Friday, 7 May 2010
♫ So who did you vote for? Sadly we didn’t have time to get an Alan’s Album Archives party ready for the election (manifesto: a free copy of ‘Smile’ delivered to every household, CDs cheap on the NHS, automatic access to the internet to read our site etc, slogan ‘add some music to your day’). But in all seriousness music does belong in politics – just look at the fuss made when the Conservative party appropriated music without asking for their campaign this year and the group ended up backing Labour. So here are the AAA slogans the parties should have used this year (and might well use again in October when we do this all over again – we copyright now the idea that the politicians should use ‘Deja Vu’ for their next campaign):
5) What’s the Tory (Morning Glory?): Oasis (‘Morning Glory’, 1995). Or our personal favourite slogan for Cameron before the election results ‘I’m A Loser’ (he still is when you consider what a mess Labour’s made of everything and how big the conservative advertising budget was and yet still couldn’t get an outright majority). Or that other classic Oasis song ‘The Importance Of Being Idle (Rich)’. At least it’s better than the real slogan ‘vote for change’ – yeah that’s vote for the spare change income that’ll be all you’re getting when the rich oiks come into power.
4) Labour of Love: The Kinks (How fitting: the album its from is called ‘State Of Confusion’,1983). Jethro Tull’s ‘One Brown Mouse, Sitting In The Corner’ (and refusing to leave no 10) is the best follow-up we could think of. And, again, much more accurate than the Labour slogan ‘a future fair for all’ – talking of fair, how about ‘Helter Skelter’ (we reach rock bottom – and we see you again).
3) Liber(al democrat) ity: Grateful Dead (‘So Many Roads’ 1995). In the old days of course ‘Who Are You?’ might have been a better slogan, but Clegg’s sterling performance in this year’s election should have seen the Lib Dems score lots of votes (and why the hell haven’t we got proportional representation yet, some 300 years after everybody else got it? Next you’ll be telling us the country is still nominally run by a bloodsucking family who claim to have the divine right of kings in an age when most people have stopped believing and despite not actually being from this country at all – oh hang on a minute...) As of now perhaps the best alternative slogan would be the name of a Paul Simon compilation, ‘Negotiations and Love Songs’ as both main parties try to woo the Lib Dems onto their side. We quite liked Private Eye’s Lib Dem slogan ‘He Loves EU yeah yeah yeah’ too.
2) UKIP Jive: The Kinks (‘UK Jive’, 1989). Or Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I Am a Rock, I am an island’.
1) Monster Raving Loony Party Mash: Beach Boys (‘In Concert’, 1964). You all thought we’d mention the BNP here right? No way, compared to the monster loonies that parties’ policies are way too wacky for us to take seriously.
That’s all from us for another week. Tune in next time to see a) if the world really has come to a standstill because we haven’t technically got a prime minister at the moment like the media keeps telling us (though personally we think the country will be better off without one) and b) whether our sight has been closed down by either David ‘Flash’ Camermoron or Gordon ‘Black’ Brown. Bye till then!
You can buy 'Maximum Consumption - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Kinks' by clicking here!
The Kinks “Preservation Acts One” (1973)The Kinks “Preservation Act Two” (1974)
Morning Song/Daylight/Sweet Lady Genevieve/There's A Change In The Weather/Where Are They Now?/One Of The Survivors//Cricket/Money and Corruption - I Am Your Man/Here Comes Flash/Sitting In The Mid-Day Sun/Demolition!
"He did it all for a pot of gold and for his own preservation!"
Introduction (Without A Solution) #1 (2010): Hello, I’m the character Ray Davies lovingly refers to as ‘the tramp’ during both acts of his rock musical ‘Preservation’. I wasn’t always a tramp, of course – I used to have great prospects and had my heart set on so many careers, but then Mr FlashCameron came along as well as his friend FlashGordonBrownBlack (newsflash: he's just been replaced by Ed Milliblack), there was an age of austerity that even spread to this fictional universe and, well, things just went downhill quickly for me after that. Although of course the surprise twist you didn't guess at the time this album was released was that Preservation-land wasn't really another place at all, but your own world several years in the future (2023 to be exact!) In fact, it’s a struggle to think back to your time when politics was comparatively naive - in the times before coalitions, minority Governments and so much blatant string-pulling. Oh ho ho you're not going to like what's around the corner!
If you’re an AAA fan (of course you are - everybody reads it in 2023 and it's become a household name ever since buying up Google and Microsoft!) you might know both of the Preservation albums which came out in 1973 and 1974. They only came out when they did, of course, because of the AAA-sponsored experiments in time travel (see the many April 1sts issues) and it was me (later promoted to wardrobe man for AAA mascot Max The Singing Dog) who argued that this record should be the first sent back in time. After all, it's all so pertinent to now with our closely fought election and accusations of corruption and misuse of statistics on each side. Dismissed for years as the Kinks’ greatest folly of the 1970s that Ray Davies could never quite bring himself to complete, 'Preservation' was actually written in your immediate future to warn you about the impact your decisions will make in the 2010 election (you didn’t think The Kinks really came up with eight original albums – two of them double – in five years did you?!) It took one heck of a lot of make-up making the band look like their 1970s selves on the cover (and trying to reunite them all – honestly Ray and Dave are in their 90s now and still have that brotherly love-hate thing going on' they sit next to each other at the old folks' home and throw things at each other all the time), but even so I was surprised not one person had guessed about our thinly-veiled dig at the early 21st century politicians.
I mean, the austere grumpy numbers- featuring ‘Mr Brown’ instead of ‘Mr Black’ – and the songs about a jumped upstart nobody who wants power for his own evil ends no matter what he says in his slogans about a 'big society' - it’s not much of a leap really is it? The setting too is so early 21st century it gives me chills: a bankrupt country brought to it's knees from overspending and everyone claiming it was the fault of everybody else - I mean it's more accurate than the news! (But not 'our' news - no that's as corrupted as yours by the end of the two acts). Oh and I’m surprised nobody saw through that flimsy cover story of Ray having a nervous breakdown on stage and announcing ‘I quit’ in 1974 – that was actually the modern Ray we sent back in time and he was telling us he’d had enough of trying to look young and warn us about our future when all people wanted to hear was ‘Lola’. As I speak, we’re trying to work out how to start making vinyl records again and impress Ray’s wonderful warning message to you on that old-fashioned format. We reckon 35 years of warning is about enough to open people’s eyes to the truth, but just in case it isn’t I’m sending this message to you via the internet a bit closer to the event. Read about your possible futures and weep.
What a choice, Kinks fans. On the one hand you’ve got Mr Flash. All teeth and flashy smiles, bright shiny costume and not much on top if you know what I mean. Of course we had to change his background – the real Mr Flash came from Eton but that would have given just a little too much away so we had fun making him a second-hand car spiv in our version (we can just picture him selling faulty cars with a false sickly smile after all - it's what he ends up doing after the election in real life anyway). As for Mr Brown (I mean Black!) well, who’d have possibly made a character like that up in the first place? The existing ruler whose money-pinching and obsession with morals bled the heart and soul out of the land. Oh well, at least he's not followed by thugs and floosies - that's Cmaserflashes' job! That's your choice now readers, it’s out of our hands and into yours. Just remember the importance of what you do and use your vote widely (and don't forget my own 'Tramp's Green Party' while you're at it!). Unless, of course, you choose a demolition coalition - we reckon the Conservatives and the Monster Raving Loony Party have a natural bond. As I say in the play/musical/drama (this three-record set has been called many things in it’s lifetime, some of them unprintable) why is everybody quarrelling? Why does nobody give any more?
For those of you who don’t already know this mammoth work, it’s not too late. Even after the election it will still come in useful for you as a handy CD-sized guide (I think that’s the format you’re still using back then, I get a bit lost) to what’s going on. It’s a bit of a sprawling epic this one to be honest – you know what Ray’s like, the minute he gets a good idea it’s suddenly turned into a triple album, stage show and TV special all at once. Personally I wanted Ray to put all the good stuff into one killer double album but, well, in the end I couldn’t even get him to shift his ideas over that awful cameo with the Vicar playing cricket. Confusingly, not all of Preservation is about politics either; we get loads of cameos from characters who appear once, sing their theme song and disappear never to be seen again – most of whom have nothing to do with the main plot! Shame, I quite liked the sound of Johnny Thunder and the Hurricanes! Oh well, off to Preservation land we go. Think properly dear readers - who would you rather have running your country, a monster or a lunatic?
Introduction (Still Without A Solution) #2 (2015): See? What did I tell you? Nobody ever listens to me! Five years on with even the good bits from Mr Brown, (no hang on I really do mean Black's) policies wrecked on a pyre of human suffering and stupidity. I didn't tell you the whole truth five years ago because you'd never have believed me: tax cuts for the rich while benefits are slashed for the poor, attacking the disabled for not working and then making it more difficult for them to do just that, multi million pound online Government IT systems that don't work, could never have worked and could have been done better by Gary from IT at work on an Amstrad fromn1979, mass murders that go unchallenged, statistics that are manipulated so badly that Ofcom gives up sending out warnings, the European Court Of Human Rights outraged at our country's immoral behaviour, leaders who lie and cheat and steal and hang out with crooks and villains and rogues - and those are just the ones you feel you ought to vote for! What a choice eh - between the lesser of the two evils (or is that the least evil of the two lessers?!) but now you have to face that choice again - and I'm flummoxed if I know why anyone would vote for more of the same (the last Labour Government were unwise and sometimes cruel - but the current Coalition have been downright evil, except to their own). No brains, no hearts and too much nerve - The Coalition are straight out of our next-door kingdom of Munchkinland, with David Cameron the new wicked witch of Westminster cackling as he lies his way back into Downing Street again despite causing the deaths of innocent thousands. They've even put spikes up to deter the homeless - people like me, who did nothing wrong except get suckered in by their lies!
