Classic Music Review: Preservation by The Kinks (Acts 1 and 2)

Preservation Combined Revised

The Kinks form a musical theatre troupe and hit the boards for a few years. Link takes you to Act 1, you can figure it out from there.

Introduction: The Theatrical Period

The theatrical period of The Kinks, defined by concept albums designed for on stage performance, has been out of favor with the critics for some time. The albums sold poorly and, according to Wikipedia, “Many hardcore Kinks fans were alienated by Ray Davies’ melodramatic songwriting during the Preservation project era, resulting in albums that played more like the soundtracks to a piece of musical theatre than rock albums.” The period ends when The Kinks switched labels from RCA to Arista, where Clive Davis laid down the law and made the signing conditional on Ray Davies agreeing not to do any more fucking concept albums.

Where music industry executives lead, music reviewers generally follow. The general consensus that the albums had little value was enhanced by Ray Davies’ statement that he “shouldn’t have been allowed to make records” in the seventies.

I think Ray’s self-criticism has to be categorized as one of those typically hyperbolic statements that rock stars often make (John Lennon and David Bowie are the masters of this art). There are very few artists capable of objectively or subjectively evaluating their own work. In this review I’m going to ignore Ray Davies’ self-evaluation. I’m also going to ignore Clive Davis, as his concern was commercial appeal, a secondary consideration in my book. Needless to say, I will also ignore the opinions of other reviewers and take a fresh look at these three albums.

My belief is that the albums of this period have been unfairly evaluated by fans and critics alike. First of all, you can’t compare these works to the traditional albums in The Kinks’ catalog because they are operettas, not song collections. Operettas, like operas, involve the integration of music and theatre. I don’t think it’s fair to take the individual songs out of their theatrical context; you have to consider the whole and a bit of imagination to envision how they played on stage, especially if (like me) you weren’t even born when The Kinks performed them. The only information I have is second-hand, and my father, who saw two of the three, said he had never laughed so hard in his life as he did while watching Preservation.

Second, fans often don’t want their favorite artists to change and try new things. I’ve written about this in relation to Grand Duchy and White Rabbits—artists who tried to do something a little different and suffered the slings and arrows of a fan base in denial. We often form strong emotional attachments to music that has moved us, changed us or reminds us of a particularly special moment in our lives. People react to this in different ways: some want the artist to keep doing different things and some want them to sound like the artist they’ve known and loved. Both are attempts to relive the high. The problem is that both stances filter the listening experience, setting up expectations that may lead us to dismiss that latest release out of hand. I know I felt that way about Oasis’ Heathen Chemistry, and while I still don’t care much for the album as a whole, my initial reaction blocked my ability to appreciate the few good songs and some hints of better things to come. This is why I listen to every work I review a minimum of three times: I need to cleanse my system of expectations. Being human, it’s impossible to clear them all out, but the effort can help reduce some of the filters. I believe we owe it to the artist to at least make the attempt.

Expectations also become heavy burdens when fans lay them on the artists they allegedly love. I’m sure that many fans wanted Ray Davies to continue to do what he had done best: write great songs about the human experience in society. After all, no one has done that better than Ray Davies! If that was the mindset for some fans, I can see how it would be difficult to appreciate many of the tracks on these albums. There are a few you could rip from their theatrical moorings that would stand up as pretty good Kinks songs, like “Sweet Lady Genevieve,” “(A) Face in the Crowd” and “The Hard Way.” Then again, something like “Second-Hand Car Spiv” makes no sense when removed from the flow of the play, but has tremendous dramatic effect when heard in sequence.

The theatrical period represented yet another significant artistic risk for The Kinks, who seemed to make a career out of them. The point I want to stress is that in these works, Ray Davies has switched art forms, like moving from poems to plays. To expect a similar listening experience would be like demanding that one of Shakespeare’s sonnets give us the full range of theatrical power expressed in King Lear. Look at it this way: Ray went on a hiatus from songs after Everybody’s in Show-Biz, and returned to the craft with Sleepwalker. In between that time, he decided to do rock operettas (or rock musicals, if you prefer) and any evaluation of this period must take that into account.

One final note: Ray Davies originally intended that Preservation be presented in one double-album package. Once he decided to abandon his original approach to the work, he ran into pressure from the record company honchos to get something done, quick. The effect on Preservation is felt in Act 1 with a couple of songs that fail to move the story along and in Act 2 with a detour that throws the work out of balance. I will note those occurrences, but I do give Ray Davies some credit for managing to make the best of a bad situation, as some of the pieces do serve to strengthen secondary themes.

Preservation: The Themes

The primary theme in Preservation is, of course, preservation itself. The word has different meanings to the three main characters in the play (Flash, Mr. Black and The Tramp), each of whom represent different social forces.

For Flash, preservation is all about self-preservation in the form of destructive greed. Flash and his cronies are immoral capitalist-gangster politicians who enrich themselves at the expense of the people and their cherished traditions. Flash represents the mindless progress of unrestrained capitalism: making money for the sake of making money, without regard to environmental or human consequences. That stance is accompanied by a loose moral code that his opponent will skillfully exploit to his advantage.

For Mr. Black, preservation is simply a ruse he uses to manipulate the people. What he claims he wants to preserve and protect is the traditional moral code of the Old Testament, fixing his argument to religion while demonizing his opponents in the process (“I visualize a day when people will be free/From evils like perversion and pornography/We’ll cast out Satan and set the sinners free.”) His stated goal is to bring a puritanistic form of religion back into prominence, similar to the yearnings of the Christian Right in The United States. Ray’s exaggerated delivery of Mr. Black’s “Oh, God, how I love this land!” line in “Money & Corruption/I Am Your Man” says it all about this hypocrite who positions himself as the true patriot defending the values that people hold dear. Playing on the average person’s fears of promiscuity, of permissiveness and of change itself (the negative pole of preservation, if you will), he spices his argument with constant reminders that the people are not getting their fair share in a world of unfettered capitalism. His real goal is to control and “perfect” human behavior. He wants to put the evil genie back into the bottle, an evil personified by Flash and his gang. Designed with a communist slant (a paradox, given his announced religious commitment), he will eventually manifest those leanings once he takes power, with a preference for the Orwellian version of a communist utopia.

