Review Summary: Ray Davies eschews making records, opting instead to "create entire worlds".
By the beginning of 1973, the plan was in place for the next Kinks record. However this was to be more than just Ray Davies’s newest batch of tunes. For nearly ten years there had been attempts by Ray to present a complete theatrical piece that would combine rock and roll with dialogue driven theater. First there was “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society”. Even though this was more of an attempt at a unifying theme, it bears mentioning here mainly because it’s the chrysalis of what would become the “Preservation” concept. 1969’s “Arthur”, a tale of a disillusioned British patriot was supposed to have been made into a UK television drama, but the network backed out of the project at the last minute.
Initially, “Village Green Preservation Society” was to be the basic template for this new undertaking. The plan was to expand upon that theme by adding new songs to the existing piece of music along with extra dialogue. Ultimately , Davies chose not to perform revisionist history on a piece that worked well enough on it’s own. It made more sense to expound upon the idea by starting from scratch.
Work on what was then planned to be one double LP began around mid to late February of 1973, after approximately six weeks of writing. A U.S. tour interrupted the proceedings, but upon returning in May, it was decided that most of what was recorded could not be used. Starting over again, it became apparent the story could not be told properly without providing proper context. A “set-up” if you will.
So now instead of one double record, there would be a single record to preface the story. This would be followed by a double LP where the two warring factions duke it out over the future of the Village Green. One side led by Mister Flash, aim to chop up the land into subdivisions for profit. This would result in dozens of little “Shangri-la’s” that “all look the same”. The other side led by Mister Black, seek to preserve the green with an ulterior motive not revealed to us as of yet.
In addition to these two personas, a third character is introduced as The Tramp. He appears most prominently in Act 1. We first hear from him on “Sweet Lady Genevieve”, one of Ray’s several unknown, underappreciated masterpieces of pop. “Where Are They Now?”, also sung by The Tramp provides some subtext in that rock and roll has progressed and the folks and styles from the 50’s are no longer in vogue. It also sets up the next tune, “One Of The Survivors” which is the closest thing the record comes to providing a straight ahead “rocker”.
“Sitting In The Midday Sun” is the last tune on the LP delivered by The Tramp, and while it borrows liberally from a Beach Boys harmony-style approach (particularly on the bridge) the song is so quintessentially “Davies” it makes for a breathtaking marriage of styles. “Midday Sun” tells a tale of a bum who watches the world go by , declaring himself happier and more at peace with himself than those who have proper jobs. Asking the musical question , “Who needs a job when it’s sunny?” it’s hard to disagree with him.
“Cricket” is sung by yet another character known as The Vicar. It’s appearance here seems trivial but examining it closer reveals the dangerously righteous stance of the Church during these changing times. More importantly, an interesting question presents itself as to what side of the conflict will The Vicar align himself with.
The record concludes with Mr. Flash and his cronies singing “Demolition” where the plan to destroy the Village Green and sell it off piecemeal is laid out in detail. All of it is of course set to a musical melody that will be reprised in Act 2’s final piece, “Salvation Road”. A clever plot twist awaits us on the next record where we discover that Mr. Black is actually in cahoots with The Vicar. While they share the high minded goal of saving the Village Green, they also want to usher in a new moral code with them as the self appointed “National Guards against filth and depravity”.
The stage is now set for an epic duel of good against evil. Only problem is, it’s difficult to tell which side is which. Shades of grey combined with private agendas are building towards a scenario where regardless of the outcome, the entire population will lose. The Tramp is the only one “watching it all” who is intelligent enough to see this.