Even though clearly no one paid any heed to our review last time (whoops we underestimated the influence of Alan's Album Archives in 2010 - don't worry we'll get it right this year when they get all that extra publicity for winning the 'best website mascot with a top hat' award) we still say that 'Preservation' is your best guide to what's going on. This political extension of 'The Village Green Preservation Society' always gets a kicking for some reason, even though it's one of Ray's more carefully planned and 'together' concept albums. The seeds of this album were sewn way back in 1968 when The Kinks tried to interest Pye in a stage adaptation of their work - but given that the band were as unpopular as they'd ever be in their lifetime back then and their record company were about to drop them, it wasn't likely to happen. At first 'Village Green' was reworked into a stage show, but Ray being Ray he began tinkering with one of his best known creations, wondered to himself what might have happened to the Village Green since he left it and started overwhelming old songs with new ones. Even 'Preservation' was originally intended as a single album, but Ray got the writing bug (despite having already had a busy year in 1972) and the album turned into a double and then triple album midway through recording (most of the Preservation Act Two songs were added later, although a lovely Ray-sung version of 'Scrapheap City' from these first sessions and the closing 'Salvation Road' both date back to the first album). Though no Village Greens are mentioned across this album, it's clearly the same place a few years on - with the houses built in the years since due to be demolished for profit (even though they mean a lot to the characters in the song), with Johnny Thunder still riding up and down on his motorbike like the rebel he is and with the once green and noble land under the rule of a totalitarian regime. A bit like England itself then really, with the backdrop of the 1974 election looming when this album was (ahem) first released (with a bit of help from Dr Zeus' time travel machine). There was so much unrest in the country that there were two elections held that year in fact, either side of the release of 'Preservation Act Two' : in February 1974 Labour won 301 seat to the Conservatives' 297 resulting in a hung parliament for Harold Wilson and Ted Heath - in September Wilson was declared the winner despite the fact that the total seats for both parties did not change in the election (it will be all change for the next election in 1979 when Thatcher's new broom sweeps out everything including, eventually, herself).
You'd expect from this that The Kinks would have been swept up in the drama of the occasion, but actually no - people were as bored and apathetic as they seem to be in 2015, with more 'no votes at all' than yes votes for either major party. The Kinks seem like an odd band to get caught up in all this aggro as well: they'd never really been political animals (a few sideswipes at World War Two leaders enjoying the life of riley while the country suffer on 'Arthur' is about as close as they come) and never really will be again (until speaking out positively on the thought of joining the EU and laughing at Thatcher's wiggle on 'UK Jive' in 1989. Rather than merely becoming seduced by politics, it seems more likely that Ray was being seduced by worries of what was happening to all the innocent bystanders caught up in the row of 'his' world in 1973 and - like a vengeful player of 'The Sims' computer game - wanted to see what would happen if the same rows were thrown at his previous characters. One of the great virtues of 'The Village Green Preservation Society' is it's innocence in a world of corruption - as we'll go on to say in our review of that album (written but not posted yet - there's a bit of a logjam at the moment but it'll be out soon - if the new Coalition don't immediately put a curfew on the internet anyway) the adult world is knocking at the door trying to get in, but it's still a largely childlike world of cartoon characters and best-mates-forever, with the threat of the world about to break through at any moment. 'Preservation' is what happens when that adult world breaks in and it isn't pleasant: no one is what they seem, you can't trust any of the broken promises and rather than doing something 'for the good of the nation' both sides of this battle are in it 'for their own preservation'. It's a salutary message for all the poor straightforward Phenomenal Cats, Johnny Thunder and Monicas (although I have a feeling Wicked Annabella votes UKIP). Chances are most of the characters from the original album didn't care much anyway and voted for the politician with the most persuasive voice, not realising what the tough consequences should be (Phenomenal Cat, on benefits for a genetic obesity problem that's left unable to work, has been labelled a scrounger and sanctioned and can no longer afford trips to new exciting worlds; Johnny Thunder has been given an Asbo for revving his motorbike and Monica has been locked up under Mr Milliblack's new 'anti-public corruption bill' - no actually that sounds more like something Flash Cameron would do!) The adult world isn't much fun and everyone has been conned by the big promises and loud voices when all they really want to do is live their lives much as before - preferable with more money and less nagging (why don't the politicians preserve stuff like that, eh?!) Only the Mr Big Skies of this world will do will out of it whatever happens, selling off the Village Green bit by bit and selling it off what used to be people's home to the highest bidder. Thank goodness for The Tramp - the only character with any sense in Preservation land.
One more point before we move on - the other big event in Ray's life - perhaps the main reason he's hiding behind characters - is that his wife Rasa and their daughters have left him, after a rollercoaster marriage that started when he was 20 and she was 16 and is now over ten years later. Rasa, her move masterminded by her mother who never liked Davies and is less than supportive of The Kinks' fallow years, leaves him at the cruellest time possible - his 29th birthday. To be fair, he's seen it coming and hasn't always been the most supportive husband either (it was Ray's dream to live in the country, not Rasa's, where she was left bringing up two young children in a strange place with none of her friends around). Ray will try to make amends over the course of several songs, including the whole of the 'Soap Opera' project (which despite the distractions about star-makers becoming 'normal' and the frustrations of 9-5 living is really about a husband who works too hard on something his wife doesn't care about and the gulf between them as they spend less time together). It starts here though, with the bitter 'Sweet Lady Geneveive', a half-scowl, half guilt-ridden song that promises to do better next time if only she can come back again (the song is credited to me, The Tramp, suggesting that Ray fears becoming homeless without her support, rattling around his mansion paying alimony). It's also there briefly in the finale of 'Nothing Last Forever' from 'Act Two', where the song suddenly stops acting and turns into a heartfelt plea that his love really will last forever, honest. I reckon it's also there in 'Flash's Confession' the heavy rocker from Act Two that cuts so much deeper than the rest of the record somehow, as if it's a 'confessional' not an 'act' any longer. The split wasn't mentioned much by the press at the time, even though it will have huge rippled for The Kinks, leading to Ray's aborted suicide attempt where he takes too many pills, screams 'I quit!' into the microphone at the finale of a Kinks gig (though characteristically the pa music starts playing at just that moment so only parts of the front row ever hear him) and wakes up on Dave's couch, his brother having taken him home for some rare brotherly bonding (the pair will never be quite this close ever again - and only rarely before!) The Kinks effectively died before 'Preservation' - which might be why Ray spends so many years writing about concepts and characters rather than offering up the confessional honesty his work was previously known for. The much-misunderstood rock opera years may well in fact be the best thing Ray could have done given the circumstances (better than breaking up the band or getting morose singing directly or writing empty pop songs which were the alternatives - and won't end until the elder Davies brother marries again in 1977.
Not that you'll be able to hear much of the plot from 'Act One' anyway. The scene setter and character creator to Part Two's plot, these two sections couldn't be less like each other (to put this in the most brutal terms possibly, the first part rambles and needs a good editor, while the second is too rushed and needs another half hour). If you didn't know the part two to follow then 'Part One' could easily be just another Kinks album, with cameos by a vicar (who only appears on one song, to - erm - compare the bible to a game of cricket; The Preservation Eleven thrashed England 579 runs to 99 at their last international don'tchaknow!), Johnny Thunder (who is older and less popular but the only character to come out of these passing years more or less unchanged) and a curious trio of working, middle and upper class men, all longing for change or better weather or something ('There's A Change In The Weather' ends up becoming the most Kinks-like song on the album as a result; strange, though, as our previous visit to the Village Green didn't sound as if there was any sign of class at all). Of the main characters Mr Flash gets one song ('Demolition!') with a name-check in another ('Here Comes Flash'), Mr Black gets one ('I'm Your Man'), The Tramp gets two ('Where Are They Now?' and 'Sitting In The Mid-Day Sun', the other most Kinks-like song on the album). At best only the first three of these songs is actually integral to the plot, although Ray's character observations are as usual bang on. The rest of the album is played by 'members of the cast' as they say, according to the sleeve anyway.
Except that's the major downfall of both Preservation albums: every character sounds mysteriously like Ray Davies. Villain, hero, rogue - all three are played by the singer, all in more or less the same voice (although he's slightly deeper when doing Mr Black, slightly more natural when singing The Tramp and slightly more, well, Jewish oddly when singing Mr Flash) and he even has a go at playing Flash's girlfriend Belle on 'Mirror Of Love' (originally intended for Ray discovery Pamela Travis to sing before the band liked his demo recording so much to use - probably thanks to sniggering at him singing 'you're the best man I ever had' no doubt - naughty Kinks!) This could be covered live when Ray could change costumes and even sing to himself on pre-recorded tape a few times (a daring thing to do back in 1973/74 which everyone takes for granted now!) but is more than a little confusing on record, even with a booklet listing who sings what (though in such small type on the CD it might as well be printed in Greenese - the official language of Village Green land). To be hopeful we've added a comment in blue at the end of each song on both 'Preservation' albums to make its clear whose singing! To be fair I'm, not quite sure what Ray could have done short of getting his brother to sing a part rather than just being part of the 'chorus' (Dave would have been pretty good at Mr Flash I reckon!) or hiring new female singers in to play certain parts...but no, that's a silly idea! (Or at least one that doesn't quite work - Pamela Travis plays the part of Belle, replaced on tour by Mariann Price and a late substitute for Ray discover Claire Hammil, who'd fallen out with her mentor by this time despite enjoying the success of her Ray-produced solo album 'Stage Door Johnnies' released in between the two Preservation LPs. She tries hard but she doesn't belong here and sounds distinctly unimpressed and bored with her part).
