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Five for Friday: The Kinks and the Village Green Legacy

The melodicism and everyday approachability of the Kinks has shaped modern Britpop. Chief songwriter Ray Davies possessed an innate ability to create great drama out of the mundane – an observant attention to detail that finds oddness where others see ordinary. Such craft has influenced everyone from Blur to Green Day, artists who can turn everyday trivialities into grand statements about modern life. No Kinks album does this better than Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, a concept record alternately about the dangers of nostalgia, the pressures of contemporary living, and what it means to unplug and run away to the countryside. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the album is newly reissued on a remastered LP while a deluxe box set commemorates the occasion with 174 tracks. Here are five of our favorites.

"Animal Farm"
Folksy, loose, and seemingly full of whimsy, "Animal Farm" feels like something of a thesis for Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Playfulness abounds, but there's an underlying sense of grown-up unease. "This world is big and wild and half insane," is Ray Davies' opening declaration, which he follows with a request to "take me where real animals are playing." The lines immediately make clear the song's metaphor – we're all animals – and only among cats, dogs, pigs, and goats are humans civil. The hurried strumming teems with yearning, a spritely piano keeps everything cheerful, and a mellotron, impersonating a string section, adds a tinge of weirdness in a timeless quest to escape the headaches of everyday life.

"Phenomenal Cat"
On the surface, "Phenomenal Cat" is a song for cat lovers. But dig deeper, and the fairytale-like tune, which creates flute-inspired sounds with a mellotron, presents a cynic's take on the meaning of life. We're introduced to a feline who found a way to escape a world filed with "idiot boys," a place that left him little to do other than wallow all day. After spending time travelling, the globe-trotting cat settled into a tree and got fat. But it's difficult to tell if Davies envies the animal or looks down upon him. After all, the airy and flighty nature of the track, complete with Ray's brother Dave Davies ridiculously imitating a cat, comes across as a pastel-toned getaway to a magical place. "Fum, fum, diddle-um di," the cat sings. It's hard for anyone weighed down by modern responsibilities to feel anything but jealously.

"Starstruck"
Of all the songs on Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, none feel as ageless as "Starstruck." While the title telegraphs the message, Ray Davies treats an obsession with fame, money, and fashion as a tragedy. "Watch out or else you'll be ruined," he sings, a warning to those who traded their roots for the allure of the big city. As "Starstruck" shifts locations from the idyllic country to the hustle of urban life, the song fits into the album's overarching theme by viewing the city with weary skepticism. Musically, the track proves as catchy as a jingle, with give-and-take vocals and a sing-along chorus accentuated by handclaps. Despite the dire nature of the lyrics, Davies sings in a comforting tone as the surrounding electronics mimic an orchestra.

"Do You Remember Walter?"
Upbeat and slightly aggressive, "Do You Remember Walter?" delivers nostalgia with a punch. With its trotting piano and steadfast albeit lush guitars, the song feels like a template for Blur's Parklife and much of the work of Belle and Sebastian. And while Davies' lyrics are rather direct, they come with plenty of complexity beneath their straightforward manner. This is a tune for reflecting on the ways in which people can come in and out of our lives, and how someone with which we lose touch, no matter how briefly, can forever drift within our orbit. As Davies misses the reckless days of his youth and the us-against-the-world-belief he and Walter once possessed, the realities of getting older smack him out of his dream state. "I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past 8," he sings, observing the way in which life turns aspirations into memories.

"All My Friends Were There"
One of the loneliest songs ever written, "All My Friends Were There" resonates for its ability to capture a sensation of not fitting in, alternating the feeling of being alone in a crowd with that of wanting to fade into anonymity. It starts out silly, with a bright groove and buoyant sing-speak vocals. Davies begins by telling a tale of drinking too much and embarrassing himself among his friends. The remaining verses deal with the shame of the aftermath. "All my friends were there to stand and stare," Davies sings as the protagonist stresses over a shameful moment to the extent it paralyzes him. Eventually, Davies comes to the conclusion his friends have moved on from the incident. "I can go back to normal again," he sings. But the line isn't exactly comforting. While everyone may succumb to occasional narcissism, the realization that no one really cared can prove more defeating that any perceived public humiliation.

October 26, 2018

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