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.