The third force is the Davies vision of preservation, as represented by The Tramp, who serves as the Everyman character and keen observer. The Davies vision is one of balance, expressed in the song “Village Green Preservation Society,” particularly in the lines “Preserving the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways for me and for you.” It is a vision of human interaction on a smaller, intimate scale that explicitly rejects the grand, impersonal visions of both Flash and Mr. Black. This third force is ignored and dismissed by Flash and exploited by Mr. Black. Similar to the eponymous character in Brecht’s Mother Courage, The Tramp is a bystander and a victim of the larger power struggle, powerless to stop the senseless battle for power and control.

The importance of the triad cannot be understated. Most human histories deal with the major players and relegate the people to the back pages. Ray Davies wanted to make absolutely certain that they were not forgotten in this story, and The Tramp appears with regularity throughout the play (even more regularly than Mr. Black).

Preservation Act 1 (Note: Subsequent releases have included an introductory track called “Preservation” that was designed to give listeners more back story. I consider it insulting, sort of like “Preservation for Dummies.” It also excludes half of the back story! I will instead stick to the tracks included on the original release.)

The notion that this is “something else” by The Kinks is quickly dispelled in the opening moments of the play. With its echoes of Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones delighting in the dawn of a new day, “Morning Song” seems more suited to a Broadway musical than an album from a rock group, but its pleasant and airy theme creates a space apart from the day-to-day that helps establish the milieu of Act 1. In this opening act, the traditional vision of preservation will dominate; the next two tracks, “Daylight” and “Sweet Lady Genevieve” describe human experiences on a human scale. Ray Davies clearly wants to emphasize the simple beauty of the things we stand to lose: a lovely day, the innocent comings-and-goings of the people, the sweet regrets of lost love.

The possibility that a threat to that way of life lurks in the background is introduced in “There’s a Change in the Weather,” where the three classes find themselves united in a general feeling of anxiety about the state of things. While I love the use of band instruments you would have heard played on the gazebo in the village green, it is here that one of the flaws in Preservation crops up: Ray Davies plays too many parts. The lines of the three men from the three different classes should have been sung by three different voices instead of by Ray himself. This was an odd choice, since we know his brother can sing and Preservation is full of guest appearances by other singers. Later, Ray will play the female role of Belle in “Mirror of Love,” then turn around and give Belle’s vocal on “Scrapheap City” to a female voice.

There is also a fair amount of filler in the play, more so in Act 2 more than Act 1. “Where Are They Now?” seems disconnected from the storyline and doesn’t do much to reinforce the traditional preservation theme. “One of the Survivors” works because it at least forges the link to Village Green with its depiction of an aging Johnny Thunder. I love the way Ray delivers that line, “Old Johnny Thunder looks a little overweight,” as if he’s poking him in the belly while he sings. I will argue that “Cricket” is not filler, though, as it demonstrates that you can attach religion to anything, something Mr. Black does with greater finesse in the next song.

“Money & Corruption/I Am Your Man” opens with the chorally-supported voices of the people bemoaning lying and corrupt politicians. The segue between the two parts identifies the tragic flaw of the masses when facing problems of a scale beyond their understanding: “Show us a man who’ll be our saviour and who will lead us.” That tragic flaw has created monsters like Napoleon and Hitler, and will achieve the same result in Preservation. Of course, that is far in the future; right now Mr. Black’s pitch to the gullible bourgeois crowd is all about the wonderful things they’ll get if they make him their man: “And every home will have a stereo and TV, a deep freeze, quadrasonic and a washing machine.” Hey, if you’re up against a master salesman, you’ve got to sell!

That salesman is introduced in the can-can number “Here Comes Flash.” Exhibit #1 in the case that absolute power corrupts absolutely, Flash is described a charming gangster who also happens to control the current government. The warning “hide your daughters, hide your wives” is symbolic of the assault on traditional morality that is often an outcome of an environment of corruption. Ray Davies’ imagery here is brilliant and vivid, as the extended metaphors of seduction and sexual assault illustrate multiple weaknesses in the masses: the desperation born of frustration; the intense discomfort they feel regarding loose sexual mores; and their fundamental gullibility. Mr. Black will capitalize on all of these opportunities in Act 2 (italics mine, to demonstrate the extent of the sexual-seductive metaphor):

Once we loved and trusted him
Now his thugs and bullies make us live in sin
They suppress us, oppress us, molest us, possess us.

You’d better run, you’d better fly,
Hide your daughters, hide your wives,
And lock your doors and stay inside
He will smile at you, be a friend to you
Then he’s gonna screw you just like that.

To avoid losing touch with the third force in our story, the next number is a rich and delightful song from The Tramp, “Sitting in the Midday Sun,” which echoes the wisdom of ancient Chinese philosophy: “The mark of a successful man is one who has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.” As our narrator relaxes by his river, deflecting criticism (“they all tell me, ‘Get a job, you slob'”) and cherishing the sight of “the ladies looking their best in their summer dresses,” he clearly sets himself apart from the two powers who will soon be locked in mortal battle by his complete lack of motive. On a fundamental level, Flash and Mr. Black not only have a motive, but they have the same motive: to acquire power. The Tramp rejects the concept of motive entirely, echoing Lao-Tzu’s admonition, “Do nothing and there is nothing that will not be done.”

Everybody thinks I’m crazy,
And everybody says I’m dumb,
But when I see the people shouting at each other,
I’d rather be an out of work bum.

So I’m just sitting in the midday sun,
Just soaking up that currant bun
With no particular purpose or reason,
I’m sitting in the midday sun.

