05:45 PM ET 06.06 |
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Three songs. If you had checked my Mp3 player about two months ago for music by The Kinks, you would have found a grand total of three songs. Like lots of people (I think), I had never taken them very seriously as an artist, instead dismissing them as an outdated British Invasion band. I had "You Really Got Me," an obvious classic, "All Day and All of the Night," a similar hit, and "Lola," only because I wanted to get the song covered by Weird Al Yankovic in "Yoda."
Three songs. That's all that The Kinks were worth to me. But as it had in the past, www.rateyourmusic.com surprised me. When it gave me album recommendations based on my ratings, a Kinks album came up. Being rather puzzled, I clicked on it and discovered that it had been rated well over 4 stars out of 5 by the community of music raters on the website. I almost felt ashamed for considering them a novelty, because according to this website, they had made several albums of artistic merit. The best rated of the releases was an album I had never heard of. It was called The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society.
I had no idea what the title meant, and I didn't recognize any of the tracks. So, I spent some time researching the album's origins and reading some reviews. I gathered that the album, one of the "concept" variety, was the brainchild of lead singer-songwriter Ray Davies. He wrote the entire album's material, all of which was connected by a common theme; a nostalgic celebration and fond remembrance of hamlet life. Davies must have loved the idea of the old days, when life was simple, and this album acts as a tribute to that lifestyle. Most of the reviews I read were highly positive. I was not quite sold, but I was certainly intrigued.
Finally, after debating with myself a little more, I decided to download it. After transferring it to my Mp3 player, I didn't listen to it for a while. It was almost as if I knew, without ever having heard it, that I would hate it. But finally, I gave it a try. Here's what I thought.
The album starts off well. In this track, The Kinks introduce themselves as an organization that seeks to preserve the old-fashioned things in the village, naming such items as Donald Duck, Vaudeville, and Variety. The "village green" itself is a field at the center of a rural village that can be used for cattle grazing or community events, though they are becoming increasingly uncommon (thus necessitating a Village Green Preservation Society). Anyway, the guitar and keyboards/piano set the old-fashioned, tranquil tone, and the vocals (with many harmonies) are solid, made better by the witty lyrics.
This track begins with a bouncy piano, and soon the other instruments join in. The vocals are soft and calm, as they tell the story of Walter, an old friend of the narrator's who has forgotten all about the good times they had together. This is one of my favorites.
I didn't even realize I knew this song until I heard it. You will too, if you didn't know that this song was done by The Kinks (which most of you probably do). The song is fairly straightforward, as is much of the album. It talks about photograph memories. Is it just me, or does the riff sound almost exactly like Green Day's "Warning?"
(For the record, I hate Green Day. I just happen to know some of their songs.)
Four tracks in, and the great songs keep coming. "Johnny Thunder" is about some tough guy who does what he wants, when he wants. The riff matches Johnny's defiance, and as usual, the vocals are effective.
The longest track on the album (by over a minute) moves with a bluesy rhythm and beat, and a harmonica is added. Near the middle of the song, the pace quickens with an accelerando The song is another reference to old-fashioned life, as the narrator explains that he lives in a museum, though he itches to get back out on the track. This track is another solid effort.
When people get sad, they look to the personified Big Sky for guidance. The music is nice, but the vocals just don't work for me here. Something about Ray Davies' voice near the beginning sounds almost lazy, and it doesn't make for a pleasing performance. I still like the song, for the most part.
After the somewhat depressing "Big Sky," "Sitting by the Riverside" mixes it up with a carefree piano-centered song about the relaxation and happiness of sitting by the river with a lover. Personally, I find it kind of annoying.
No, this track is not related to George Orwell's novel; it's seriously about an animal farm. Perhaps it's that kind of misconception that makes this album so great; you might think they will discuss major problems or mention important issues, but instead, the album is focused on simpler things, away from the troubles of modern life. The song's narrator longs to return to "just a dirty old shack ... on Animal Farm." As for the music, it took me a while to get used to the slow, choppy sections, but I've come to like them.
This mournful song is about the narrator's regret in leaving the village green to "[seek] fame," losing his girlfriend in the process. He can only hope that someday he can return and things will be back the way they were. It was this song, first recorded two years before the album's release, that provided the inspiration for the concept album. The song doesn't stand out very much in my mind, but it gets the job done.
"Starstruck" is a catchy track about a woman who becomes captivated by a lifestyle of drinking and dancing. The refrain is one of the best on the album.
The Kinks go an entirely different direction in this track. Perhaps the most confusing song of the bunch, it tells the story of a cat who once traveled the world, but has now become fat from overeating, and just sits in a tree. Yeah, I don't get it either. But though it's the strangest song here, it's one of the best and most interesting. A wind instrument (perhaps a flute) adds a dream-like quality.
Track twelve departs from the surreal "Phenomenal Cat" and chooses a jaunty, bouncy beat to tell the tale of a disastrous performance in front of the narrator's friends, how he redeemed himself in front of them, and then how nobody cared about it anymore. A storyline like that usually signals filler. I'm not a big fan of the speak-singing either, so this is probably the poorest song on the album. Even the organ can't save it.
This song begins with some nice drum work (which is present throughout the song), followed by a great guitar riff. This song reminds me of Cream's "Strange Brew," because the subject matter is so similar. It talks about an evil witch named Annabella, and the haunting vocals work especially well. This might be the best true rock track here.
Monica is an attractive woman that all the men want, but she plays hard-to-get. The tone of the guitar is different in this song (maybe it's not a guitar, but some other instrument?). The vocals are perfect for the fool in love who tells the story.
Originally, I was puzzled by The Kinks' (probably Ray Davies') decision to put this track last. With the album's theme being a nostalgic view of simple village life, it would seem that a slower song would be better fit than "People Take Pictures of Each Other," which is quick-paced and features whisper-like vocals. But when I checked the lyrics, I found that the song actually has a bittersweet meaning to it. The narrator says, " Oh how I love things as they used to be / Don't show me no more, please," meaning that he does not want to see any more pictures of the past. Perhaps it is Davies' way of saying that while it's nice to wish we could live in those simpler days of the past, looking at photos can make things worse by showing all that has changed since then. It is the inevitability of time and the inevitable passing of time that rests at the heart of this album. The clocks cannot be turned back to the times of the village green or sitting by the riverside. But the photographs last forever, even if they might make us a little sad.
All in all, the album was highly enjoyable. The recording isn't the best in the world, and the harmonies might be a little off from time to time, and the album kind of lags in the middle, but there are some albums that can shine beyond these faults. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is one of those albums.
If I had to recommend it to people, I would have no idea what to do. The material is nothing like "You Really Got Me," so don't expect the hard power chords. They don't come often. It has plenty of variety and freshness, kind of like The Beatles, but the lyrics are far more intelligible. No two songs on this album sound alike, and with the average song lasting under 3:00, you probably won't get bored.
I think I've said all that needs to be said. If you like what you read above, then get this album. You probably won't regret it.
Final rating: 4.5/5