The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

The Kinks, 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' (1968)The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is the sixth studio album by the English band, first appearing in late 1968. The album’s 15 songs all more or less concentrate on ordinary characters and/or subjects, with the English “village green” providing a central location or setting throughout.

The result is a kind of a musical Dubliners or Winesburg, Ohio -- a short-story-slash-pop-song-cycle that ultimately advances a central thesis about so-called modern “progress” and its effects on individuals.

The sing-a-long title track with which the album opens establishes a light, wistful mood from the start, with the lyrics introducing the band as the VGPS, a kind of community service outfit interested in “preserving the old ways from being abused [and] protecting the new ways for me and for you.”

As with many other Ray Davies compositions, there’s an ironic distance to consider here and throughout the record. On the one hand, the LP is a sincere homage to those “old ways,” although I can’t help but always be aware of a more critical undertone as well, one that suggests a more censorious (if sympathetic) view of such (desperate?) clinging to traditions.

The next four songs all similarly articulate a kind of nostalgic “looking back” though in different ways. “Do You Remember Walter?” reminisces about a long-lost friend. “Picture Book” is a more abstract (and upbeat) traipsing through a photo album. “Johnny Thunder” recalls a town tough guy of semi-legendary status. And “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” has the speaker use the metaphor to refer to his own unwillingness to change.

“Big Sky” might have the most infectious melody of any of the tracks, although the uplifting sound belies the song’s existential complaint (the “Big Sky” representing an unfeeling, uncaring God). Side One then concludes with a relatively innocuous -- even sweet -- pastoral ditty, “Sitting By the Riverside.”

Side Two begins with another especially catchy pop gem, “Animal Farm,” this one conveying a Wordsworthian desire to reject urban problems and go back to nature. Then comes “Village Green,” a kind of reprise of the title track that again focuses on the sense of a simpler, richer past having been lost.

For me the next few songs -- “Starstruck,” “Phenomenal Cat,” “All of My Friends Were There,” “Wicked Annabella,” and “Monica” -- are all fine but not as noteworthy as are the other songs on the LP. One could argue as well that the conceptual coherence of the album gets weakened through this sequence just a tad. For example, the Edward Learish “Phenomenal Cat” seems like a weird little detour from the characters and situations of the other songs.

The closer, “People Take Pictures of Each Other,” another reprise-like song (pointing back to “Picture Book”), reaffirms that ironic distance I was mentioning before. Coming at the end of a series of musical “snapshots,” the line “people take pictures of each other just to prove that they really existed” seems to possess an added poignancy.

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