We finally get to meet Flash himself in the final song of Act 1, “Demolition,” which first extends the eminent domain theme of Muswell Hillbillies by describing the misuse of government power to destroy traditions (“A little thatched cottage looking so neat/With compulsory purchase we can buy it up cheap.”). Of course, the process is ridden with corruption and appropriately supported through legal flim-flam (“The deeds are in my pocket/I’ve got a contract in my hand”). The mantra “nothing’s permanent, nothing lasts” reveals the emptiness of the philosophy underlying the growth ethic of capitalism, and also hints at the obliviousness of Flash and his gang to the anger they are generating in the masses. This is where we first hear the anthemic theme expressing the desire to “build a brand new world of our own.” Ray Davies’ decision to use the same theme and similar lyrics for the coda of Mr. Black’s anthem in Act 2 (“Salvation Road”) was not due to laziness, but an echo of the sentiment expressed by Pete Townshend: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”

But we’re getting ahead of the story. I would say that Ray Davies did a fine job in Preservation Act 1 of establishing the primary themes and dramatic conflicts that serve as the foundation for the play. While there are some weaknesses in execution, and while the operetta form and conventions take some getting used to, his ability to translate the underlying rifts in the social structure into an engaging and entertaining musical experience is to be applauded.

Preservation Act 2

Act 2 begins with one of the news bulletins that Mr. Erlewine of AllMusic.com considered part of an “impenetrable jungle” in his scathing review of Preservation Act 2. There are indeed problems with Act 2, but the bulletins are not one of them. They provide economical and essential way stations for the listener to follow the unfolding plot.

In fact, Act 2 begins in a very promising manner. “When a Solution Comes” is a brilliantly constructed exposé of Mr. Black’s true motives and essential weirdness; when the reverse-strummed minor chord shifts the intensity from mild introspection to frightening darkness, it feels like we’re accompanying him in his dark descent into madness. The contrasting piece, “Money Talks” is equally effective, with its loose, sleazy feel perfectly capturing Flash’s fundamental cynicism, his greed-obsessed raison d’être and his arrogant blindness to his impending doom. The battle intensifies in another contrasting pair of songs, “Shepherds of the Nation” and “Scum of the Earth.” The former reveals the extent to which Mr. Black has turned this battle for power into a religious crusade, creepily reminiscent of themes in the Republican presidential debates and a foreshadowing of the dystopia Margaret Atwood would describe in A Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, Flash has to respond to the attacks, and he does so with a marvelously delivered modern-day version of Nixon’s “Checkers Speech.” Flash’s strategy differs from Nixon’s only in terms of device: Nixon shared details of his modest finances to convince the American people that he was a regular guy, whereas Flash tries to remind them that “good and evil exist in all of us,” something that The New Centurions of “Shepherds of the Nation,” with their reborn belief in their essential purity, would vehemently deny.

Ironically, where Act 2 begins to unravel is with one of the best musical performances of the play, “Second-Hand Car Spiv.” Structured and performed very much like a Brecht-Weill piece, with exciting splashes of female supporting vocals and rhythmic shifts, it’s the track on the album that demonstrates how effectively The Kinks have begun to master the essentials of the operetta format. So, if it’s so good, why is it a sign that things are about to collapse?

The reason is that at this point, Ray Davies found himself faced the same problem Milton faced in Paradise Lost, another work that features contrasting visions of heaven and hell (in Milton’s case, literally). The problem with Paradise Lost is the paradox that William Blake noted in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.

The exciting parts of that epic poem take place in hell; the heaven parts are as dull as Wonder Bread. That’s because Satan is a much more dynamic and fascinating character than a bunch of boring harp-playing angels. The Puritan Milton could not bring himself to red-pencil the boring parts, for to do so would have been an act of heresy. Ray Davies’ challenge was magnified because Preservation is, above all, a theatrical work. With a poem, a reader can just skip the dull parts; in a live play, you can’t have dull parts. Because Flash is far more colorful than the hopelessly colorless Mr. Black (note the costume Flash displays on the cover), Ray made the decision to tilt the rest of the play towards Flash. While that decision likely made for a more entertaining live performance (which the delightfully melodramatic “Flash’s Dream” clearly demonstrates), it also knocked the dramatic structure out of balance. The shift towards Flash also leads to an abundance of filler material that further weakens the forward movement of the story. “He’s Evil” repeats the message of “Here Comes Flash,” and the insertion of the character of Belle and the songs “Mirror of Love” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” amount to superfluous side tracks in terms of narrative development. By the time Mr. Black achieves his victory, we’ve almost forgotten about him; there are eleven tracks between his appearance in “Shepherds of the Nation” and his return in “Artificial Man” (where Dave Davies delivers the best vocal on the album, proof that he was quite capable of taking a more active role in the play). Because the tension in the plot has dissipated with the disappearance of a main character, Preservation Act 2 ends with a whimper instead of a bang.

Despite its structural difficulties, Preservation is certainly far more thematically coherent and richer in meaning than either of The Who’s rock operas. The themes of Preservation speak to us today, as we live in a time where the voices of the people are entirely lost in the noisy din of power struggles that consume the limited talents of our alleged leaders, and where the struggle between religious fundamentalism, capitalistic greed and free self-expression exists in many forms.

As imperfect as it is, there have been few artists in any genre as perceptive as Ray Davies regarding human society, and Preservation affirms those keen abilities.

42 responses

  1. Wow! Tour de Force!! Fantastic review of two challenging albums. I haven’t read every critical review out there of the Preservation records, but your review is absolutely spot on (I guarantee you over half of the reviewers out there did not listen to all of the songs on Act 2 even once!). I thought these albums, along with “Soap Opera” and “Schoolboys in Disgrace” were a lot of fun, especially live. Looking back, I can’t imagine considering the Kinks career without these albums. I’m particularly fond of “Schoolboys” and look forward to that review.

    I’d like to linger on Shepherds of the Nation a little longer; it is a truly weird song (both in subject matter and execution, it is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing), one I’m sure I will die before it is ever, ever played on the radio. You are so right about the Rick Santorum connection, which is pretty depressing considering “Shepherds” was written almost 40 years ago and was supposed to be (I thought) way over the top. Come to think of it, Santorum would make a great/creepy Mr. Black, and I would look forward every night to his disappearing in the second act! All in all, I think “Shepherds of the Nation” is probably the most unsettling song Ray Davies has ever written, especially when you consider that it is, among many other things, a strange violation of one of the Kinks’ best-loves songs, “The Village Green Preservation Society.”

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    1. Thank you very much! That was a nice message to read first thing in the morning! I completely agree about the disturbing nature of “Shepherds of the Nation”; it was the piece that really hit me in the gut when I was doing my study for this review. The Santorum crowd fervently believes that’s exactly what they are doing: protecting the nation against the evil pervs who are out to destroy their way of life (which includes anyone not like them). That’s what I meant in the comment about the “negative pole” of preservation; it can also mean a paranoid protectiveness about a very limited world view. Their certainty is terrifying, and that ugly energy had a lot to do with my decision to leave the States.