Of course, this project isn't perfect - especially Act One which is annoying bitty and sounds frustratingly unfinished. Opening a record with three minutes of humming isn't just a daring move, it's a suicidal one and the fact that we don't get anything obviously Kinks-apart from the class sarcasm of 'There's A Change In The Weather', the bittersweet nostalgia of 'Where Are They Now?' and the sheer goodwill charm of 'Sunny Afternoon' rewrite 'Sitting In The Midday Sun' is a journey too far for most casual fans. Not co-incidentally all three tend towards being the best songs on the album, along with the Ray Davies guilt trip that is 'Sweet Lady Genevieve' (written, he admitted years later, as an apology to first wife Rasa), the sly political party broadcast 'Money and Corruption-I Am Your Man' (which veers from honest hope to constitutional re-write so subtlety you barely notice what you're singing along to) and the singalong 'Demolition!' which ends Act One on a cliffhanger, with most of the Village Green demolished and nothing in its place yet. That leaves half an album of filler on a record so far out of most fans' comfort zones that it needs to be near-perfect all the way through and some tracks (like the hummed 'Morning Song' and the Vicar's camp Noel Coward sermon 'Cricket', which has to be heard to be believed) are amongst the worst in the entire Kinks Kanon (yep, even 'Think Visual' has better moments!) Ray also struggles badly with plot, which is more of a problem on Act Two but is already causing issues here: we're meant to think of The Tramp (me!) as a likeable figure, full of sense and wisdom for all my lack of money but I'm introduced by a song in which I apologise - a lot! The sense of a need for change isn't always drawn too clearly either: the cast seem to desire it, but Johnny Thunder's quite happy in his own quietly rebellious world where the 50s never ended and The Vicar is content to spiel God's word whoever's in power. Flash, ultimately the hero of the piece (albeit a flawed one) who we're meant to sympathise with come the very end is introduced in a song by Mr Black making him out to be the villain - this all gets very confusing!
However, to dismiss 'Preservation' because of a few plot holes and a couple of dodgy songs would be unfair because Ray excels at doing what he's always done best: characters. While, naturally, yours truly comes out sounding like the most rational and rounded of the main characters, the two hero-villians are cleverly drawn and will change places many times before the Preservation ship has sailed. There are shades of Hitler in Mr Black - we first meet him brooding silently in a dark attic plotting revenge over those who have foiled him in the past and he's charismatic in the extreme, cleverly seeking out people's prejudices and insecurities and exploiting them for his own ends (the 'anti-public corruption bill' is exactly what our politicians would do given half the chance, pretending to be worried about the public's morals causing an upsurge in civil unrest and disobedience when it's really down to a lack of money and opportunity and a feeling that 'my life is ruined anyway so I might as well fight back'). Meanwhile there are shades of Napoleon in the outrageous Mr Flash, who comes from lower stock and rises to power thanks to the gift of the gab and an ego the size of an apeman. His rise is sudden but believable - people need a good talker when they get into messes and don't always care who gets them out of it - and Mr Flash's claims to know what's best for the country when he's really only out for himself naturally unravel during the course of the three LPs. His fall is as swift as his demise, but in many ways he's changed his ways by then thanks to a visit from his soul (surely his conscience?) and become as much of a hero as any one politician can be. Which brings us to another unique point about 'Preservation' - the ending (spoilers alert!) This work must be unique amongst rock operas in having a pretty miserable ending where the villain(well the bigger villain) wins, overthrowing Flash's Government in a coup the equivalent of Cuba - and the people just let him. Moreover, Flash loses the one thing he had going for him - his personality, becoming an automaton accepting Mr Black's ways along with everyone else. It's a terrible end in terms of the emotion we've invested in these characters - although I fear it would be the most likeliest outcome of this album happens for real (which of course it will in your world). The entire plot of 'Preservation' relies on Mr Flash turning good and transforming into the character for good we know he is really deep down - but it takes him a frustratingly long time to get there by which time the whole album is over and we're back in the decidedly ambiguous lyrics of 'Salvation Road'. Mr Flash feels guilt and remorse and ultimately comes to understand love, but not quickly enough to stop Mr Black arresting him and turning him into an automaton under his control. The only person unsurprised by all this is The Tramp, the character no one listens to, whose seen this outcome from the very beginning.
That's all to come in Act Two, however - as far as Act One is concerned you barely get a chance to learn who Mr Flash and Mr Black are. This musical political broadcast was panned on first release (although the stage show was greeted with better results - it's well worth hearing too with the audio from a cracking gig from 1974 preserved - how apt! - on Youtube, with about half of the songs from both acts missing to condense it down to 75 minutes and a much easier to follow plot thanks to added dialogue) and is often seen as Ray's greatest mistake - the moment when he strayed the furthest from what The Kinks were all about. It's far from perfect as we've seen, with the lack of input from the rest of the band perhaps the hardest thing to take (only 'One Of The Survivors' sounds as if they were all playing in the same room together, while any album that uses so little of the genius that is Dave Davies automatically loses half a star). But 'Preservation' has much going for it too with several great songs and several characters that live long in the memory. 'Preservation' might not sound much like a Kinks album but at heart it's a very suitable project for The Kinks all round, with tales of what people will do for power ('Lola V Powerman'), a discussion of the divide between 'fantasy' and 'reality' as offered by what politicians say and what they mean ('I man they must be alright, right? I mean they promised us a washing machine which 'll be in the post any day when they get in - I've got four already but hey that beats a proper manifesto anyday!) and a very English coup where all the action happens off-stage and the reserved inhabitants just sit back and nod when their media tells them to. There's even a vicar talking about cricket - what could be more English than that? (The Kinks drinking tea from Queen Victoria mugs since you ask, but not a lot else). 'Preservation' was a tough listen in 1974 but it's easier now, just that little bit ahead of its time and a warning to all of us to think before we vote and to read between the lines of what people tell us.
‘Morning Song’ is how the album really starts out and, well, despite all my nagging Ray decided to stick it on the front of the album just to confuse people. I mean, all this talk about artistic credibility is all very well but I’m trying to get this work heard by as many people as possible, honestly! You see, there aren’t any members of the band present at all on this song – not even Ray! – just a choir humming away softly to themselves. It’s quite pleasant, but not at all like anything else in the Kinks canon and must have confused one hell of a lot of Kinks fans who took the album home and figured they’d been given the wrong record! Character: The Full Cast
‘Daylight’ is only slightly more normal, if you can call it that. I’m quite fond of the way Ray re-introduces his classic ‘Village Green’ setting from 1968, talking about how the ‘ordinary people’ of the land celebrate being alive with their own morning ritual. I like the tune too – its a sort of cross between a slower version of the main ‘Preservation’ riff and an oompah-ing brass band lick. Ray was obviously having fun writing this one for us – all those references to past Kinks classics like ‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ and so on – although he did let the real age of the composition slip (only now are old spinsters of the age to dream of dating Roger Moore or Steve McQueen; back in the 1970s these people would have barely been in their late 30s). Yet there’s something slightly wrong about the production of this song – the vocals come and go all at different levels, it’s hard to get to grips with whose singing what and there’s an overall air of trying too hard. It’s like hearing an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical (but better written, obviously, and not stolen from every other composer that’s ever lived) – all the right factors are there but they’re not adding up to a collective whole. Character: The Full Cast
‘Sweet Lady Genevieve’ is much more like it, even if it has pretty much zilch to do with the Preservation topic. Ray says it’s about his relationship with his wife Rasa that he married at 18 just as The Kinks were beginning to reach crescendo levels of success in 1965 and has only know begun to understand enough to write about in this song. He credits it to being sung by me on the record but it’s actually a song so personal it’s taken him about 25 years to write. It’s a marvellous song of guilt and making new promises and sounding quite genuine even if we know that the narrator is just destined to break his partner’s heart over and over despite himself – which does actually fit the Preservation theme of broken promises and how much of the corruption in our society is down to deliberate lies and how much is down to the troubled circumstances in which we live. ‘Genevieve’ is a classic Merseybeat-ish pop song with a power chorus, a strong harmonica lick and a great vocal from Ray that takes in all sides of this troubled character – the yearning romantic, the pleading sinner, the mischievous little boy, the troubled troubadour; it’s classic vocal, twisting and turning through all the song’s many changes and ending with a very troubled ‘put your trust in me’ so that we know just how this story is going to end no matter what the narrator says (a lot of Preservation is about not taking things at face value). Like most of Preservation, this is something we’d have liked to hear more of and heard developed throughout the story – but, alas, this is the first and last appearance of the mysterious Genevieve. Character: The Tramp
‘There’s A Change In The Weather’ is the Gilbert and Sullivan side of Ray’s personality. Like Roger Waters, Ray just can’t seem to keep his dramatic side out of things sometimes and the Preservation topic gives him ample chance for that – but like many a Kinks song, it’s when Ray takes his eye off the details and pretends to know what we’re thinking en masse that things go wrong. This track is the musical equivalent of the ‘three classes’ sketch, with the working, middle and upper classes introducing themselves. It’s like hearing a bad chorus in a very bad musical until we finally hit the heart of the song with a powerful middle eight that inverts the jolly Preservation riff we’re getting to know quite well by now and turns the song into quite a scary diatribe about what’s in store for those of you in the early 21st century (‘going to see a manifestation, total chaos, devastation’). Sadly, though, Ray ignored my advice about warning people about the latest Spice Girls reunion and took my lines about ‘spices on inebriations’ out of the final lyric. Another point about this song – it seems staggering in retrospect that Ray and his fellow Kinks can spend a full five tracks telling us that something bad is going to happen and then veer off the subject for most of the remaining songs. In fact it’s not until the closing track on this album that anything happens at all. Characters: The Working Class, Middle Class and Upper Class Man
‘Where Are They Now?’ was born out of my suggestion that Ray out to give us one definitively Kinks-70s sounding tracks on the album to help make up the illusion, now shattered, that this album really was released in 1973. This is so Kinks-like in every way – like much of ‘Village Green’ and ‘Arthur’ it looks back nostalgically at several big names from yesteryear and asks what happened to them now they’re no longer in the news anymore. This song makes a lot more sense now in 2030 than it did at the time – after all, nobody was asking what happened to the swinging 60s legends in the 1970s except the Kinks, too concerned was everybody with staying young and on the pulse of the next big thing. Alas ‘where are they now?’ isn’t one of Ray’s better songs on the theme – the tune isn’t as rounded as ‘Celluloid Heroes’ and the lyrics aren’t as clever as ‘Picture Book’, with only certain lines cutting through the song. ‘I wonder what became of all the rockers and the mods, I hope they’re making it and all have steady jobs’ is a classic Ray Davies line though – its reverent and cheeky all at the same time. However most of this song is just a list of names, most of whom didn’t mean anything in 1973 never mind 2033. Character: The Tramp
‘One Of the Survivors’ came from my realisation that we hadn’t got a classic Kinks rocker on the record and – given that we played around with the timelines a lot on this record – is a surprise throwback to the 1950s and the sort of songs the Kinks sang in their youth. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Preservation plot, being sung by the character Johnny Thunder last heard of singing his theme tune on the Kinks’ 1968 ‘Village Preservation Society’ LP. There are a lot of similarities between the two projects and I don’t just mean the name – the need to preserve our past before it gets wiped out by our present is a key concern of both projects but ‘Survivors’ is far more like the little vignettes the Kinks gave us in 1968 than the concept art rock of this LP. Ray puts on his best rocker voice for this song, a tribute to all the teddy boys mentioned in the last track and listing the singers who first inspired the Davies brothers to take up music, but it doesn’t really suit him or the band – the only part that sounds spot on is Dave’s fiery guitar work. The ending is fun – with Ray revving up his motorbike gear by gear while puffing on a harmonica and Dave getting one of his few vocal cameos on the album in the fadeout – but somehow this song never quite comes off, being too polished and controlled for the burst of adrenalin its meant to represent on the album. Character: Johnny Thunder
‘Cricket’ is truly the worst song on the whole project, one of the worst written by Ray and surely another give away that this project was written a long time after the event (what other Kinks album includes dross like this up until the 1980s?) This simple sung is allegedly sung by the village Vicar, a character who gets a grand total of 2:56 in the whole 100 minute Preservation project to himself and is never heard of again. Alas we don’t learn much beyond the clichés, comparing the English game of cricket to Christianity the whole way through – both games are decidedly ‘British’; the devil ‘demon bowler’ is out to LBW you; both ‘laws’ have ’10 commandments’. This sort of thing must have sounded great in ray’s head until it got down on record, accompanied by one of the slowest dirgiest brass band arrangements this side of ‘Brassed Out’. Ray really struggles with his vocal – I know he’s playing another character here but his vocal is all over the place and is far too feeble to cope with the oompahing behind him (although to be fair, that very feebleness might be deliberate given that this song is about standing alone against an enemy far more powerful than you). Thank goodness this odd little cameo got quickly forgotten though – this is one of the worst songs in the Kinks canon full stop. Character: The Vicar (who? what?!We'll never hear from him again...)
