Review Summary: A middle finger to America that remains potent today.
So what do you hear when you're listening to The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
? Usually when people discuss this record, particularly in the English media, they do so with a kind of misty-eyed nostalgia, treating the record as a loving tribute to the pastures and cottages of the England of years gone by. They hear admiration, even tenderness.
You know what I hear? Spite.
By 1968 it was clear that The Kinks would never truly experience success in America, success they apparently craved as much as anything. They'd been shafted by The American Federation of Musicians, who unfairly denied them a license to perform live in the country at the height of the British invasion. It was their big shot and they weren't even given the chance to blow it on their own terms - as a result the perfectly fine single "Days", released the same year as this album, never even charted on US shores. They were credited as influences by The Rolling Stone and The Who, they were stars in their home country, they were keeping admirable pace with The Beatles as far as great singles went, and yet at the time, they weren't even on the same radar in the eyes of the most lucrative of markets. Ray Davies probably feared, quite reasonably, that his band had missed their chance to be remembered in the right way, alongside all the biggest and best bands of the time. Wouldn't YOU be pissed off?
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
reflects all of that. After persevering for a little while by writing music that was palatable to Americans (including "Days"), this is Davies turning a complete 180 and making arguably the most aggressively English album ever; certainly up to that point, nobody has done anything like this. But I think it's missing the point a little to just see this as English - it's also anti-American, a spiteful move made in anger and frustration at the situation they'd found themselves in. And in ways, it's also a little spiteful toward England, too. Perhaps constantly being reassured by people talking about his English success had irked him as well; whatever the cause, it's undeniable that there are mocking exaggerations here, coupled with an occasional tone of patronization, that could be quite easily compared with Frank Zappa's We're Only in it For the Money
Is that just me? Does anybody else listen to "Do You Remember Walter?" and wonder how sincere the lyric is meant to be? Sound to me like the time when everyone knew Walter's name isn't a particularly interesting one. And doesn't anybody else hear the title track and wonder whether Ray Davies really think that strawberry jam, virginity, Mrs. Mopp, and antique tables are really the best things about England? And for that matter, in what way is Donald Duck meant to be English? Even Desperate Dan and Fu Manchu might be English creations, but they're also obvious and lazy parodies of other nations. There's a song called "Animal Farm" that is quite literally about a farm with animals, rather being than an Orwellian anti-Communist rant that would have been in keeping with the political climate in 1960s America. "People Take Pictures of Each Other" could be interpreted as an attack on being having that misty-eyed view of the old England based purely on a few carefully chosen images that ignored the realities of life. And on it goes.
I realize what I've put here might seem like a radical re-positioning of this album in the eyes of many, but in truth, that's the very reason I love it. On first listen I heard a great pop album with a lot of nice ideas about a time long past. On second listen I figured that it had no depth beyond that and wouldn't hold up to repeated listens. And then, I started hearing something else, something darker. It may not strictly be the traditional use of the term, but The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
is one of the all-time great protest albums.