      As I have gone through the albums beginning with Face to Face, I have become more and more impressed with Ray Davies farsightedness in relation to social and cultural developments. I find it amazing that he perceived all this in the 1970’s as well, because I do think that’s when the rifts we’re experiencing today were first opened, in reaction to the permissive 60’s—although no one but Ray Davies saw that at the time. I mean, we’re talking serious socio-cultural-historical insight here!

      Needless to say, I violently disagree with the reviewer consensus about all three works from the theatrical period, and consider their reaction to these works a classic example of reviewer arrogance and flat-out laziness.

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      1. OK, three years on since these comments, things are getting curiouser and curiouser regarding Preservation and today’s political scene in the US. I am, of course referring to how Donald Trump is trying to become Mr. Flash while dispatching the latest Mr. Black, Ted Cruz. Yes, Trump/Flash is the more interesting character but I am confident all of us Tramps will see what we’d be getting ourselves into under Mr Flash before it is too late.

        I saw in a recent interview with Ray conducted by Mark Hamill (a big Kinks fan) that Ray definitely sees Flash in Trump and seems giddy but nervous about it:

        RD: Who is going to win the election? Donald Trump?

        MH: Oh my God. He is like Mr Flash [Ray Davies’ anti-hero on the Preservation LP series] on steroids.

        RD: Haha – that is what I think every time I see him.

        MH: I have faith in the American public. I believe if Trump gets the nomination he will lose in a landslide. I have to believe that or I can’t live there.

        RD: There is no character coming through who is an alternative to him in that party.

        MH: Ted Cruz is even more scary. I don’t think Trump has a true ideology. He can be malleable to whatever he thinks will make him successful. Cruz is a hard-edged ideologue and a right-wing religious fanatic to boot.

        RD: Wow, what a combination.

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        1. Ray really nailed that one, didn’t he? It’s all playing out right before our eyes. They’re both scary, but I agree with Hamill—Ted Cruz would turn the USA into the dystopian society of A Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve noticed that Trump is a little less scary to the French because they’ve seen the same thing when Berlusconi was in charge in Italy, but the general consensus is that the Americans are crazy. We have our own problems here with Marine Le Pen and her daughter playing the immigrant card, but at least one can understand how that happened. I don’t know how the fuck Trump got as far as he did—the man’a an idiot.

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          1. Yes, Trump is Berlusconi exactly! I feel the same way about Cruz as you and Hamill. He reminds me of Richard Nixon but without the warmth. I suppose we should thank Trump for driving him out. What I am trying to figure out is where the Democrats fit in the Preservation universe? The Republican have claimed both Flash and Black. Johnny Thunder/Bernie? Genevieve/Hillary?

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          2. I think Ray didn’t include the establishment politicians in the Preservation dynamics because he figured that the middle would become irrelevant in a crisis due to polarization. There’s also the fact that Wilson and Heath don’t appear to have been that inspiring and seemed half asleep to the crisis building in the country that led to the punk revolution (I’ve been studying that era in preparation for more Clash reviews). They were essentially enablers of Mr. Black and Flash.

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  2. Preservation is a brilliant piece – some amazing songs – listen to Nobody Gives. This work is all still current today!

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  3. You forgot to mention another song which also should have been a hit and could stand on it’s own. ‘No More Looking Back’, yes, i know it’s from another rock-opera, but you also mentioned ‘The Hard Way. Anyways I digress

    I found a few bootlegs in which Preservation was played, but sadly ‘Nobody Gives’ never seems to be played live… love the theatrically violins etc in it.

    ‘Shepherds of the Nation’ is sadly still relevant overhere with some demagogic political party’s trying to impose their rules of what is best imposed on the nation.

    Flash’s confession is hilarious and ofcourse another variant of Ray’s theme or anxiety touched by I’m Not Like Everybody Else, (A) Face In The Crowd and Misfits:
    “No one knew my name, i was just another face.”

    Ofcourse i disagree on the song Preservation, it quickly gives you an idea what the main theme of Preservation will be, especially you know then there will be a battle with an outcome. I then am looking forward to how it all will be elaborated on the album. And ofcourse i am a sucker for the lines:

    And it’s gonna get rough
    And it’s gonna get rough
    It’s a crime and a sin that no one can win
    In a story of self preservation

    Anyway, as usual, though not agreeing with all the statements, I liked your refreshing review.

    Cheers,
    Gerard

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    1. Thank you for your comments and points of disagreement! I think “No More Looking Back” is a worthy choice as well. “Nobody Gives” is a song I hear constantly … not on the album, but through the voices of the people I know. It’s that “WTF is going on in this country” message, though The Tramp articulates it better.

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  4. I like very much your review. My expierence with these albums is the following. A friend gave me Preservation I when the album came out. He felt awful. At that moment he heard progresive rock and authors like Penderecki, Zappa… Instead, I opined that it was a great work, first because the theme was consistent with my eco-socialist ideology. The Club of Rome had released the study report “Beyond the Limits to Growth”. We were unhappy with the system, because of its social and environmental impacts. The Kinks were at the forefront of environmentalism in the world of music, no doubt. They aren`t only ecologist o conservanist, they are ambientalist beacuse they make the relationship among individual, society, state and nature, with an structural view. The second reason why I greatly appreciated these works of the Kinks, is because I heard from my childhood works of Music Hall (Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, South Pacific, etc). But I was also a rocker at heart and I felt great the relationship between rock and music hall.
    When I hear the song Morning Song reminds me of Oliver Hardy interpretation of Lazy Moon.

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    1. You’re one of the few people who see that connection between rock and music hall, but it was a perfect marriage for what Ray was trying to do here. He needed to look to other forms beyond rock to communicate the message. I also agree with you about Ray’s holistic and integrated view of the structure; he’s not a one-issue guy, but he sees very clearly how becoming fixated on dogma like “growth is good” and “everybody needs an education” can have disastrous effects. Thank you for your insight!