The ‘Money and Corruption’ medley comes next and is one of the key songs of the whole of the Preservation concept: the growing hatred from the general public who are sick and tired of being promised one thing and given quite another when the parties get in power (a bit like you lot had in 2010 during the three weeks of campaigning and TV debates). The scene is set for Mr Austerity Black to come to power and so he does in the second half of the song, ‘I Am Your Man’. The first song is all rushing around and not getting much done, a kind of political ‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ while the second is a beautiful ballad loosely based round a slower version of the Preservation riff we’ve been getting to know quite well by now which – heard suddenly after all the chaos of the song’s first three minutes – sounds like the sun coming out. Already though there’s a very uncomfortable feeling here, with lines like ‘all the directors will be answerable to me’ ‘there’ll be no shirking of responsibility’ and most worrying of all ‘save the fatherland’; this is the beginnings of Nazi Germany all over again, back in the immediate post-First World War chaos and dissatisfaction when anybody with a bit of charisma and a few cheery words can get into power without anybody looking to closely at their manifesto. And if that doesn’t sound like you guys in the early 21st century I don’t know what does. Remember, the central plot of the whole Preservation project is don’t trust what anyone says at face value – everybody is out for themselves and to get what they want above what’s best for the people as a whole (unless they have a ghost-infested nightmare that makes them guilty anyway, as you’ll be hearing later). Despite its strong connection to the Preservation plot this is one of the few songs on this record strong enough to stand on its own feet musically, with a carefully thought out structure and Ray and Dave’s villager voices adding to the atmosphere rather than detracting. Ray’s lyrics are simple but straightforward and really do sound as if they’re coming from the heart here, ‘tired of hearing promises we know they’ll never keep’. Character: The Full Cast until Mr Black enters for the second half
If ‘Preservation’ had been staged as a musical then ‘Here Comes Flash’ would have been the song that always seems to feature somewhere towards the end of the first half – you know the one, the song where the writer has obviously got bored of all his main characters seen so far and offers a cameo of the villain whose going to be big in the second half. ‘Flash’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘musical’-ish song in the whole of the Preservation epic, but despite what we were saying earlier about the more theatrical songs being the album’s downfall this one actually helps maintain the momentum of the last track. ‘Flash’ is all things to all men and characters in Preservation – on the one hand it’s a pretty neat summation of the dodgy characteristics of the ‘Mr Flash’ character we haven’t yet met; on the other it reveals just how nasty and hypocritical Mr Black and his cronies were in their election campaign (ringing any bells 2010?!) and perhaps also how scared Mr Black is now he has a valid opponent on the Preservation stage; this song also manages to be both serious (the opening double-time riff is the scariest version of the jagged Preservation riff heard yet and the middle eight of ‘once we loved and trusted him...’ sends shivers down the spine in true horror movie mould) and pure comedy (the backing singers who scream when Mick Avory’s classic drum rolls seem to pounce on them unexpectedly; the many clever and completely OTT couplets – Flash doesn’t just ‘rough you up’ he ‘duffs you up’ ‘cuts you up’ and will ‘touch you up’ to boot. In short, ‘Here Comes Flash’ shows a great care and intelligence in terms of its arrangement and performance and sounds like one of the most substantial pieces of the album’s first act, even though the song itself is rather a throwaway one. Characters: 'Scared Housewives' apparently!
‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’ is the key song of the whole of the first album and, well, it brings a tear to my eye seeing as how it’s meant to be me singing it. An anthem for the unemployed and wronged people everywhere, this album strikes a blow in the face of every career-mad person. Those of you who know the Kinks Klassik ‘Sunny Afternoon’ will know what to expect, although rather than a millionaire fallen on hard times who still finds solace in the summer sunshine the tramp – little ol’ me – had nothing to begin with. The verse structure is cute but complicated, with a lazy hazy melody that meanders without any particular purpose or reason, but the yearning chorus undercuts the whole song and turns it on its head in classic Ray Davies style. ‘Oh look at all the people who say I’m a failure and say I’ve nothing’ goes the epicentre of the song, a mixture of anger at those who try to keep the narrator down and a sneer at those who can’t see like him. It’s a close cousin of both The Beatles’ ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ and Oasis’ ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’, a rare attempt at trying to counterpoint the argument that work maketh the man. Arguably, though I say so myself, the tramp is the only character in Preservation-land who knows the true story of what’s going on – and he didn’t get that by working blindly in a 9-to-5 job ruled by morons. Character: The Tramp
‘Demolition’ ends the first act on a curious note, pulling down everything we’ve come to know about Preservation so far: the melody line starts off like the familiar Preservation riff but simply goes round in circles, as if showing how little progress is actually being made by the demolition experts, despite the politicians’ promises of starting again. However, the rug is pulled from under us yet again as it develops into quite a genuine sounding plea from Mr Flash for getting things right the second time round and learning from past mistakes – the closing ‘and we’ll buy up this town, knock it all down, build a brand new town of our own, na-na-na na-na-na is cut short suddenly with a choke, as if the narrator is so caught up in the brilliance and beauty of his scheme he genuinely believes in it. ‘Demolition’ is the closest we get to a song about truth from either Mr Black or Mr Flash who spend most of this triple album tripping over themselves with their conceit, lies and thirst for power. Despite the fact that on face value this song is nothing more than a list of instructions to the builders and cronies in Flash’s den, ‘Demolition’ is one of the more successful songs on the album – especially in BBC radio form (see the excellent ‘BBC Sessions’ released in 2002 and for which we had to go back in time and record a radio broadcast – blimey this time travel thing gets complicated) where the song is not quite so new and had been played in concert a few times to make it really tight (and much rockier). ‘Demolition’ is, of course, the one-word antidote to ‘Preservation’ although Ray sounds much more ambivalent about the desire to preserve things here, realising that getting rid of the past and replacing it with something new is better than self-preservation or preserving things that should have been long gone from our society. So ends the first act of Preservation on a highly euphoric note – needless to say, that won’t last. So much for your past, reads on to discover your future... Character: Mr Flash and 'cronies'
Announcement/Introduction To A Solution/When A Solution Comes/Money Talks/Announcement #2/Shepherds Of The Nation//Scum Of The Earth/Second-Hand Car Spiv/He's Evil!/Mirror Of Love/Announcement #3//Nobody Gives/Oh Where Oh Where Is Love?/Flash's Dream (The Final Elbow)/Flash's Confession//Nothing Lasts Forever/Announcement #4/Artificial Man/Scrapheap City/Announcement #5/Salvation Road
"Why not negotiate and try to be civilised? I tell you why because nobody gives a..."
