The Kinks - The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society (Re-issue)

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‘We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society


God save Strawberry Jam and all the different varieties.'


 


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 'We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society


God save Strawberry Jam and all the different varieties.'


 


So sang the Kinks on the title track of their 1968 album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. 1968 was probably the most important year of the decade – politically, socially and culturally. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, the Vietnam War witnessed the Tet offensive and the Mai Lai massacre, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and student revolt was widespread in Europe. The ferment of the time was reflected in the other albums released at the same times as TKATVGPS – Beggar's Banquet, Electric Ladyland and the White Album. The Kink's album, on the other hand - all steam trains, draught beer, cricket and holidays in Southend - seemed, to misquote Brian Wilson, not to be made for these times.


 


And just a few years ago it had been so different - when Ray davies name-checked Terry and Julie he couldn't have been cooler. But then he was singing about swinging London; a bright and shiny Englishness, all Carnaby Street and glamour. He wasn't singing about the Englishness of the village green and the seaside. There's no doubt that the album was initially ignored because of its (apparently) un-hip themes and concerns - it certainly wasn't due to the quality of the songs.


 


VGPS is packed with great pop songs. "Johnny Thunder", "Big Sky" and "Starstruck" are the equivalent of The Kink's best singles and this means that they are up there with the very greatest pop songs full stop. But the album opens with none of these songs – instead the themes of the album are laid out on the opening title track and its list of things worth saving from the past. "Do You Remember Walter?" makes the past more personal, as Davies remembers a childhood friend and wonders what became of him. "Picture Book"'s protagonist looks back through an old photo album and wallows in the memories it brings back. From here on the album alternates traditional 60s pop with pop songs refracted through different styles from the past. Songs tinged by the blues, calypso and the music hall all feature, as do pop songs coloured by the 1920s and even the 1420s. These songs ruminate on the past as well, but they also evince a rural idyll, far away from the 60s version of Cool Britainnia. "Animal Farm" (which sounds like Lee Hazlewood in his prime) tells of the wish to leave the city for the simple pleasures of life on the farm. Village Green's narrator misses the village that he came from and in "Starstruck" a girl is seduced and fooled by the superficial pleasures that the city appears to offer.


 


VGPS is reminiscent of Van Dyke Park's Song Cycle and, in more recent times, elements of Mercury Rev's Deserters Songs. Great pop songs unmoored by time, if not place. But there are crucial differences between Park's deliberately oblique lyrics and the straightforward (and witty and poignant) lyrics of Davies. For one thing, Davies could be accused of conservatism, with his apparent paeans to a postcard version of England. But these are not conservative songs and it is not a conservative album. Not only is the album musically adventurous, the lyrics really aren't about how things were better in the past. The village green was, for Davies, something that he could remember from his childhood and it was something that he drew comfort from. It wasn't about wanting to go back; rather these memories were a refuge from the tremendous upheavals that were going on around him. If he was feeling down, or lost, then he could think back to those days when he was happy. Ultimately the village green is a metaphor – we all have such memories - and so ultimately the album allows us not to see the intrinsic 'Englishness' of Davies, but his humanity and his wit. Buy this album.


 


Words : Chris Dawson