You know, the worst thing you can say about Preservation: Act II (PA2 for the rest of this review) is that it really stinks, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. When all was said and done with The Kinks’s Preservation:Act I, we were left with an overall OK album with some good songs, some bad ones, but titled towards the positive — three stars out of five, if we were to use that scale. PA1 is a weird album, pretty far removed from the bulk of the band’s catalog in terms of style and sound, but it has enough interesting material to make it worthwhile for Kinks fan to check out.
PA2, on the other hand, I really can’t recommend at all unless you’re really interested in seeing how the entire Preservation “story” plays out dramatically… and even then, it doesn’t really work all that well as storytelling. What does it all mean? PA1 was about the simple folk of the Village Green and how they were seduced by the charismatic no-goodnik known as “Flash”, who then took over their precious town, stripped, demolished, and subdivided it, and turned it over for profit. And SCENE!
As Act 2 begins with this album, we are introduced to Mr. Black (the utopian religious do-gooder who wants to strip the country of all filth and degradation) and the epic cosmic battle between him and Flash. SPOILER ALERT: Flash loses, ends up brainwashed and transformed into an anonymous citizen, and Mr. Black takes over the country, transforming it into his brand of a pseudo-religious-right Disneyland. Or something. Meanwhile, Ray Davies’s “Tramp” persona makes various commentaries about both sides and how everybody’s full of shit. Or something.
So, what the heck does ANY of this have to do with The Kinks’s classic Village Green Preservation Society album, a slab of rock legend that formed the initial basis of this project? Precious little, actually. I suppose the concept of the “Village Green” represents tradition and the goodness of regular folk despoiled by abusive, greedy capitalists or sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing holy fascists or some such in between. I have no idea. It’s not entirely all that interesting, really.
OK so the story is a total misfire, but is the music any good? Nope. PA2 is structured in a more “dramatic” fashion than PA1. We have spoken word sections made up of radio announcements, news broadcasts, even some dramatic dialog. They give the narrative some sense of overall direction, which I suppose is good because you don’t really get much of a feel from the music. The first three tracks — “Introduction To Solution”, “When A Solution Comes”, and “Money Talks” are all serviceable early/mid 70s rock tunes, but on the other hand there’s nothing particularly good about them either.
I will cop to enjoying the melodramatic “Shepherds of the Nation”, an affected dramatic tune in which Mr. Black and his gang of holy-rollers announce their agenda to remove Britain of filth and sin. I wouldn’t call it a great song, but it conveys the dramatic elements effectively while remaining somehow musically interesting. On the other hand, “Scum of the Earth” and “Second Hand Car Spiv” are the kind of musical theater wankery you might expect from an album with a reputation as bad as this one’s. Think of all those shitty songs from your average Jr. High production of Godpsell. Yeah. That bad.
“He’s Evil” is a little more interesting. It has a fun, electric keyboard driven vibe, and if nothing else has enough musical hook to seem like one of the album’s stronger tracks. And it is, even if the chorus is just the title of the song repeated ad infinum. I wouldn’t mind “Mirror Of Love” so much if Ray didn’t do that ferschlugginer throat wobble thing he had gotten more and more into during the RCA album era. It’s an OK show-tune sort of thing; at least it works as a song decently enough.
Here comes Captain Exposition with “Nobody Gives”, in which Ray’s ‘Tramp’ character spells it all out to us that people are selfish beings, who only give (without altruism) if they expect something bigger in return, and that’s always been the case throughout history. An exceedingly trite message, caustic, angry, maybe a real human moment throughout these labored proceedings, but as a song, barely OK at best. This leads into the GOD-AWFUL “Oh Where Oh Where Is Love?” This truly lousy duet between Ray and Maryann Price will make you physically violent. This could be the worst Kinks original tune recorded to date.
I could neither contain nor control my venom after listening to “Flash’s Dream (The Final Elbow)”, which is a ‘dramatic dialogue’ between Flash and his soul. Mix equal parts third-rate Christmas Carol, third-rate Shakespeare, heck even third-rate Monty Python without the satire, sprinkle in musical snippets from the entire Preservation project, and then make it much, much, MUCH worse than you could possibly imagine. Your average episode of Fat Albert is more compelling and dramatically convincing. More interesting is “Flash’s Confession”, which utilizes the ‘Flash musical cue’ effectively with some nice keyboard and wah-wah effects. It’s a decent song but, again, nothing memorable.
If the previous Ray/Maryann Price duet made you want to retch up entirely new colors from your digestive tract, “Nothing Lasts Forever” will open up a wormhole from your sphincter to an undiscovered Negative Zone of God-Awfulness. While it’s a better song than “Oh Where Oh Where Is Love”, such a statement is the living definition of ‘damning with faint praise”. By the time we get to Flash’s defeat and brainwashing in “Artificial Man”, I was ready for such a treatment myself. The album (and entire project) has completely and entirely jumped the rails. At this point you might be convinced that you are in fact dreaming and waiting for the inevitable Inception-like demolitions that will kick you back up to whichever level has a copy of Arthur on vinyl.
“Scrapheap City” is probably Maryann Price’s best work on the album. It’s a fairly decent song, and she takes lead vocals on it. Toe-tapping in nature and anchored by a cowboy/western riff, I kind of like it but by this time it’s way too little, way too late. The album even ends on a surprisingly good note with the catchy and memorable “Salvation Road”, but if your brain isn’t the flavor and consistency of tapioca pudding by this point, there’s entirely too much Carson Daly in your life.
OK well… this album is just terrible. Is there anything salvageable from this mess? Well Salvation Road is a good tune and a decent album closer, and I sorta liked Scrapheap City, Shepherds of the Nation, and He’s Evil. The rest ranges from Average to Totally Freakin’ Abysmal and all over the in-between. It’s a disappointment of the highest caliber. At least PA1 had some level of promise to it, even if it didn’t entirely work, but Preservation: Act 2 is for the core completists and core completists only. Oy. I need a bath…