Ah you're here at last! Pull up a pew and take the weight off your manifestos! Alright me old mates? The Tramp can't be here today - he's too busy banging his head against a brick wall in reference to the madmen you all votes in to run your country back in your time when ee' warned you all not to nice like, so you got me instead - Mr Flash! What a treat eh? Didn't think you'd ever meet someone as great as me eh? But I am just like you lot at heart of course - Dirty! Poor! Wretched! Or at least I was, back when I was selling cars second hand trying to scratch out a living (that reminds me - Johnny Thunder still owes me a weasel for that last motorbike I sold him! Or do I mean a monkey? Note to self - tax all monkeys! They make me sneeze something rotten!) I remember what it was like to have nothing - and to dream every night of revenge and a way out of your squalor, at any means possible! I've done alright for myself since haven't I? Oh I forgot - you're only reading this text that's been sent back to you twenty years in the past via a wormhole created by some mad scientist at Alan's Album Archives (I hear he's working on artificial singing dogs next!) and you can't see me can you? (It's alright gang - you can get those hidden trinkets and incriminating evidence out the cupboards again -this isn't a video broadcast this time). Anyway its all very grand and if I may so I've done awfully well for myself haven't I? Well you have to help yourself up don't you? Look out for number one that's what I say! That's why my men are so loyal to me because I know best for all of us. Don't I men? I said don't I? Ah they're just playing with me being all quiet like that, they love me really, do anythink for me - especially that vicar!
Anyway, I have to sell off a few more houses at three so I'd best not be here too long. There's not much you need to know anyway except for the fact that I'm in charge and I'm running Preservationland quite nicely. Nobody wants for nothing they don't - well nothing that matters anyway - and all those promises I made at the last election are right on target, just not quite here yet. Well I've been busy making money haven't I? For me big society - it's a great new idea where everybody gets to help themselves and I don't have to help anyone at all! The way it should be eh? I mean I never had no help from anyone. Rotten childhood I head, hateful headmaster, didn't even understand when I made a girl in my class pregnant - but that's another album I'll come back to later. Anyway the wealth will all trickle down soon enough. I just have to enjoy a bit of it first right, yeah, only fair? I mean I made it - well that's my signature on the bankloan anyway and its not going to be me paying it back heh heh! Looks like The Tramp left you a few notes on this album so I'll just post them here while you enjoy yourselves. Don't tell me the ending though - I don't want to spoil how popular my re-election is when I win by a record margin! Or at least that's what Big Ron's polling is telling me anyway (when he rang up a few mates with menaces heh heh!) Fab yeah, I will have another cuban cigar thankyou. Now where are me children? Waddaya mean I left them down the pub again? It's 'cause of overwork I tell you - I haven't had a holiday since bleeding last week and I need another one...
Righto, sorry about that - it's The Tramp back speaking to you again about what's really happening in Preservationland. I had to let that bully speak for himself or you'd never believe how conceited he is. I'm a little worried though - he seems blind to the dangers that Mr Black's political party are offering and while Mr Flash is naughty Mr Black is downright evil. I only hope he realises it in time or he's in for a nasty surprise - and we're in for an awful time of it as well: it won't be long until Mr Black has removed all the safety nets and everyone loses their jobs and benefits and dies a long slow painful death (with just a few of us left to work as slaves). Mr Black is ruthless and always gets what he wants - and he'll soon see to it that he stays in power for the rest of his days. My only chance is of getting Mr Flash to listen to his soul (surely his conscience?) before it's all too late....I wonder if that time portal machine at Alan's Album Archives will let me have a go?...
As for the album, it's a much more plot-driven record than its predecessor. The individuals who once gave our Village Green so much life have been silenced, so there are no performances by The Vicar, Johnny Thunder or even much of the cast this time around. Even I don't get to sing as much because, well, I'm powerless - wouldn't even let me in the polling station because I don't have a fixed address (we've really got to get that law sorted out pronto...) The cliff-hanger of the last record (everyone losing their homes and everything that once made the Village Green dear) isn't immediately sorted: instead half the population throw their lot in with Mr Black and his 'anti-public corruption bill' (makes a change from the party animal that was Mr Flash I suppose...but what will it lead to next in the abuse of people's human rights?) while the other half struggle on, their hopes and needs unmet. It's a straight battle of wills between Mr Flash and Mr Black this record - but Flash is too arrogant to do the work he needs to to stay in power and Mr Black has done too much planning. I fear the end is going to be a bloodbath, just as happened with the election in 2015...
Musically this might well be the stronger of the two albums. There are several great moments that never get a look in on Kinks best-ofs (too tied up with the plot I suppose) but which work just as well outside the plot (by and large - I doubt anyone would want to listen to 'Shepherds Of The Nation' outside the album context!) There are some great rockers - the urgent 'When A Solsution Comes' (The most prog-rock moment of the entire Kinks discography, suddenly turning into hyperdrive somewhere in the middle), the twinkle-toes 'He's Evil' (which has Milli-Black singing about Flash even though it works even better the other way around - talk about the pot calling the kettle, um, black...), (ahem) my own starring role 'Nobody Gives' which turns into a fiery six minute debate about the need to be kind to other people, the fierce riff-a-thon 'Flash's Confession' which might well be the best thing from either album (its so emotionally powerful, in character or not) and especially 'Slum Kids', an album outtake which thanks to its role in the stage version (and its place in The Kinks' setlist for years afterwards) has strangely gone on to become perhaps the most famous song from either album. There are some of Ray's most passionate ballads too: 'Oh Where Oh Where Is Love?' is the playful, poppier side of Ray's writing, 'Nothing Lasts Forever' is a sweet country song that would sound good without Pamela Travis getting in the way and ditto 'Scrapheap City' which on the outtake sounds like one of the loveliest Kinks ballads of them all.
Of course, most fans don't hear this. The record starts off with the first of five annoying news bulletins (which insist on making a muddy plot that should have remained ambiguous a little too obvious), contains an entire four minute 'public broadcast' on 'Shepherds Of The Nation' with Ray as Mr Black listing all the sexually depraved things he's going to outlaw, an unconvincing cod-music hall that belongs to the 1920s in 'Mirror Of Love' and a five minute 'Artificial Man' that badly needs to tie up all the loose ends, but just ends up adding more - whilst being musically probably the least convincing song of the whole project to boot (don't be put off by this song being the only track actually taken from 'Act Two' to appear on the 'Picture Book' box set, although the alternate take of 'Mirror Of Love' and the spin-off single 'Preservation' are both there too). For casual fans hearing the band act out a stage drama that can't settle between pantomime and high tragedy is an even less appealing prospect than hearing Ray act out a dozen characters on 'Act One' and this record has suffered by sales accordingly. It's a record that falls between many stools - at 58 minutes it's too short to be a double record, too short to be a single one (the original plan was one double record set containing acts One and Two but Ray wrote too much; it's frustrating he didn't write just that little bit more to tidy up side four that little bit more). It's plot arrives too late to do the good many of these songs might have done on Act One (when we barely get to know the main characters). The ambiguous end (with Flash overthrown and Black in power - but is 'Salvation Road' heartfelt or sung tongue-in-cheek?) is a brave move for an album that needs a 'proper' end to the script. The continuing lack of The Kinks (although they do have slightly more to do on this album thanks to the high quota of adrenalin-fuelled rockers on which they excel) is worrying. The lack of 'Slum Kids' and the inclusion of a very dodgy vocal, from a demo, for 'Mirror Of Love' on the record instead of a re-make are two very costly oversights from an album with such dwindling goodwill it can't afford to make them. Pamela Travis does the band a great favour by taking on and fleshing out the part Claire Hammil was meant to sing - but her pretty, expressionless vocals don't belong in this multi-layered world and Ray would have been better off singing them himself (or 'borrowing' a 'proper' singer - just think how great this project might have been with Chrissie Hynde four years before her Pretenders debut and shortly before her first meeting with Ray?)
There are an awful lot of reasons to dislike 'Preservation' in either form - but many reasons to love them too. Act Two especially is tighter and contains some fascinating ethic issues (do you vote for someone whose bad as opposed to someone intrinsically evil who knows how to hide it better? It remains to be seen at the time of writing which will win in 'your' world in 2015; but who'd have guessed Nicola Sturgeon wins a majority across the whole of the UK with everyone moving to Scotland to vote for her, eh?!) While Preservation-land is effectively doomed whoever they pick, do you go for the easily corruptible egotistical jumped up nobody who wants to be somebody or the evil plotter in it for power from the start? Both men are villains - but does Flash's background make him easier to relate to and his actions easier to understand than the 'natural'; villain of Brown, sorry Black? Does his sudden rush of guilt, which comes so late in the day, make him a better candidate than Black? ('No man is a saint and each creates his heaven and his hell'; Then again, for all his many faults you can't see Flash destroying his opponent in such a final, nasty way). Is this sort of thing inevitale when the alternative to being a somebody is to be a nobody, overworked in some factory (a slave to a lathe, work all day and go home bored?') Is money - the source of Flash's power as his 'multi-million corporation' selling secondhand cars takes off - really the best way to measure people's abilities at power? (Nobody wanted to know him when 'welfare state owned my body and my soul'!) Why does politics promote people who are great talkers - instead og great doers, every single bleeding time? Do the people of Preservationland, blind to everything but what their rulers say to them and what the controlled media meekly report, deserve what happens to them - or are they entirely innocent, hoodwinked by people more interested in power than them? Does voting for any of these cretins make any difference - when the people who really have the Village Green's interest at heart, like The Tramp, are the last sort of people who'd want to have such a powerful office - or would be voted in in the first place. There's a sociological essay in here somewhere set to music and the ideas of 'Preservation', like 'Soap Opera', stay in the mind long after the music has finished playing.
