up punk rock and records like "Village Green" are more meandering.
Best song: "Picture Book" is wonderful and "The Village Green Preservation Society" sets up the album well.
Worst song: "Animal Farm" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It is. I'm sort of torn on it, but I do enjoy it.

By no means do I want this to be a political piece, but I don't know if I have a choice. Maybe because The National Review fancies the Kinks to be one of the most conservative bands of all time, or maybe because I find technology to be both interesting and useful, but there's something about "Village Green" that makes me uneasy.

The album's theme, really (by most 2007 American political standards), is a mostly conservative one. RS calls it "Ray Davies' nostalgic ode to British pastoral life," which is certainly true. The record mostly speaks of the idealized hamlet life, a small town where everyone knows one another's name, as evidenced by the outcast characters in the songs ("Johnny Thunder," "Monica," etc.).

Moreover, the theme of nostalgia and classical art is well-established in the opening track:

We are the office block persecution affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you

Skyscrapers: Bad. Little shops: Good. Virginity: Good. Old ways: Not to be abused. New ways: Not to be used.


I don't want to deride nostalgia; My existance is almost entirely hamstrung by my own nostalgia. I'm constantly looking backward in my personal relationships with "what could have been" and "what happened" more than a normal person probably should.

I once wrote a long piece a little while ago that derides the death of the independent record store. It's a piece wherein I struggle with my own feelings on nostalgia and progress. I'm not going to put you through that. The indie record store is how I got into music and it will always be in my blood.

But, progress happens. You can do one of two things: You can get with it or you can get out of the way. I still buy CDs (a lot of CDs, in fact. I recently spent $85 at the local record store), but I also buy a lot of music through iTunes, Sub Pop's MP3 shop and Touch and Go's similar shop. I subscribe to eMusic for a lot of my indie stuff, though I might cancel that, as it just doesn't have the selection I'd like. My point is this: I'm trying to evolve.


But, it brings up the point: Progress is good. The hamlet lifestyle is lampooned in the fantasticly funny Hot Fuzz.

It's sort of funnny that everyone I knew in college that loved this album was a super liberal hipster, as the album has such a conservative edge. The free-love types that used to tout it at our annual Top 88 meetings always brought up a song from this record. Before I actually started to look into the album's lyrics and the context, I thought it was just a hippie record (it was recorded in '68, for Christ's sakes!).

There's certainly a chance that Davies wrote this record in satire, but I've found no evidence of that. Quite simply, Davies wishes for a more simple time. A patently ludicrous statement, but that's how he feels, apparently.


With all of that said, this album is soncially amazing. I'm no Anglophile, but the Kinks are the consummate British band and this tribute to the hamlet is decidedly British. It's wonderfully crafted and the addition of Nicky Hopkins on keyboards really brings out the band's sound.

Hopkins' influence leads off the record. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is filled with a rollicking piano that drives the song along. "Songbird" doesn't feature Hopkins, but rather a pretty flute that, of course, mimics a bird's call.

And, really, nostalgia isn't all bad. "Do You Remember Walter?" is a conversation that happens every time I hook up with old friends over holidays in Chicago. "Johnny Thunder" continues the Kinks tradition ("Lola," "Apeman," "Dandy," etc.) of painting a vivid character study (how's that for mixed metaphors?). "Picture Book," of course, is probably the band's most famous mid-career song, thanks to a camera ad in 2004. The song's low end drives it, with the drums and bass thumping along with a nice lyric about capturing memories of days gone by.

It's a fantastic-sounding record and the band's most fully realized effort. While I may not agree with the premise (moving forward is bad), I can't deny the album's greatness.


kellydwyer said...

The summer after my freshman year in college, I was in a cover band full of Anglophiles (if I'M calling them Anglophiles, they must really be Anglophiles), and the bass player desperately wanted to cover the title track.

I love this album, and that song, but I was the damn singer and was having none of it. Not only would it have sucked, but it would have been a lot of hard work (imagine singing those rapid-fire lines) just to suck.

Garry Shuck said...

For some reason I recently was thinking about the Kinks, I went out and repurchased the two albums of theirs I had in high school, "Low Budget" and "Give the People What They Want". I hadn't heard them in at least 15 years, and probably closer to 20, but I was struck at how "punk" they sounded on many tracks, and how much the music continues to hold up.

They really are an underrated band, I've never listened to this one you are rating, I'll have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd agree that it's not really satire, but on the other hand...Ray Davies never really experienced the ideal he was discussing/defending. I mean, dude was the quintessential middle-class white art student from a North London suburb. So when he sings the famous "god save..." line, I don't know, but find it hard to believe that it's not at least a little bit tongue in cheek. I mean, this is the same dude that wrote "Lola", for chrissakes.

More than being conservative, I think the Kinks are very English, in the same way George Orwell was. I say that b/c Village Green... reminds of me a novel of his, Coming Up for Air, which is about an unhappy middle-aged salesman stuck in a grimy London suburb looking back with nostalgia upon his pre-WWI, hamlet childhood. Both are, I think, protesting industrial capitalism running roughshod over a mythical ideal of English life that neither auteur really experienced.

kellydwyer said...

"Low Budget" was my favorite album when I was 6. One of my most-treasured possessions at the time (besides my Vince Coleman-autographed baseball) was a Kinks laminate from a Kinks show my Dad worked.

"Wish I Could Fly Like Superman" was a particular favorite. It took 20 years until, last year, I rediscovered it as the best rock song about the Marshall Plan and stateside inflation ever produced.

Anonymous said...

"Animal Farm" is the only really good song on the album. I agree with the guy who said the album is less a political statement than Davies feeling nostalgia for something he never knew. Sort of like Bob Dylan channeling dustbowl hobos and country bluesmen.