The Kinks, Preservation Act 2
I've always thoroughly distrusted the entire concept of 'rock operas' or story albums, and little that has been recorded, including Tommy and Quadrophrenia, has done much to change my mind. It always appeared that The Who, Bowie, or whoever was attempting the rock opera, ended up sacrificing the musical dynamnics that define their basic sound structure, giving the fans a diluted bland effort with a weak storyline. The Kinks themselves have put together excellent concept LPs, such as Arthur, but none of them really qualify as 'rock operas.'
The two records that make up Preservation Act2, along with the earlier released, single LP companion, Act 1, are however, a different story. If anything, the complete Preservation extends the borders of the Krazy Kinks sound a trifle, while retaining the basic punch, intelligence, and humor that has always been the crux of the group's barroom rockin' music.
Besides, the three records tell a story of far more interest and import thatn any previous rock opera. Act 1 sets the scene, describing two of its three main characters - Flash, a capitalist baron, and the Tramp, and outside commentator - and laying the 'sick' societal basis for the emergence of its third - Mr. Black, a puritanical, utopian Socialist. England, of course, is the country involved, and Act 1 ends with Flash outlining his plans to take over the government and to destroy villages for fun and profit.
Act 2 opens with the announcement that Mr. Black is massing his people's army to challenge Flash, who now does control the government, and from that point, the songs and ensuing announcements trace the struggle between the pair until, on the last side, the old government has been supplanted. Mr. Black wins followers with chants of "Down with sex and sin", while Mr. Flash sits around outlining his powers, and we're spared any actual battlefront gibberish. The wise Tramp, meanwhile, continues his non- partisan calls for sanity as he recounts historical precedents.
There are no unrelated sidetips, as there are in Act 1, and the characters of the two featured protagonists are developed beautifully. We even witness a tug of war between Flash and his soul on "Flash's Dream (The Final Elbow)" that results in a confession of his sins in the next song, and later we garner insight into Mr. Black's dream of a perfect, albeit artificial, world manned by automatons.
Wonderful outlook, isn't it? Yet Kinks leader Ray Davies has managed to insert the biggest tongue imaginable in Act 2's cheek. Everything is done, or should I say overdone, in such a wonderously theatrical fashion that, as heavy as the theme is, it's hard to take too seriously. Ray's vocals are so mannered and/or contorted, depending on the song and the character he's portraying, that they're often quite funny. And the girlie chorus that backs Ray (led now by official Kink Laurie Brown), along with taking complete charge of sundry members (a Kink first), provides the perfect foil for the warbling of everyone's favorite drunk, and adds just the right amount of vocal variety to make the two records go down easy at one sitting, with all the intended satire and meaning hitting its bullseye on second listening.
The new double LP marks the final arrival of Ray's vision as the dominant force of the band. Even the vocalizing of Laurie and her friends, although distinct, mirrors Ray's screwy crooning; and then there are the album's concept, general ambience, song (all of them), and production that all can be credited to R. Davies. In fact, the slight exception that proves the new' rule is the crashing rocker "Money Talks," wherein Ray commands your attention throughout (through the power of studio mixing), even though brother Dave Davies' careening guitar and the band are bashing about in a most frantic manner. In the past, the music would've dominated the vocals, but not anymore.
To some, Rays complete dominance might be a signal of an internal weakening of the band - they were a band's band for their entire early period - and it may well be that the group's unity is slipping, or that their leader is preparing to go solo. But whether Act 2 is the work of a disintegrating group, or an anticipation of things to come from R. Davies as a solo, it completes the first thoroughly successful and listenable "rock opera," and taken a song or a side at a time, or as an entity, The Kinks latest is a delight.
Andy McKaie, Date and publication unknown