Of course, you could just sit back and enjoy the music. There's much here to enjoy even if it is all wrapped up in a plotline and there are several exciting things within. No other Kinks track has the same mix of 'Fiddler On The Roof' and Eurovision as 'Second Hand Car Spiv' - while I'm not quite sure you'd ever again want to hear a Kinks song with this mixture of styles it works fine for this one punchy, powerful track. 'Artificial Man' and 'Nobody Gives' are the longest Kinks songs since 'Shangri-La' and 'Australia' in 1969 (minus the special case of 'Celluloid Heroes' the year before) and while the former is oddly constructed neither outstay their welcome on that score. Few Kinks songs take quite as many breaks with tradition as 'The Final Elbow' (which isn't strictly a song but a stagey conversation between two Rays at their hammy best). Few Kinks tracks are quite as gloriously hard to read as 'Salvation Road' (happy singalong or a cynical subversion of the main 'Preservation' theme which once stood for genuine hope for change in the 'Demolition' cliff-hanger of the first record?) There are several sudden passages that come out of nowhere and really stick in the mind: the moment 'He's Evil' stops taunting the opposition and becomes a heartfelt cry from the heart as the title is sung over and over again in a minor key, a moving tagline to a song that's been playing with us till now but now suddenly has so much more at stake; the sudden change in 'When A Solution Comes' when Mr Black goes from being a no one plotting in an attic to a scheming mastermind with the power behind him to do what he threatens; the lengthy solo in 'Nobody Gives' which features Dave Davies pouring his heart into a great emotional solo that looks for a solution - only to fall down exhausted where the song began, shipwrecked on the rocks of man's indifference to man; the sudden brilliant climax to 'The Final Elbow' that wraps up the last hour in a single minute and then whallops into the opening crushing chords of 'Flash's Confession', an angry desperate hopeless song in such contrast ti the 'acted' songs around it; the gorgeous extended finale to 'Nothing Lasts Forever' - we know Flash's followers don't love him really and their respect for him depends on him being in power, but in that tagline we hear the 'real' Flash, desperate for their affection and absolutely honest for the only time on the record as he promises that he really does love them all and will do 'forever'. Even the repeats of the main 'doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doo dah doo, doo doo dah' 'Preservation' are sparingly handled and clever, being recycled as everything from an ironic chorus in 'Salvation Road' to news bulletin jingles to the comical slowed down version at the heart of 'Shepherds Of The Nation'. One of Preservation's weakest aspects is how little this disjointed album sounds like it belongs together, but this repeated theme helps - and the record's diversity is also the greatest thing it has going for it, with 'Act Two' especially quite unlike any other Kinks record.
Of course that's not necessarily a good thing. Whilst Ray still continues to threaten to revive this album every now and again and clearly has a soft spot for this most testing and pioneering of LPs, for most fans this is a dull Kinks period in between the seriousness of 'Muswell Hillbillies' and the playful arena pop of 'Sleepwalker' et sequence. Few fans would have stood by the band had they done a 'Preservation Act Three' (although in a sign of how involved in this project Ray was the next album 'Schoolboys In Disgrace' is partly a flashback to Flash's childhood...). To this day it's one of the band's poorer sellers, especially this second act and the Kinks record of the 1970s you'll have most trouble tracking down in regular shops. However track it down you should: flawed as it is, disjointed as it is, frustratingly unfinished and unsatisfying as the end is, as devoid of The Kinks' natural styles and indeed the other Kinks beside Ray as this project is, it is still undeniably an 'important' album. After years of half-concepts (even 'Arthur' takes such a wide look at the post-war dream its close to a half-concept) Ray suddenly has a go at doing the full caboodle and pours his heart out via one of the most closely fought battle of the AAA kingdom. The record can't match 'The Village Green Preservation Society' - perhaps the thing that upsets long-term fans the most - but then it isn't meant to; this is an adult album with adult problems far removed from the innocence of the past. Like it or not The Kinks have grown up and there is no happy ending, no real heroes or villains and no quick fixes or easy answers. Ironically enough, this is an album made because it 'had' to be made and wasn't done at all for a pot of gold or for The Kinks 'preservation' - the very opposite in fact. 'Preservation' remains a warning about what can happen to us all (remember - vote! Even if it's for the lesser of two evils!) and does itself more than deserve to be preserved.
'Preservation Act Two' is announced via a new development: news bulletins! All of these are provided by Christopher Timothy, son of BBC announcer Andrew Timothy, who is still a few years away from his biggest known role as James Herriot in 'All Creatures Great And Small'. 'Preservation's feeling about politicians isn't that far removed from a critique on dumb animals in truth so you may recognise the voice now you know. Each of these five news bulletins will be ushered in with a variation on the riff last heard at the end of 'Demolition' which by turn sounds happy, sad, defiant or despondent. The one for the first bulletin (logically titled 'Announcement #1') simply sounds brusque and businesslike, played on a trumpet. The news story concerns what happened after the cliff-hanger of the last election - that rather crazed slimeball of a politician Mr Flash got in but, hey, at least it wasn't the evil Mr Black, right? All things will be OK now as long as Mr Flash behaves himself and starts working for a change whilst thinking of somebody else, right? Erm, well - not exactly, but for now all you need to know is that Mr Black isn't quite ready to give up power just yet. He's formed a People's Army and is trying to overthrow the Government by force. Timothy says these are only unconfirmed rumours (since when did they allow them on the news?) but they sound pretty serious to me. Mr Flash's days might well be numbered... Character: The Announcer
The first song proper is the prog rock rocker 'Introduction To A Solution' With the wonderful opening line ‘while the rich get their kicks from their affluent antics Mr Black sits and ponders their fate’, Ray – as me – tells us how the world has fallen apart in the interim and how the people just can’t take any more. We also get our first glimpse of the two main characters of Preservation in detail and its not a pretty sight – Mr Brown, sorry Black, sits alone in his darkened room plotting how to overthrow the Government while Flash and his men ‘drink champagne in their den’ and cavort with reckless abandon without any thought to the hunger, unemployment and desperation of the people they serve. It’s a classic rocker this one with tongue twister lyrics held together by Mick Avory’s energetic drumming (as I seem to remember reading quite often on the first 1000 News and Views issues, my colleague at the AAA said that Mick was always at his best on Ray’s more theatrical numbers) and Dave Davies’ classic guitar solo, an excellent depiction of trouble and growing despair. A pretty good start to the second act. Character: The Tramp
‘When A Solution Comes’ is what Black was thinking in his attic: at first this is a slow, acoustic burbling song very much in the subdued glam rock mode (think of the slower Bowie and Marc Bolan songs), with the singer hard to hear above the tinkling piano and sound effects. The song hits the stride in the middle, however, when the whole song seems to swirl and Mr Black transforms from minor player to hell-raiser before our ears. Again the revealing part of the lyrics comes not from the surface of what Mr Black says so much as his occasional slips when the real him breaks through: he’s looking for a ‘final solution’ while ‘the whole world is gonna feel the squeeze’ even though he’s just told us how he wants to take power because Mr Flash is corrupt and he thinks he can do better. This eerie track, sung straight throughout unlike most of the album which can be very tongue-in-cheek at times, is quite unlike anything else in the Kinks canon, a quite scary rollercoaster of emotions based around acoustic guitar and keyboards, not the first instruments that come to mind for The Kinks. Character: Mr Black
‘Money Talks’ is Flash and his cronies singing their hymn to money and all the great things its bought them as they play with the people’s money recklessly while they starve (Flash probably had a second if not third and fourth home – see how cleverly we added these allusions to your time there people!) ‘Money Talks’ is a gruff, nasty song that sounds as if its running at the wrong speed – it tries to saunter and be a rocker but the song is too stuffed full of its own importance and fat with the weight of excess to truly let go. There are millions of overdubs on this one, from the band to backing singers to extra keyboards to a brass section; it’s as if the very essence of Flash’s mr-nice-guy spiv has fallen prey to the power in his hands and he’s making up for lost time for all the wrongs the world did him before getting in power. ‘There’s no man alive who wouldn’t sell for a price’ run the distressing lyrics, while the lyric printed in the lyric booklet ‘before you know where you are you’re a slave to green gold’ makes even more sense the way I first heard it before owning a copy with the lyrics (‘before you know where you are you’re a stranger to people’). Money is a dangerous thing and creates too many false friends and enemies for me – this song is the antithesis of my theme song ‘Sitting in the Midday Sun’ and its suitably ugly and dark in contrast. Character: Mr Flash
Oh hang on - the action is halted as a bulletin is incoming. 'Announcement #2' unusually doesn't have a jingle and features two Christopher Timothys talking to themselves from the studio and on location at a Black Party Political Broadcast. While people have no money, no dignity and no future they still think that the cause of all this isn't the bankers of the politicians demolishing the country and selling it off to the highest bidder - no its obviously a fall in public moral standards. Some 30,000 numpties on pre-recorded film are there to cheer Mr Black on as he announces his anti-public corruption bill. Sounds like a Conservative measure to me...Character: The Announcer
‘Shepherds of The Nation’ is Ray taking his theatricality and plot a bit too far for my liking: its a party political broadcast by the Mr Black party about his ‘anti-public corruption bill’; how everything, basically, is bad for us and how censorship should be strengthened a hundred-fold – while the public applauds their downfall behind him. A very po-faced version of the Preservation riff then follows as a straight-faced Ray manages to sing ‘down with pornography down with lust, down with vice, lechery and debauchery’ and ‘down with nudity, breasts that are bare and pubic hair’. It’s another of those songs that must have left Kinks fans scratching their heads – the only accompaniment to Ray for major parts of the song is a group of girl singers and a brass band, hardly rock and roll. Unfortunately, fun as the first verse and chorus is (‘we are the national guard, shepherds of the nation’ is a fun spin on Ray’s ‘We are the Village Green Preservation Society’ from 1968 turned on its head and saving all the things that should have been stopped long ago), it goes on far too long without adding anything to the song. Ray’s also having far too good a time singing this song, its quite worrying how much he relishes his role as censors of the nation! Characters: Mr Black and The Do-Gooders
Now, let’s be honest, if you’re a casual Kinks album coming to this album fresh you’ve probably been put off by quite a lot of what I’ve just described – after all, it’s a million light years from ‘Lola’, never mind ‘You Really Got Me’ – but that doesn’t mean it’s bad necessarily. It’s going to be hard to describe ‘Scum Of The Earth’ without making everyone who hasn’t heard it scratch their heads in confusion – how can a slow Jewish polka featuring Mr Flash emoting about his hard done past in a very fake accent possibly be good? After all, this song sounds like an inebriated Fagin singing an outtake from the ‘Oliver!’ musical. Well, ‘Scum Of The Earth’ is on the one hand integral to the plot – it gives Mr Flash a back story of poverty and a home life where cruelty was usual so that we better understand this character who now that he finally has some power for the first time in his life – and a lot of power come to that – is inevitably going to abuse it to pay back the world for how it treated him in childhood. Secondly, the tune is a classic, trying to force its way up to the sunshine (and sunshine is a big thing in many a Kinks song as we’ve seen already), only to sighing cast its eyes downward for most of the song. Ray breathes a little more life into the second half, re-iterating a speech from Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant Of Venice’ (but improving on it, naturally - I'll take the Kink over the Bard for human emotion any day) by showing that he’s like everybody else (‘have I not hands organs senses and affections just like you? Stop the music!) Characters: 'Mr Flash, Spivs and Floosies' (Now that sounds like a solicitors to avoid!)
