“It has honour, it has character and it’s British!”
To see Ray Davies getting interested in theatre and trying to incorporate it into his music, is not an exactly out-of-the-blue move like it may seem. Just think about it, the man’s lyrics were always full of little character sketches, be it the restless “dedicated follower of fashion”, the long-lost childhood friend “Walter” or “Arthur”, the plain simple man in a plain simple working class position. But the main difference, and the point that Ray completely missed this time, is that all of those character stories were approached with a strong sense of melody, wit, humour and, if you’ll excuse my poor choice of words, rational sense. What I mean with the latter is that Ray’s little reality-reflecting persons actually meant something – usually a social comment, or sometimes just a little platform for the listener to resonate.
But, unfortunately, ‘Preservation Act 1’ has none of those. Even more, it’s such a confused and random mess that it’ll leave even the biggest Kinks fans of all scratching their heads. Characters keep coming in and going out, but you never once get their particular meaning or role. And most of the time, they’re simply forgettable, due to an almost-too-hard-to-believe neglect of strong musical ideas to back them up. What happened to the Master of the Vocal Hooks? Where’s the band that once proved us that they can both rock and write emotional ballads?
And the biggest question of them all: why the hell does the album start with ‘Morning Song’? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that bad for what it is – a background atmospheric wordless piece – but what exactly is its reason of existence? What’s it supposed to mean? And then things just keep getting more and more confusing. ‘There’s A Change In The Weather’ tries to be funny, but ends up being more silly and annoying than anything. Then there’s ‘Where Are They Now’, a perfect example of how not to write a piece of nostalgia: Ray keeps dropping famous names, but the melody is simply not memorable enough and way too draggy to get any kind of mood/feeling going on.
When things get a bit more “rockier”, they’re just as bad and bland – both ‘Here Comes Flash’ and ‘Demolition’ will leave your head the second they’re over. The high-pitched “demolitoooon” parts sung by the female choir in the latter in particular are so horrible, that it’s hard to believe the band actually took this stuff seriously. The worst song of them all though, is ‘One Of The Survivors’ – a totally unnecessary Ray-penned-character revival fully equipped with out-of-place, rough prog rock-influenced horn sections. And when put next to next with ‘Johnny Thunder’– the survivor they’re talking about – well…let’s just say that the “now vs then” contrast speaks for itself.
What about highlights? Well, I guess ‘Sweet Lady Genevieve’ should take that spot, even though I’m not sure if it’s based on the merits of the song itself, or just the fact that it’s surrounded by shit? Anyhow, it’s a nice enough ballad with an actual memorable bitter-sweet melody. One small complaint though, I’ve always thought it would have worked better as a completely acoustic track, as the electric guitar virtually adds nothing to it, nor does it really fit the mood. Also worth of mention are ‘Cricket’ – which sounds like a Muswell Hillbillies outtake (that’s actually a compliment) and is somehow charming, in a goofy English kind of way, and ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’ – nothing but a retreat of the classic ‘Sunny Afternoon’ thematically, but sort of uhm…pleasant, I guess.
Phew, I’m really struggling here. Can’t believe I actually managed to say something positive about 3 of the songs, while I’m still having a hard time picking a favourite from the great, underrated, last year’s ‘Everybody’s In Show-Biz’. This is by far the worst album-to-album quality drop you’ll ever encounter in the Kinks discography. So why not give it an even lower mark? Well, to use a metaphor, this album is not so offensive to the ears, as it is to the brain. None of it is unlistenably bad. But most of it is just generic, tuneless, boring and uninteresting. And this is The Kinks we’re talking about after all, a band that was never ever associated with any of those adjectives before.
Categories: Album Reviews