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  5. Excellent review and probably the best, most balanced one I’ve read relating to these albums which seem to split Kinks fans down the middle.

    I bought them both at the same time on CD in 1999 and I’ll be honest, I was dreading listening to them because their reputation was not good and that whole era shunned as being a creative wasteland for The Kinks not helped by Ray’s flippant “I should not had been allowed to make records during that era” remark… I listened and was pleasantly surprised.

    Act 1, is in my top 3 all time fave Kinks albums. I absolutely adore it. It holds together well and I think the writing is superb. Nice contrasts in music… just a joy from start to finish. I was shocked. I was baffled as to why people actively hate that album – I find the Arista era hard going and think “Phobia” was actually their strongest album in the last 15 years of their life… so you can tell straight away I’m a bit of an unusual one when it comes to The Kinks!

    Act 2 however… well… it has it’s moments but overstays its welcome and I could never quite put my finger on how and why it lost it’s way. You have actually managed to highlight and pinpoint the problem perfectly – that shift in focus solely onto Flash for a lengthy chunk of the album. I do love “Nothing Lasts Forever” and “Where Oh Where Is Love?” – lovely songs even if they are a little out of place. The “Spiv” song I know for a fact was the one that baffled American listeners when it came out since they had absolutely no idea what a spiv was, so that was the typical Ray Davies Englishness coming to the fore there. Sadly Act 2 is way overlong. Ray needed an editor or his brother to weed out the weaker parts, compact it into something shorter and stronger but… Ray was reveling in total creative freedom so wasn’t gonna let anybody stand in his way.

    40 years on… well… the albums do cover much interesting ground. The Kinks were probably the first band in rock history to express concerns on environmental issues so that’s covered a fair bit across these albums, not to mention the dreaded political angles – the message ultimately being that politics is about nothing but sheer hypocrisy as the UK “Coalition” disaster keeps proving a thousandfold to devastating effect. Ultimately, nobody wins in “Preservation” – everybody loses and this is precisely the problem we Brits are currently finding ourselves trapped in.

    The saddest thing is none of the live shows were ever professionally filmed since from various accounts, it was a fascinating production and spectacle I know I would had loved. Had one been filmed and made available, maybe this era would be better thought of. I also wish Ray would re-evaluate this era and resurrect a song or two from it for his live shows – I really dislike him messing around with the choir : I used to be in a choir and being reduced to singalongaRay duties on most songs is depressing to hear… I could come up with more imaginative arrangements that would add something new to those old songs. Come on Ray… there’s some great songs on these albums true Ray fans I’m sure would be thrilled to hear you play again even as one offs.

    I’ve been defending the “Preservation” albums since I first listened to them and will continue to do so for the rest of my days. Sure, Act 2 is heavy going and I can understand why people would feel alienated by it, but Act 1 is Klassic Kinks if one puts aside what is usually regarded as “classic Kinks” and accept that Ray was trying to create something different and theatrical.

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    1. Excellent points! I think so many countries today are in a no-win situation because what the political structure offers us in the way of leaders and ideas has nothing to do with what the people need or want. They don’t really listen; they look for snippets they can use as slogans to package their agendas to placate the people, but I think people are getting very wise to this. I hope so. I’m so happy to find a fellow Preservation defender!

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  6. I saw Preservation in 1973 or 1974 in Springfield Mass. It was the first time I saw the Kinks, and I was absolutely blown away by their in your face power. The rock opera was a lot of fun, and very coherent. I have always loved Preservation, Part II, and like Thomas Kitts, see it as one of my most favorite Kinks albums. The emotionality of the songs I have found very moving.

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    1. I envy you and everyone else who was able to see it live. My father thought it was one of the best concerts he’d ever seen and said he’d never had a rock band command his total attention in the way The Kinks did during Preservation. Thank you!

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  7. Thank you for an excellent review. I was lucky to have seen the Kinks perform Preservation during their tour many moons ago. It was pure theater and took guts to break away from the normal rock show. Your review brought back some great memories and clarity to the cast of characters and theme of the albums. I recently purchased the re-mastered versions and give them plenty of air time. Preservation was way ahead of its time and it would love to see Ray brought it back to stage.
    Keep up the good work!

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    1. You are so lucky to have seen this live and I appreciate your mention of courage. People don’t appreciate how vulnerable artists are when they try something new, and this was definitely against the trends of the time. Thank you!

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  8. Great review! Right on target indeed. You have understood and expressed totally and beautifully the flawed masterpiece that is Preservation, the fact of Ray Davies being creative and not-like-everybody-else individualist to a fault, as well as the creative artist’s dilemma: if he/she maintainsnhis/her regular style the fan will say “blah, more of the same”, but if he/she ventures into new ground the fan will say “he/she’s not the one I used to love” and look for someone else who imitates the artist’s old style, even if not too well.

    Preservation is most recommended to pop music fans who love to be taken by surprise. Who else at the time could merge rock with and music hall, operetta (behold the ending of “Here Come Flash” where the typically opera-like brass fanfare is joined by an electric guitar chord!), Brecht & Weill, bossa nova, country & western, a cappella chorus and pre-rock pop? Frank Zappa did something similar in Joe’s Garage (an indictment of the government and totalitarism in three LPs or two CDs), but… Zappa may have much formal musical training, technically he may have been Davies, Dylan, Vai, George Martin, Varèse all rolled into one, and it didn’t keep Joe’s Garage from being musically less diverse (and a good deal of it is solos and more solos) and lyrically less human (since the 1970s Zappa did his best to turn locker room humour into High Art). But you display enough musical knowledge to know what you’re talking about – how many record reviewers, apart from you and me, know what the heck is a “reverse-strummed minor chord”?

    I have but two remarks to your review. The song “Preservation” was originally released only as a single B-side, as some kind of trailer to the album (I love the “Preservation For Dummies” tag) and was not meant to be on the albums; it’s welcome as a bonus on the CDs and as such can be skipped. And “general consensus” is a pleonasm – a consensus is general by definition! “General consensus” is like “prerequisite”, since all requisite is “pre” already. But enough nit-picking, you are to be commended once more for really listening to the music, without prejudices, too much vitriol (usually just a pinch is enough) or (blah again) nostalgia. Reading reviews like yours is Salvation Road indeed.

