One could easily write a book about The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. It’s that rich. But an album review isn’t Kindle, which means this piece requires much more brevity. It’s a recording that is and isn’t a concept album. It doesn’t tell a story, but instead includes a series of compelling vignettes that add up to a detailed picture of English life. For Ray Davies, –The Kinks’ primary lyricist — this album marked “the end of our innocence, your youth.”
Davies is oh so precious. On the title track he sings, “God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties,” with the same earnestness a royalist might sing, ‘God save the queen.’ To a lesser degree than the Rolling Stones, The Kinks sometimes appropriated American music, repackaged it and sent it across the Atlantic with accented love. For example, “Last of The Steam-Powered Trains” decries the passing of a certain locomotive type, but put this musical eulogy to a stomping, Chicago blues form. Elsewhere, one wonders if Davies could even have imagined the omnipresence of cellphone cameras when he wrote the photo-centric “Picture Book.” We now use selfies to heighten our self-esteem, while amateur photographers then took “took pictures of each other, to prove they love each other.” Motives are no different today, only shutterbugging is much more prevalent. “People Take Pictures of Each Other,” a kind of bookend to “Picture Book,” speaks of taking pictures of each other, just to prove they exist. Ouch!
Preservation Society includes some of The Kinks’ best, and best known, songs. “Big Sky” can be taken as a song about the vastness of nature. Then again, it could be a metaphor for — oh, well, let’s go for the biggie — god. It’s likely however you want to take it. “Starstruck” is a universal questioning of celebrity worhship, which might even be truer now in the internet age, than back in 1968 when it was recorded.
This album is also notable for being the last studio recording with the original Kinks lineup of Davies, his brother Dave Davies on guitar/vocals, Pete Qualife playing bass and Mick Avory at the drums. The album also features the nearly omnipresent sideman, Nicky Hopkins, here playing both keyboards and mellotron.
The album’s been re-released in a 11-disc super deluxe edition box set, which includes 174 tracks and a 12-track ‘Continental’ (Swedish) version on vinyl. There’s one previously unreleased track, “Time Song” which the band would later also play live. It’s a quiet, melancholy meditation. A comment one could say about many Kinks songs.
Along with its big and small topics, there’s also a sweetness running all the way through this album. Even “Monica,” the village prostitute, is treated with proper British endearment and respect. It’s a sentimental, only-remember-the-best sort of album.
There may be better Kinks albums. (Something Else, with “David Watts,” the iconic “Waterloo Sunset” and “Death of a Clown,” Dave Davies best song, comes to mind). The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, even if it is second best, is still better than most albums by most other artists, whether bacl then or now. It’s also timeless, like a favorite movie, in how it accurately explores human nature. Human nature remains pretty much the same over time. Thanks be to The Kinks’ album preservation society, whoever and wherever you are. This album is an aural historical monument.