‘Second Hand Car Spiv is an even better attempt at the same back story, updating the last points made by telling us that Flash’s only way out of welfare state ‘owning mind, body and my soul’ was to become a ‘second hand car spiv’ and updating it musically to feature brassy fanfares and keyboards. While there’s nothing particularly new or pioneering about this track it does successfully fill in a lot of gaps in Flash’s story and its panicked headlong rush into what’s coming round the corner sits in great contrast to the carefully thought out musings of Mr Black. The track really comes alive with the extended middle eight where Flash finally makes some money, becomes single-minded and the accompanying music just sits on the same chord over and over and over again, emphasising how hard-fought Flash’s power is and how unlikely he is to let it go. As Flash tells us ‘now I’m in control of the country as a whole and the world is at my feet’, though look out for the song switching into yet another gear with the appearance of yet another scary take on the Preservation theme for the fadeout, an ominous sign of what’s to come. You’d never want to hear ‘Second Hand Car Spiv’ out of context and it’ll never be your favourite track, but this is a clever and pivotal song in the Preservation work that’s been undervalued for far too long. Characters: Mr Flash, Spivs and Floosies
I dedicate the next song ‘He’s Evil’ to David ‘Flash Cameron’ – honestly, how come nobody guessed what this album was really about? It’s obvious – with Mr Black getting a word in edgeways to denounce his opponent as a flashy two-faced politician who promises the world and then keeps it for himself. The song is billed as a ‘party political broadcast’ and compared to what went on in the 2010 campaign its actually pretty mild – it virtually is the Labour manifesto of that year set to music! The tune is classy, bold and brave with a ringing chorus repeating the title over and over again. In other circumstances you could imagine this song being another ‘You Really Got Me’ – its a classic riff the likes of which we’ve never heard before actually played with wild abandon by the band for once with even the overdubbed backing singers enhancing rather than detracting from the song. The eerie synth riff that underpins the song is a great match for Dave’s wild and exotic guitar work (full credit to John Gosling on keyboards whose work is at its best on this second Preservation album), especially when the song finally gives up its tongue in cheek finger wagging and drops the tempo, turning this funniest of songs into something far more serious and sinister. There’s a lot at stake in this song, with two completely albeit equally nasty ways of life prepared for the masses of Preservation land. But oh what lucky things having a song this catchy to sing while they fall to their deaths. Character: Mr Black (although its clearly about 'Flash' Cameron!)
‘Mirror Of Love’ is a rather odd cameo from Belle, Flash’s ‘special floozie’ according to the record sleeve – only she’s sung here by Ray Davies (her part will be sung by Pamela Travis later on in the record). The story goes that this recording was only intended to be a demo for the album but that when Ray came to re-record it he could never get the feel he wanted so he simply overdubbed various brass parts onto his original home recording. All that might explain why Ray is singing the part himself and why the vocal line he’s given himself is obviously way too high – but it doesn’t explain why the inferior band re-recording later got re-released as a single or why Ray is singing lead on that one too. Considering its the single that came closest to being a hit from the whole of the Preservation project (and even then it just missed the charts) it seems a lot of fuss about nothing. There’s nothing bad about ‘Mirror of Love’ but there’s nothing brilliant about it either – its just a standard love song about the person we love turning out to be someone quite different when we get to know them and aren’t blinded by their good qualities (Fellow AAA band The Monkees pulled off a similar trick with ‘Through The Looking Glass’ on ‘Instant Replay’, a song recorded as a long ago as 1966). The 1920s jazz arrangement is yet another new style for The Kinks in this period and suits them quite well, although there’s nothing about this twinkling piano and oompah band arrangement that really catches the ear. Character: Belle
Next the familiar sound of 'Announcement #3', a news bulletin announced by a synthesiser version of the jingle which sounds mournful and sad. No wonder - all that political rhetoric has spilled over into physical violence and Mr Black's army are fighting Mr Flash's now. The battle took place 'in a small village somewhere in the Northern Zone' (because all fictional entities have a North?) and the casualty rate is high, 'with no quarter shown on either side' Hang on a minute, I didn't blooming vote for this! What happened to the National Wealth Service and preservation preservation preservation, that's what they promised us? Character: The Announcer
After a quick announcement telling us that the Flash and Black parties are at war – quite literally – at war after a military coup (nice use of the Preservation riff by the way – this slower, sadder version should have been built into a full song), we turn to another song sung by yours truly. ‘Nobody Gives’ is a chilling song about someone neutral standing back from the whole Preservation chaos and commenting on how much the ongoing struggle is hurting the people. Just to underline the fact that we’re jumping time zones here Ray narrates a brief potted history of the world which are nearly all made up of wars named ‘the last great...’ and in which some persecuted minority group suffers unfairly. But, as the tramp tells us, the only real message the past of the human race offers is that ‘nobody gives’ anymore once they’re in power. This song is a real epic with a really heavy doom-laden feel built out of Mick Avory’s slowed-down drumming, Dave Davies’ feedback drenched guitar and John Dalton’s excellent bass playing giving the song a real bottom-heavy feel. The song changes pace in the middle when The Tramp (that’s me) repeats what he said in ‘Introduction To A Solution’, that he’s sitting here wondering who to believe and listening to both sides while wondering why on earth the two parties can’t reach a compromise to solve their differences. The song then spirals into a great cat-and-mouse fight between the guitar and synth with an eerie string arrangement added for good effect and a final reprise of the main theme before the song comes crashing down around the tramp’s ears. ‘Nobody Gives’ is a certified highlight of the whole Preservation epic, a neat reminder that while two individuals quarrel it’s the world that suffers, with the whole band and Ray in particular on great form. You may also hear the only use in the whole of the Kinks canon of the ‘fuck’ word (relegated to ‘damn’ for the lyric sheet I notice), although Ray’s vocal is seriously ducked in the mix and it is quite hard to hear – this seems to have been a late decision, mainly because the word was still pretty much censored from records in the first half of the 70s, but the scale of the problems in the song makes its use here worthy. Character: The Tramp
‘Oh Where Oh Where Is Love?’ is much more ordinary. Even back in the 60s when every song was a love song Ray Davies was never your most typically romantic writer: ‘Wtaerloo Sunset’ conjures up cosy images of a couple and ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All day And All Of The Night’ are classic songs about lust but it remains that the only real ‘love’ song by The Kinks that the man in the street knows is the cross-dressing ‘Lola’. ‘Love’ has a pretty tune and is well conveyed on balalaikas and accordions, but its weak lyrics that simply repeat the theme of Camelot’s ‘What Do The Simple Folk Do?’ have no place in the Preservation canon. The decision to make the song a duet with Pamela Travis and take the song at a conversational walking pace also means that this song unfortunately comes out sounding like The Pogues’ ‘Christmas In New York’. The only part of the song that catches the ear is again the middle eight which Ray might have done better to have made into the main song, the part that begins ‘the world is spinning and turning’ – this is an important juncture of the plot with Flash having second thoughts about his election manifesto and watching the world go to hell around him, but it’s just thrown away in the middle of this song. Character: The Tramp, apparently (Really? I always assumed this was Mr Flash singing!)
‘Flash’s Dream’ aka ‘The Final Elbow’ is a short piece of drama that underlines just how guilty Flash’s conscience is. Confusingly Ray takes the part of both Flash and his guilty alter ego (revealed later as his soul) and even with all the fascinating computer gimmicks making him sound like a cross between Brian Blessed and Vincent Price it still sounds like Ray talking to himself. There is no music on this track other than bit of incidental synth rippling which makes it truly unique in the Kinks canon, which is a bit of a shame it has to be said, but weird as it is this piece is quite good at furthering on the plot and the dialogue between Flash and his soul about arguing over ‘Preservation’ is pretty fascinating too (no wonder ray ended up writing musicals and plays later on in his career – well, sort of later, you know what I mean!) There is a classic closing line, too, about how politicians will come and go but the people go on forever – the true core message at the heart of Preservation. Still, for all its good qualities, no one else would ever have considered putting this piece of faux amateur on an album except Ray Davies – which is probably a good thing! Character: Mr Flash and his soul (surely conscience?)