    Cheerio,

    Ayrton

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    1. Thank you! I will avoid being “pleonastic” in the future! I love that kind of feedback.
      You brought up a point that has been troubling me lately, though: the question of how much technical musical knowledge to bring into a review. The reason why it’s coming up is I’m about to tackle some Miles Davis and John Coltrane works, and I think part of the reason why jazz has remained so inaccessible to people is that jazz reviewers focus exclusively on the complex techniques and theories behind jazz rather than the listening experience. Even though I’ve had sufficient musical training to understand what they’re talking about, I find it as boring as the average reader. I try to refrain from references to music theory or revert to using technical phrases, but there are times it’s impossible, like when I complimented Sugar Stems’ lead singer for her ability to do “descending glissandi.” I didn’t know what else to call it! I think part of the reason I want to do Miles and Coltrane is the challenge of making sense out of their music without coming across as a music snob.

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      1. Well, to me your mention of the reverse-strummed minor chord was one of the charms of your review! I think your display of technical knowledge was just right, you showed you know something about music without being snob, at at the same time you showed to the snobs you can tell a bass from a broom. The average person should learn (or be taught) what a “descending glissando” or a “reverse-strummed minor chord” is from the earliest childhood… These are elementary music notions after all…
        But, as much as I think that such knowledge i desirable, I think that to review popular music one does not need to be able to tell a quarter-note from a crochet; sensitivity, a good ear and absence of prejudice is enough – your method of listening to each record thrice is a thing I recommend to everyone regardless of any musical knowledge he/she may or may not have. As Captain Beefheart said, “if you gotta ears you gotta listen”. This goes for jazz too, however complex: one must be able to tell if the player has played too many notes, the singer has made any effort to remember the melody or the band has played the game famous as “first-one-to-reach-the-chorus-wins-the-solo” – in short, one must be able to give the reader a notion of what’s happening. (To review “long hair music” – that’s classical music to you youngsters – is another matter, much knowledge is needed.)
        (I just remembered reading that Ray Davies said one of his influences for writing “You Really Got Me” was a jazz record called “The Train And The River”; I looked up for it and, indeed, the insistent rhythm of the Kinks song is already there. As the saying goes, if you trade material objects with someone, you give one and ends up with one, whereas when trading ideas you give one and ends up with two…)
        Of course, knowledge without snobbing is always welcome; as Brazilian writer and translator Péricles Eugênio da Silva Ramos (one of our best Shakespeare translators, and I’m honoured to have had him as one of my professors at college), “a journalist doesn’t have to be necessarily an ignoramus”.
        And congratulations again! Don’t be afraid to display the adequate musical knowledge any more than Ray Davies was afraid to present Brecht & Weill and dixieland to an audience thirsty for power chords and rock and roll singalongs and unable to tell new-planted trees in the same old wood.
        By the way, how many readers will be able to tell a quarter-note from a crochet? Should you let our readers in? Heh heh heh ;^)

        Cheerio,

        Ayrton

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        1. I don’t think I want to go there with crochets . . . I think I’d lose half my readers by starting the explanation with an overview of time signatures. Most rock musicians and fans are aurally-oriented and have no interest in music theory. But when I tried to explain a glissando in layman’s terms, my explanation was a paragraph long, so I said, “Screw it. They can look it up.” I keep thinking about a segment of the Miles Davis special on the BBC where he was having problems understanding where Dizzy Gillespie found a particular note he was using in a be-bop solo, and Dizzy told him to learn piano so he could “see” the whole spectrum of possibilities. I think using imagery like that will work with some jazz, but I agree, classical is a different story. Unfortunately, I want to begin with “Sketches of Spain,” which is a bit of both! Wish me luck!

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          1. Mazel Tov, then! And Miles or Dizzy, supernusicans as they were, may have had problems in explaining about a certain note, but then you’re a word-handler and shouldn’t have that much trouble in summing it up clearly and not taking too much space. You don’t have to be a Carol Kaye or a Carla Bley… All you have to do is pay attention and avoid crass mistakes committed by well-meaning people, like calling the Kinks” “Misfits” a “minor-key ballad” (which it isn’t) just because it’s slow and wistful.

            Obviously, too much didatism may get boring and annoying, you don’t have to explain that a glissando is, if a reader doesn’t know he/she can look it up elsewhere. But it’s very nice to season reviews with brief comments like these about reverse-strummed chords and descendant glissandi, as well as trivia like (to keep kwoting the Kinks) “Strangers” being in 5/4 time, “Mr. Churchill Says” borrowing from the Animals’ “I’m Crying” (which in turn borrows from “Wake Up Little Susie”), “This Man He Weeps Tonight” having one of its stereo channels missing in its first issue on CD… well, you get my drift. Et Bonne Chance!

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          2. Oops, I meant “didacticism”, and only realised the mistake after sending my comment… You see I’m very hard on myself, and not being a native English speaker is no excuse, heh heh.

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  9. I just want to tell you that I am really impressed with your writing. It’s clear, interesting, has a point to it (a thread that leads without boring), and you tackled a set of albums which I’d be a bit hesitant to describe for fear of not being able to do it cogently. Beautifully done! By the way I saw a production of this ten or twelve years ago in Boston. Hopefully you will quit whatever nonsense you are doing with your life and become a writer!

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    1. Thank you! Sometimes writing flows so easily, sometimes not, so I’m thrilled to receive such encouragement! I’d leave my job in a New York minute if I could do research and write all day about the things that matter. I’m curious, though—what production did you see? Did a theatre company or a music troupe decide to stage Preservation? I’ve heard rumors about that happening but nothing definitive has crossed my radar.

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      1. It was a theater company who decided to do it, and I understand Ray came to a couple of the rehearsals. But who knows how much input he had in the production. If I remember right it was a theater company who tended to do rock musicals. But I can’t remember the name, it was in 97 I think.

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        1. That is fabulous! “I visualize a day when . . . people will attend high school productions of Preservation all across America.” Better yet, Schoolboys in Disgrace!

