Tuesday, August 24, 2004

And now, as promised...

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Can a rock masterpiece like The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society survive the Rock Masterpiece treatment? Unlike so many great rock albums, triumphs of outsized emotions, Village Green is -- more and more famously -- a collection of miniatures, a series of snapshots. On this pastoral, mostly quiet record, Head Kink Ray Davies combed through memories of seemingly small incidents and cataloged his obsessions with his native country of England to try to determine, what makes a life go all wrong?
When first released in late 1968 to worldwide indifference, Village Green was a 15-song work of unassuming brilliance and perfection. This past June, in the U.K., the label Sanctuary released a three-CD “Special Deluxe Edition” [oxymoron?] of Village Green, but U.S. Kinks fans can find it pretty cheap, if not at a record store, then at sites like CD-Wow. This is what you get.
Disc One: The original album in stereo, plus four bonus tracks
Disc Two: The original album in mono, plus six bonus tracks
Disc Three: 22 rarities
Village Green is not the first aging rock album to get beefed up like this. There’s the four-CD box set of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, of course. Or another box devoted to The Stooges’ Fun House sessions. But this is such a quiet album of small pleasures -- which, of course, can add up to be the most important pleasures of all -- that it’s fair for a Village Green obsessive (I mean me, of course) to fear that everything that made this album wonderful would get lost in the miasma of unreleased tunes and alternate takes. Not to mention the fact that Village Green -- though obsessed with the past itself -- slyly warns about the dangers of nostalgia, and how it can easily lead to emotional entropy. A triple-disc version of an album is often a really good way to encase it in a museum.
And another thing: Why Village Green, why now? The Kinks have been a hip band to like for a while now; their music is a touchstone for everyone from Yo La Tengo to The Hives. And, yes, Village Green was profiled a few years ago in the rock nerd’s bible, MOJO Magazine. But most significantly, British writer Andy Miller devoted a whole book to it, as part of Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series of tomes about albums. Miller’s book is really something, maybe the best book ever written about The Kinks. Miller understands the band, how they related to each other and the outside world, and how this album resulted. He understands that Village Green is not something to be doted over for a quaint tea-and-biscuits air about it. “Its Englishness is a sideshow,” he writes, “a metaphor for the universal problem Davies was wrestling with -- the problem of being alive.”
In addition to his peerless analysis of the album’s themes, Miller also fairly exhaustively examined the many tracks recorded at the same time as the Village Green songs. While only some were considered for the album, almost all of them share common concerns and sounds. Some of the tracks wound up as b-sides; more than a few found their way onto the essential 1972 American compilation The Kink Kronicles; others were never issued. Most tantalizingly, a number of these songs were released on a 1974 release entitled The Great Lost Kinks Album, which Ray Davies then demanded be deleted. Since then, those tracks have only been available through bootleg, or hidden original pressings in used-record racks.
So, in retrospect it can seem as if the album was made for expanded-edition status: It has a legendary underdog status, peerless pedigree, and a shitload of tracks buried in the archives. Somehow, Sanctuary convinced the secretive, tight-fisted Ray Davies to comply.
But this is the wonderful thing: The answer to the query that opens this essay is a most glorious yes. All the accouterments cannot detract from the small, humble but indefatigable greatness that is Village Green. I am actually shying away from a precise examination of the album’s details. I think it speaks for itself. Suffice it to say, the album takes Ray Davies’ quintessentially English obsession of memory and the past and beautifully makes it something universal. This is achieved through both his masterfully concise, melodic songs and the offhand grace of The Kinks’ performances.
I have yet to find the second disc of much use. The third disc is a fairly big deal, compiling a large deal of the lost tracks from The Great Lost Kinks Album. (But not all of them; Ray, you’re so fickle!) At first, I thought hearing these tracks out of the Great Lost sequence would throw them out of whack for me, but I was happily proven wrong; they are great songs, regardless of their many years of unofficial status. (Quite sensibly, the package’s liner notes are by Andy Miller.)
Of course, part of me still holds onto the album as a distinct entity; I won’t be selling back my original CD of the album (or my used vinyl copy, for that matter). Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which incarnation of the album people hear; as long as they hear it.


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