Friday, March 20, 2020

Kinks 18: Preservation Act 2

The hollow promise of Preservation Act 1 wasn’t very encouraging, but those still keen to see it through had to wait only about six months until Preservation Act 2 presented the story proper over four sides. This was more of an original cast recording, complete with radio-style announcements appearing here and there to fill in the details. Once again, each of the tracks is sung by a character, with a couple roles taken by a singer outside of the five Kinks. This time it’s even more difficult to enjoy individual songs without thinking of the plot, which is pretty bleak overall.
The first announcement warns listeners of a “people’s army” formed by the upstart communist Mr. Black in order to topple the power of Mr. Flash. “Introduction To Solution” finds the Tramp expanding on the situation, and not very optimistic that things will turn out at all well—a rather unappealing way to start a show. Thankfully, “When A Solution Comes” and “Money Talks” are dark rockers, and fairly decent, too, but another announcement heralds a speech by Mr. Black, delivered as “Shepherds Of The Nation” and basically the platform of what we’d know in a few years as the Moral Majority.
At this point we’ve gone completely into Broadway musical territory, as Mr. Flash defends his status as “Scum Of The Earth”, and one of his toadies talks of his background as a “Second-Hand Car Spiv”; neither are very enjoyable, but at least we hear a subtle reprise of “Here Comes Flash”. “He’s Evil” is presented as a “party political broadcast” by Mr. Black about Mr. Flash, but as it’s presented in the style of warning a woman that a suitor will only break her heart, it’s an improvement. “Mirror Of Love” is sung (by Ray) as Flash’s main squeeze, defending her devotion to him, and another trip to vaudeville. But another announcement tells of a “victory” for Mr. Black that resulted in “casualties”. Cue curtain for intermission.
The Tramp returns to lament that “Nobody Gives” (a damn, that is), recalling the miners’ strike of 1926 and the rise of Hitler, with the idea that neither “side” provided a solution. It’s a long track, but it does rock. “Oh Where Oh Where Is Love” continues the theme, but now it’s sung in a duet with one Maryann Price, most recently of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, and doing a passable British accent. Just when you think the album might be improving (again), the most embarrassing track yet in the Kinks’ name arrives. “Flash’s Dream (The Final Elbow)” is a conversation between Flash and his conscience (much like Prince would a decade later on “Temptation”) that’s impossible to take seriously. Having become convinced of his own imminent demise, “Flash’s Confession” continues the nightmare, for him and for us.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” is another duet made for the stage and not a rock album, Ms. Price betraying more of a twang in her vocal. (She’s apparently taken the role Ray sang in “Mirror Of Love”, which is another thing wrong with this album.) We are informed that Mr. Black’s army overthrew Mr. Flash’s regime, and took him prisoner. “Artificial Man” reveals Black’s true aim: he’s engaged an actual mad scientist to create a perfect race of automatons, Ray apparently ignorant that he’d co-opted one of the major plot points of The Rocky Horror Show. Musically it’s about as over the top as anything in Phantom Of The Paradise, and that’s not meant nicely. Ms. Price returns to warble about the Village Green’s transformation into “Scrapheap City”, then we’re informed that the new regime has installed a curfew, food and utility rationing, control over telecommunications, etc. “Salvation Road” is supposedly the theme song of the regime, and while it’s good that it sounds like the Kinks, it’s way too late to save the album.
Preservation Act 2 seems a lot longer than it is, and it is exhausting. Maybe one day we’ll have the gumption to try to siphon the album down to just cool tracks and try to ignore their intended significance, and perhaps program a single two-sided LP out of it. Until then, we really don’t want to visit this particular village green again. (The double Rhino CD didn’t include any extras for the Act 2 portion, but the late ‘90s single CD reissue of the album added two at the end of the program. An alternate recording of “Mirror Of Love” was originally released as a single, and the tuba doesn’t do it any favors. “Slum Kids” was a refugee of the stage show, and represented here in a 1979 performance.)

The Kinks Preservation Act 2 (1974)—2
1998 Konk CD reissue: same as 1974, plus 2 extra tracks

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