THE KINKS--THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY (1968)
1. The Village Green Preservation Society; 2. Do You Remember Walter?; 3. Picture Book; 4. Johnny Thunder; 5. Last of the Steam Powered Trains; 6. Big Sky; 7. Sitting By the Riverside; 8. Animal Farm; 9. Village Green; 10. Starstruck; 11. Phenomenal Cat; 12. All of My Friends Were There; 13. Wicked Annabella; 14. Monica; 15. People Take Pictures of Each Other
Best song: PICTURE BOOK or LAST OF THE STEAM POWERED TRAINS
If nothing else, it took some serious stones for Ray and company to release this album in 1968. While all of their contemporaries were still in the throes of psychedelia, Ray took the opposite approach in his songwriting--this is a largely acoustic affair, looking back to simpler times of village greens, "china cups, and virginity." Now, I don't know enough about British history to be able to say which parts, if any, are meant ironically, but I can say that Ray sounds damn sincere. I have a suspicion that if a modern group released an album in this same theme, it would be drowning in so much sarcasm that it would be a chore to sit through, but here you get the feeling that Ray actually does miss the village green.
The album flopped when it came out, and even though it's fantastic, it's not hard to see why it didn't shoot up the charts. The sound is very laid-back--most of the songs are based around either the acoustic guitar or piano, and once again the connection with "rock" music is tenuous at best. In addition, unlike Something Else, which had several strong singles to boost sales, the singles off this one didn't do as well (the excellent non-album single "Days" did much better, though, I believe). Since Dave doesn't write any songs here, he is very marginalized, really only getting a chance to stand out on "Last of the Steam Powered Trains" and "Wicked Annabella," the only two rocking songs here. The former is a cool rootsy song from the point of view of the titular train (who lives in a museum now), with a cool harmonica part and a great section towards the end where the music speeds up like the train is out riding the rails one last time. It's also the first song by the band to top 4 minutes, if that means anything to you, which it probably shouldn't. "Wicked Annabella" then, actually rocks pretty hard in a Who-ish way (The Who ripped off the Kinks' style for "I Can't Explain," so what goes around comes around) with a cool snarling vocal performance from Dave and strong drumming from Mick Avory (I use the opening drum part as my rhythm for door knocking). Probably the highlight of side 2, and necessary to break up the monotony.
The other 13 songs are pretty damn laid back, though. Now, I normally prefer more high energy music, but these songs are so awesome I don't even care. The title track is absolutely brilliant in its mission statement for the album, buoyed by the piano line and some more nice drumming from Avory, who really comes into his own on this album. "Picture Book" has one of the best melodies ever written, and "Do You Remember Walter" and "Johnny Thunder" are both strong character sketches. Now, the album's first five tracks are so damn perfect that what comes after can't help but be a bit disappointing, but it's all somewhere between good and great. Besides "Wicked Annabella," favorites from the back 9 include melodic side 2 opener "Animal Farm" and the hilarious "All of My Friends Were There," but even though I wouldn't choose to listen to any of the others outside of the context of the album doesn't mean I don't love them when they're on. I suppose "Starstruck" is a little less memorable than the others, but it's still decent. "People Take Pictures of Each Other" and "Village Green" are inferior versions of "Picture Book" and the title track, but both are still solid (and calling "Village Green" an inferior rewrite is actually a blatant lie, seeing as it was written in 1966).
So, even though the sameness towards the end can get a little monotonous when I'm not in the right mood for the album, it's still one of my favorite albums and my second favorite Kinks album, and probably the one most associated with the band. If you have Kronikles or some other compilation and want to expand your Kollection, this is a good starting place as any, plus it's relatively easy to find. So, what are you waiting for?