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  10. Luut Boonstra | Reply

    Thank you for your review of Preservation! There have been so many that viewed the theatrical period of the Kinks as selfindulgence.Your review is necessarily of the Preservation albums, but also incorporate the notion of them being staged, which does the project justice. I applaud you for that!
    Ray , I know, has stated that he should not have been allowed to record during this period, but I can’t help think that he had theatrics in mind at the time.
    Everybody’s in Showbizz was intended as a multimedia project, but RCA said they were a recording company and not into entertainment. So the film part fell through.
    Likewise, expanding ‘Village Green’ for stage, seems to go back to 1973’s Fanfare for Europe concert series, which I understand to have been commissioned, in relation to the E.U.
    This, too, was a multimedia endeavour, with a backdrop for movie footage and photos,during the premiere of “Where are they now”. (Thomas Kitts, page 167/168).
    Maybe the concept of Preservation was envisioned primarily for stage, and with no real funding, necessarily of an off- off Broadway nature, with Ray stating that he wanted to make his statement as simple as possible. Also, Ray has referred to these concerts to those who missed them, as missing out on a fun experience.
    With the Preservation tours, the focus was on more than just the music, I have been told.The shows incorporated film footage and photos, and it would be interesting to see if this was any deciding factor on songs staged and/or recorded.What may have worked on stage in a multimedia,vaudeville setting, may impact differently on record.
    I am sure Ray’s ambitions were serious in what he had to say politically, as an auteur, but the message was ‘couched’ in a lighter approach musically and stage-wise.

    Best regards, Luut Boonstra

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    1. Great comments! I have never understood the self-indulgence charge in relation to these works. When I think self-indulgence, I think of John Lennon writing song after song about Yoko. I don’t know how a tremendous artistic risk with questionable commercial potential can be considered self-indulgent. I think the greater issue was record company interference with the artistic vision; I know it happens to nearly every artist, but it was particularly brutal with The Kinks.

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      1. >When I think self-indulgence, I think of John Lennon writing song after song about Yoko.<

        Not to mention Frank Zappa releasing every year 12 double albums of guitar solos and dirty jokes…

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  11. After a lifetime of listening to Ray Davies, I remain in awe of his talent. Your intensely thoughtful reviews have given me new insights into the music I love, thank you. As for these 3 records, I believe you’ve left out a bit; the backstory that is The Village Green Preservation Society . . . I have always felt this was Ray’s monumental 4-album masterpiece.

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  12. […] Classic Music Review: Preservation by The Kinks (Acts 1 and 2) (altrockchick.com) […]

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  13. […] Preservation (Acts 1 and 2) […]

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  14. Once again, I love your review!!! I agree with many others here who say that you reviewed it fairly and honestly as opposed to most reviews who are probably influenced by what other reviewers say or what they general consensus is. To be completely honest, I ignored a lot of the 70’s “concept” album stuff for a long time because I had heard that it was dull, uninspired, bloated etc etc etc. Even friends of mine who were Kinks fans told me that it wasn’t too great. I found a vinyl copy of Act 1 at a yard sale and bought it, but still never listened to it for months. When I finally did listen to it, I was impressed. I then ordered a vinyl copy of Act 2 off ebay and while waiting for that, listened to Act 1 many times. When Act 2 arrived, I wasn’t as impressed as I was with Act 1, but still liked the story aspect and after listening to it many more times, I have found songs on it that I think are great. Personally, I love a lot of the stuff on Act 1, and while the music is not as commanding on Act 2 (as you said, he has a story to get out and some of the songs suffer because of it), it is still a fascinating listen and does have some great songs.

    One thing that I find really interesting about the difference between 1 and 2 is the sound quality. I know that 1 was rushed due to RCA’s insistence to get product out, but Act 2 is much cleaner and fuller sounding. The drums and bass are crystal clean and smack you like no other Kinks recording up until then ever did. The mix is clean and you can really hear the different instruments and voices plainly. Pretty much all of the other Kinks albums were not recorded terribly well, especially when compared to the recordings of their contemporaries (as you mentioned in your review of Village Green Preservation Society). Act 2 is really the first excellent quality “modern recording” (as in comparable to other recordings of the same era) that they did, and it helps greatly. I suspect that if the recording quality for Act 2 was similar to Act 1, this would be a much more tedious listen than the critics tell us it is. I recently listened to these albums again (on vinyl) and when I put on Act 2 after Act 1, it was like a completely different band and sounded like it was recorded a few years after part 1, not a few months. To my ears, that is the only fault of Act 1; the muddy recording/mix quality.

    Despite what Ray says about his 70’s output, read his “semi-autobiography” X-Ray, where he mentions the Preservation albums and story a few times. He was obviously very fond of it and believed in it, and was obviously very hurt when it was not a success. Maybe it’s a bit of both – very proud of it one day and the next dismissive of the whole era. Like you mentioned, Lennon was another that had a habit of changing his opinions all the time depending on what mood he was in.

    And I love the fact that you commented on the Village Green connection other than Johnny Thunder making an appearance in both. I have always thought that it was a “trilogy” -with 4 actual lp’s- (of course, the word ‘Preservation’ in all albums was a bit of a giveaway), but in X-Ray he confirms that they were all supposed to be connected.

    Another thing that I appreciate that other people find annoying is the announcer. Obviously we needed a narrator to fill in the blanks, but I love the fact that the whole thing is a radio broadcast and it really feels as if we are listening to the radio. Plus, the last announcement the guy makes on the album is hilarious as he starts listing off all the bans, curfews and new regulations in a voice that makes it seem like it’s progress but is really the same story with a different name. I love the whole idea and performance of the announcer, while most people find it fairly annoying.

    And unlike most critics, I think that there are some great songs on both albums. I love “Daylight”, “Sweet Lady Genevieve”, “Where Are They Now?” (I always think of the Kinks themselves when I hear that), “One Of The Survivors” and “Sitting In The Midday Sun” off Act 1. Off Act 2 I love “When A Solution Comes”, “Money Talks”, “Shepherds Of The Nation” which as one of the others commented is a disturbing piece, but is funny too. And what a great arrangement and completely unexpected to have this long A Capella section with Ray doing all these opera voices. It still astounds me. “He’s Evil” is great, both versions of “Mirror Of Love” (the single version on the cd and the original album version), “Nobody Gives” and “Artificial Man” which I think is a fantastic groove. In fact, “Artificial Man” could be my favorite song from both Acts.