‘Flash’s Confession’ is for me the biggest highlight of the Preservation piece even if most people dismiss it as just a continuation of the drama in the last track. This is Flash realising just what a monster he has become and how little the people whose attention he craves admire him. This guilt song with tongue twisting lyrics is rattled off at a hundred miles an hour to the accompaniment of Dave Davies on a wah wah pedal and a real other-worldly synthesiser lick. After the last few rather subdued tracks this is a real tour de force from the band and shows Flash falling apart in front of our eyes, with Flash confessing all his faults to those he’s wronged. The idea of becoming ‘just another face’ will; be familiar to Kinks fans as its cropped up in quite a few of Ray’s songs about individuality and becoming faceless – the next album ‘A Soap Opera’ will feature an exquisite song called ‘A Face In the Crowd’ which could easily have been interchanged with this one (the two projects overlapped a great deal after Ray secured a deal for a television special of the latter at the last minute and very good it is too, even if I have to see it on youtube because it never came out – not even in the 2030s!) Character: Mr Flash
‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ is the first entrance of Pamela Travis into the fold and, well, its a mistake. Ray was holding out to get his protégé Claire Hammil to sing the part and her strong voice would have suited the part well if only she hadn’t fallen poorly during the sessions for Preservation 2 (I fully recommend her first album ‘Back Stage Johnnies’ to curious fans who want to hear what a non-Kinks Ray Davies production sounds like, even with the album’s unfortunate title). Marianne was the best singer that could be found at short notice but strong as her background harmonies are she just doesn’t have the right voice for a Ray Davies duet. The song is nothing special either, lovely as the acoustic opening and delightful as the glorious Kinks harmonies on the extended fade are. There are just far too many songs like this one around – we used to think our love would go on forever but it didn’t is hardly the most original observation Ray ever made in character or otherwise. The arrangement and mix aren’t quite right either – the bass and drums overpower this simple song whose whole point is the fragility of the leads and the chirruping brass part sounds as if it’s wandered in from a different song entirely. Ray would have been better off singing this on his own acoustically, with Flash talking to himself about his changing relationship or even better turning that sterling closing vocal round (‘your love will die but mine will last forever, your love will fade but mine will last forever, your feeling might go but mine will last forever, and though you’re gone you’re in my mind forever’) into a full song – it might only last 30 seconds but its one of the most exquisite passages in the whole of Ray’s catalogue. You might remember our talk in ‘Sweet Lady Genevieve’ about Ray’s guilt about losing his first wife Rasa during this period (she left on his birthday and you can’t get much more cutting than that) – the rest of the track seems forced and is there merely to fill in the plot about Flash’s changed character, but this section is the real Ray breaking through and its beautiful. Characters: Mr Flash and Belle
After this pause in the plot we're back in the thick of the action of the two thick leaders for 'Announcement #4'. This jingle is greeted with the sound of the first, played merrily on a trumpet. Timothy tells us that Mr Black's army has been victorious, that they have captured Mr Flash and that he will be tried by a 'people's court' (you hear this mass-murderer David Cameron?!) You can tell that the war is going well for Mr Black - suddenly his people's army that were once greeted with disdain have become 'the victorious people's army' while Mr Flash's is a 'corrupt regime'. Don't you just love it when supposedly neutral news broadcasters do stuff like this? Character: The Announcer
Next we’re in the mad scientist’s lair for ‘Artificial Man’. This song reveals just what Mr Brown, sorry Mr Black is up to – brainwashing the land to fall under his ordered control and filling Preservation-land with artificial robots who love order and discipline and won’t argue with his attempts to rule over one and all. Cue evil laughter and moustache twirling, for ‘Artificial Man’ is one of the few songs as opposed to dramatic passages that fall firmly into the Saturday Serial cardboard cut-out mould with Dave Davies’ rather gruff vocals filling in for Mr Black while Ray’s best heroic pose fills in for Mr Flash (Dave sounds as if he had a really bad cold that day). The tune is suitably swashbuckling, with chippy background choruses and a stirring string section that seems to have come straight out of a superhero film. There’s still enough substance to go with all the posing though – the middle eight, with the mass chorus of mad scientists urging Flash to ‘live forever’ now we’ve ‘improved on God’s creation’ quite chilling (its a neat spin-off of The Kinks’ 1970 classic ‘God’s Children’, too, claiming that man should end his unnatural experiments). Good as it is, though, ‘Artificial Man’ tries just a little too hard to be the epic at the end of the album and like many other songs in similar positions (Pink Floyd’s ‘The Trial’ from The Wall and The Who’s ‘Dr Jimmy’ from Quadrophenia) it’s left itself too big a task to do: being a fully functioning hummable song and adding a neat solution to the 90-odd minutes of plot that’s come before it. Characters: It's the big showdown between Mr Black and Mr Flash, with The Mad Scientist in there somewhere too
Just when you think there isn’t a style Ray and his fellow Kinks haven’t covered comes ‘Scrapheap City’ which is – wait for it now - a cowboy song! Quite why Ray decided to first set his very moving set of lyrics about the humdrum urban sprawl he sees around him to such a comedy-like backing and then give it to Pamela Travis to sing I’ll never know. What happened to the tramp for goodness sake, I could have had a great track here about how the world’s gone downhill. Like we’ve said, though, its the lyrics that are this song’s saving grace – like many a Kinks song they despair about mankind’s supposed ‘progress’ and the way that progress seems to mean scrapping all the great things that deserve to be preserved. This song has much in common with the later track ‘Welcome To Sleazy Town’ from 1986’s ‘Think Visual’ – the crying shame isn’t that the town that’s left is so ugly, its that it used to be so beautiful before. Mindless progress is the scourge of many a Ray Davies song but he rarely managed to make his feelings as poetic and simple as he does here – its just a shame that Ray isn’t singing it. ‘Scrapheap City’ might ultimately be a track that causes you to end up reaching for your skip button but its more than overdue for a revival, perhaps an acoustic solo performance Ray? (Editor's note - since writing this original column I have since heard an unreleased recording of this song from the first album sessions with Ray on lead - and it's gorgeous! The sooner The Kinks release a deluxe edition of 'Preservation' with oddities like this on the end the better!) Character: Belle
'Announcement #5' has no jingle again and announces a 'state of emergency' designed to restore order - but which will really only there to make people easier to control. A curfew will take place between 9pm and 6am throughout Preservation-land with 'severe penalties' for those who don't comply. Shops will open only three hours a day, with rationing brought in on petrol, gas, electricity and water. All entertainment has been suspended. Only one television network continues to broadcast, so that Mr Black can keep a closer eye on what's said about him. Huh, no wonder Christopher Timothy sounds so pleased about it all, he gets to keep his job...Character: The Announcer
After a final announcement from Christopher Timothy we get Preservation’s final song and this time ‘Salvation Road’ is pretty successful at being both the rousing closer Preservation needs and a nicely ambiguous way to speculate about what happens later. Incidentally, this is the only song on Act Two held over from the sessions for Act One so Ray obviously knew where he wanted the Preservation story to end up – he just wasn’t sure how to get there at the beginning of the story. At face value this song is a glorious song built around the Preservation riff one last time, but this time played in an upbeat and suitably anthemic way, full of lines about ‘singing a song as we walk down salvation road’ (salvation = equal parts preservation and demolition in Ray’s final verdict). But look at the lines a little closer and you start to feel very uncomfortable indeed: ‘got no time to live a life with old worn out traditions’ could be taken either way, while ‘goodbye youth, goodbye dreams, the good times and the friends I used to know’ is pretty straightforward in its desperation. The final verdict is that salvation is open to all, even with Mr Black in power and Mr Flash on the loose, but that times will be hard and that struggles will still be met until the two sides find they have something in common. A fair warning, I think, for you guys in 2010 facing the confusing situation of having three parties lose an election wand watching the third have all the say in what happens. Characters: Sung By The Cast (those who survive anyway!)
So what a mess. One side brings cruelty in the form of wanting order and control (thank goodness those labour Id cards never happened) and the other brings cruelty in the form of ignorance and self-preservation. Utter chaos of course, but its not too late. Remember the messages of Preservation, which aren’t just built on events in 2010 but on events from our even earlier past in the 1920s, 1940s and beyond and watch out for what the leaders are really doing, not what they’re telling you.
But enough of politics, how about Preservation as an album? It’s a decidedly mixed bunch of songs taken separately, which takes a long time to get going and never really comes to much of an answer. But the songs describing Messers Black and Flash are well fleshed out and believable and the whole work does just about hang together, courtesy of concentrating on the effect the two politicians have on the people at large not just on each other. Full marks too to the production team, with Dave Davies taking a particularly big bow. Much of the album was recorded at the band’s own Konk studios (now part of the National Trust in 2030 and along with Abbey Road II the biggest recording studio still open in Britain) and Dave was in nominal charge of the technology in the studio. The band’s playing is also spot on for most of the project, although as ever with the band’s 70s material you can’t help but feel that they ran through too many attempts at each of the songs, losing spontaneity in the search for perfection. And there are certainly some questionable inclusions and exclusions – how come the excellent ‘Slum Kids’ (a live favourite played in the Preservation shows but never properly recorded) never made it to the album – even if it was written later it could have come out as a B-side or something so full marks to record label Velvel for sticking a live version on the end of Act Two as a bonus mark. I’d certainly prefer it to the dramatic linking piece ‘The Final Elbow’ and the five announcements which aren’t really made for repeated listening (and how comer there are no announcements on Act One when arguably they’re even more integral to the plot?) and the confusion of whether Ray is playing Black, Flash, The Tramp or some other character is never really resolved throughout the work. The timings too are strange – ‘Act Two’ is one of those select double albums that’s too long for a single album and too short, really, for a double (67 minutes is more than 40 certainly but far less than 80!) Still, even if this project is in many ways rushed it shows an ambition that in 1974/74 circles was downright admirable (as in the 2030s it has to be said) and even if Preservation isn’t perfect enough to be preserved forever as a whole concept piece bits of it certainly do deserve to live on forever. So, then, after all this aggro and all these lies what should the inhabitants of the Village Green have done? Why vote The Village Green Party of course! Thankfully Walter (do you remember?...) will suddenly recall the good old days with his best mate and all the dreams they had together, throw off his 9-5 trappings and stand for power, restoring sense and dignity and calm to a troubled and divided nation, staying in office for a record number of years. Unless, of course, Ray Davies wants to write a sequel one day...