Friday, 16 March 2012

This is Hardcore Preservation Society (Part One)

Two of my all-time favourite albums are from vastly different eras but in my opinion are thematically very similar. The older album is by The Kinks, was released in 1968 and has the lumbering title The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. The newer album was released in 1998 by another British band called Pulp and is called This is Hardcore. Both albums (whether knowingly or not) dealt with transitional periods in music and culture and were delivered by bands that were disillusioned with success and burnt out from touring.

Jarvis Cocker from Pulp turned his gaze towards a dystopian (albeit hilarious) future while Ray Davies from The Kinks turned his attention towards the past with a batch of songs that have more of a pastoral theme than The Kinks usual R&B sound. I could go on and do a very long post encompassing both albums, but instead I'll spread this over two weeks and focus on The Kinks this week.

The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society sets the agenda in the eponymous first song. It is basically a call to save an England that is dying (or perhaps never even existed): a world of little shops, china cups and virginity on the one hand and fictional villains like Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula on the other. There's even a call to preserve Donald Duck but I'm not sure how he fits in (I always thought he was American)

The album yearns for a romanticised youth on the village green, the girl Davies left behind when he went to seek fame and speculates about what happened to his old mate Walter (cynically, Davies predicts that Walter is 'fat and married and always home in bed by half past eight'). The end of the sixties and the hippie dream is also foreshadowed in songs such as Phenomenal Cat (The song is about a cat who sits in a tree and eats his way through eternity) and the rocker Big Sky which sums up Davies' existential angst about railing against a universe that doesn't seem to care one way or another. In short it is a soothing album to listen to when you finally come to the realisation that you're 'growing up'.

Photography is also a theme in two songs: People Take Pictures of Each Other and Picture Book. In Davies excellent fictional autobiography X-Ray (Davies recounts his past but also imagines his future self) he posits the theory that photographs always lie and that you can never catch the feeling of a moment through a photograph. Thinking back to all the family holiday snaps and school photos where you're forced to smile when really you'd rather be anywhere else, makes me think he might have been on to something. It's kind of ironic that Picture Book was used in a Hewlett Packard ad when Davies doesn't have much respect for the art-form of photography.

Davies does romanticise the past but he also references his (at the time) fragile mental state in the song All of my Friends Were There in which he recounts a night where he was unable to sing at a concert and noticed that all his friends (and their best friends too) were in attendance. He then goes on to describe laying low for a few weeks due to embarrassment before being thankfully able to take the stage once again and not missing any notes. A spooky song about a witch called Wicked Annabella might even be an insight into his opinion of women at the time.

The album isn't quite thematically linked enough to be considered a 'concept album' but it is a pre-cursor to this form of album. The last really great Kinks album was probably the early 1970s album Muswell Hillbillies which tackles themes of urban renewal; after this The Kinks seemed to fully embrace the concept album and arena-touring spectacular stage of their career which was not as exciting for me.

Village Green Preservation Society probably got a re-release in the late 90s because The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' was being discovered by a new generation of fans. Many people believe Village Green is Ray Davies' 'Pet Sounds' because it is similar in that it was considered a flop at the time, featured more intricate and personal arrangements and was released at a tumultuous time in the bands' career. I don't think The Kinks were ever allowed a budget to record anything as intricate as Pet Sounds, but I think that works in their favour because they work quickly, don't over-think things and the urgency comes through in the performances. To this day I'm more inclined to put on Village Green over Pet Sounds.

Maybe music fans were also aware that the alterna-rock craze that was dominant in the 1990s was also coming to a close and that the melancholy vibe of Village Green was a good soundtrack to the changing of the guard as mainstream rock gained dominance again. Personally, after a few years slogging away in unheralded and mostly forgotten indie bands in Brisbane, it was the perfect soundtrack as I considered returning to the workforce and explaining to employers what I had been doing for the last few years.

God save The Village Green.

Next Week: Pulp - This Is Hardcore.


  1. Thanks to the KindaKinks website for drawing attention to my blog. You guys are okay in my book.

  2. When I first heard the album as a teenager in the late 70s, I admired the songs but dismissed it as a children's album (remember, this was the heavy "serious" rock era of Led Zepplin, Rush, Yes, etc). But I never stopped playing it through the years, and have come to treasure it as a far more resonant and artistic work than any of the adolescent pablum I used to take so seriously. God save the Kinks!

    1. Yes their seems to be a conceit in music circles that music you can 'enjoy' can't be real art. Village Green Certainly proves that this isn't necessarily the case.