    I’m not a huge fan of the concept albums that followed: “Soap Opera” or “Schoolboys” although there is a hilarious tv version of “Soap Opera” floating around with Ray starring and the Kinks as the backup band. The Arista albums as someone mentioned is competent rock with a couple of decent songs on each (although “Give The People What They Want” is one of my favorite Kinks albums). However, I do think that the Preservation Act set is tragically underrated and I wanted to put my 2 cents worth in. Thanks for your always insightful reviews!!!!!

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    1. Excellent point about the difference in sound quality. I think they were going for a more pastoral sound in Act I, but I wish they would have relaxed that dogma for “One of the Survivors,” which could have used the brighter, fuller sound of “Money Talks.”

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      1. I think the answer to this one is that they fully moved into Konk Studios between Acts One and Two. You certainly can hear the difference.

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  15. Great review, it made me listen more carefully to the albums and I am really liking them much more. I think the only major problem is that there should have been some editing to make the disc a double album only centered on the story. This would leave out some awesome songs like Genevieve which don’t really bring anything and make the story drag on in the first act.

    With my MP3 library, I have made a Preservation in Concert playlist and it flows much better to my ears. I based it on the 1974 Kinks shows. People can see an example here:

    http://www.discogs.com/Kinks-Stage-Preservation-Too-Live-At-Palace-Theatre-Albany-New-York-November-24-1974/release/3838701

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    1. Thank you! I sent the link to the playlist with my dad (who saw the show live in San Francisco) and he said, “Yep, that was it.” It does have the virtue of narrative cohesion. I’d always imagined Act 1 more cinematically with Morning Song playing over scenes of the rising sun shot at a high angle, then zooming to the figure of The Tramp in the village green where he sings Genevieve, establishing life-as-normal. For that to work, though, he would have to be make more frequent appearances throughout the film.

      Fun to speculate! Maybe in the future a more perceptive culture will turn all of the theatrical period into works for stage and film.

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  16. First of all PRESERVATION comment that the work is a masterpiece. For me the Act 2 by creativity and how different the rest of the Kinks albumnes seems to me quite ingenious. Those wonderful string quartets, brass sounds wonderful, wonderful female vocals and including duets with Ray and complexity in the organ. Melodically for his theatrical variety (pop / rock / music hall / vaudeville / cabaret …) with an aesthetic very clean and very elegant in all subjects of the album production. I’m sick of reading that is bad, mediocre. DEFEND it is always work because it is huge and the best plays of pop that have been made. Preservations love and especially Preservation Act 2 !!!!

    Preservation Act 2
    Second part of the misunderstood and undervalued project “Preservation”, released as a double album where the songs with short excerpts of a narrator (Chris Timothy) telling the story devised by the genius Ray Davies are interleaved.

    “Preservation Act 2” is closer to the original idea of ​​Davies for the project that the first installment, reason for the greater amount of material here included.

    Although as far as quality is concerned the two discs are very even, in this second part of the endless talent of Ray emerges in excellent songs that move between pop, rock and vaudeville and brimming wit in a tremendously imaginative textures and complex, always accompanied by a remarkable texts and an innate sense of rhythm and melody.

    All this is reflected in prodigious compositions like “When a solution you eat”, “Money talks”, “Scum of the earth”, “Second-hand car SPIU” “He’s evil”, “Mirror of love” (pure cabaret) “Nobody Gives”, “Salvation road” or “Oh Where oh where is love?”, a beautiful song performed as a duet with Marianne Price, which is repeated in “Nothing last forever” and the great mini-suite “Artificial Man “(great song).
    ————————————————– ———————————
    Preservation Act 1
    One of the most ambitious projects of Ray Davies of The Kinks front. Dosed in two parts, Davies presents this first installment with its usual riot of musical and lyrical lucidity, building powerful rock songs such as “One of the survivors”, “Here Comes Flash” or “Demolition”, all enhanced by a great section metal that is present in almost all the album.

    In it, also they include more gentle songs that ooze great class, style “Daylight”, “There’s a change in the weather” (a topic of complex structure) or “Where are they now”. Your loved and succored music-hall sound is the foundation of the beautiful “Cricket”.

    The compositional culmination within a remarkable set are extraordinary “Sweet Lady Genevieve”, “Money and corruption / I am your man” and “Sitting in the midday sun,” three gems squeezing the most of the artistic wealth of the great Ray Davies.
    Traductor de Google para empresas:Google Translator ToolkitTraductor de sitios webGlobal Market Finder

    Possibly the one of the most underrated and misunderstood works of the pop world.

    For me Muswell Hillbilly and Preservation Act 2 are the two best albumnes far from his RCA stage. I LOVE PRESERVATION 1973 & 1974

    by Betiko

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  17. Preservation en su totalidad es la obra magistral de los setenta de los The Kinks y en parte de la década a pesar estar subestimada. Es una obra muy variada con todo tipo de sonidos con brillantes melodías. Ray Davies cambió el rumbo sin tener que volver ha hacer algo que ya había hecho en los sesenta. Aquí nos muestra a un Davies mas al estilo musical-broadway con una obra incluso mas elaboradas que las anteriores, pese a que las canciones no suenen a Hit como pueda ser Lola, Waterloo Sunset, Days ect… Como he comentado Ray no buscaba crear Hit, ni canciones sueltas sino de un conjunto de canciones que sonora a una Obra pero sin perder brillantez en sus melodías. Por Ultimo comentar que esta Obra y especialmente el Preservation Act 2 ray davies culminó su punto mas alto como en los años setenta. Preservation Act 2, es un plato que requiere una digestión lenta y reposada, para que finalmente puedas advertir su auténtico sabor y descubrir los motivos por los que, en efecto, se trata de una obra maestra. Si eres un fan de los últimos Kinks y no se atreven a recoger este álbum debido a las críticas negativas, dejar de preocuparse y recogerlo. Se le gratamente sorprendido. Y aunque no esté considerado, se trata de una de las grande obras musicales mas grandes de la historia del Pop.

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    1. Concuerdo completamente. La preservación es una obra de valor artístico profundamente subestimada. ¡Gracias!

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