“This world is big and wild and half insane…”
It was the album that Ray Davies had been building toward since shifting the direction of his R&B based band. It was almost their last stand. Eventually it would be viewed as the song cycle that would forever redefine the Kinks as the rightful heir to the throne of true English rock eccentrics. A year before, their brethren the Beatles took a loosely based concept about a group of lonely hearts’ troubadours and turned it into the anthem for the Summer of Love. The following year, as they wallowed in discontent, Davies drove a tweed and Earl Grey stake directly into the center of their psychedelic-based babble.
Artist: The Kinks
Album: The Village Green Preservation Society
First date: 1968-11-22
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2005-02-28
The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society is one of the boldest statements by any act of the modern music era. It’s so focused on its own idiosyncrasy that it avoids the dated trappings of most ’60s recordings to perfectly capture a man and his mood. Having pushed his brother Dave and the rest of the band toward a more refined, folk-ish approach, Davies’ songwriting was reaching new heights of stunningly sophisticated simplicity. It had been evidenced early on, with standout tracks like “The World Keeps Going Round” from The Kink Kontroversy (1965) and “Sunny Afternoon” from Face to Face (1966).
The latter album was even important, as it represented Davies return to performing after a nasty nervous breakdown. The pressures of stardom saw him turn inward, wistful for a time and a country that was traditional, tempered, and taciturn. So while the Fab Four explored the studio as a means of expression, the Kinks broadened such horizons by merely looking out their backdoor. Something Else arrived during the after burn of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s celebration, and fans were not quite ready for twee tracks about Waterloo sunsets, afternoon teas, and a head boy at the school named David Watts.
The Village Green Preservation Society faired no better. While viewed as a masterpiece today (and rightfully so), its British-centric themes and understated ‘golly gee’ subtleties were lost within all the sex, drugs, and flower power. Davies claims the album-length look at UK hamlet life was inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as well as a growing discontent within the band. Fearing this would be the last Kinks album, he tinkered with it feverishly, including and then dropping the sizable hit “Days”. As the amount of material grew, the frightened frontman saw it as a kind of swansong — to fame, to fortune, to a forgotten way of life.
Indeed, all throughout The Village Green Preservation Society, Davies outlines the basics of his lost England. The title track asks an uncaring god to bless “the George cross”, “little shops, china cups, and virginity”. Later on, he would lament the “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” and the easy, superficial trappings of celebrity (“Starstruck”). Tossing in a few fairy-style stories along the way (“Phenomenal Cat”, “Wicked Annabella”) and odes to that most instantaneous of memory makers — the photograph (“Picture Book”, “People Taking Pictures of Each Other”), he created a kind of revisionist regression. Davies now thought it was hip to be square, and wanted to share said sentiments with a hopefully accepting audience.
The musical method he chose, however, would ring hollow in the ears of eager listeners. The Village Green Preservation Society avoided the power chord chug of the early Kinks hits (“You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night”) to explore more acoustic, orchestral settings. Strings and keyboards cascaded over carefully strummed guitars, and when a tad more meat was needed in the mix, the charges were more considered and compact. This is especially true of the terrific “Big Sky”. While Davies sing-speaks his soul searching stanzas (“Big Sky feels sad when he sees the children scream and cry/But the Big Sky’s too big to let it get him down”), a veritable overview of British music circa the late ’60 swirls around him.
In the Orwellian referencing “Animal Farm”, the break before the last verse seems to resonate the loudest:
Girl, it’s a hard, hard world, if it gets you down,
Dreams often fade and die in a bad, bad world,
I’ll take you where real animals are playing,
And people are real people not just playing.
It’s like a reality check slamming into the then current Carnaby Street din, describing in a set of straightforward words the pitfalls of getting twisted inside the era’s scattered idealism. For Ray Davies, his time in the limelight started out with a bang. But ever since making the grade, he was melancholy over the price — personal and professionally. The Village Green Preservation Society was a warning of where things were going. Too bad too few paid attention at the time.
— Bill Gibron