Preservation Act 2 really gets down to the nitty gritty of the story of the two principal characters Flash and Mr. Black in Ray Davies epic saga. Act 1 is stronger in terms of the tunes, but the drama really hits hard in this follow-up. Overall I find the first two sides of this double LP very strong, and side four really pulls out all the stops. There is a definite Weill/Brecht feeling throughout, with the magnificent horn oompahs and woodwind runs in the verse parts of Second-Hand Car Spiv sounding as if they came from a lost manuscript for A Threepenny Opera.
Reviewers back in the day considered the live road show version to be superior to the recordings. Having seen it then, I would agree that the combination of the expanded forces on the stage, projected images and a reduced, concise song lineup made for excellent theater. But the records really do hold their own, even with the spoken "announcements" in Act 2 which help to flesh out the story with a news announcer censoring the proceedings according to the wishes of Mr. Black's dictatorship.
It is weird and wonderful to hear female voices on a Kinks record, and especially the ladies-only Scrapheap City. I also picked up a 70s glam vibe on parts of Artificial Man and Salvation Road that I don't believe I ever noticed before - shades of Mott the Hoople! Some of the most heart-rending moments for me include the final lines in Nothing Lasts Forever - "Your love will fade but mine will last forever". This song would be a great companion to The Party's Over and the arrangement reminds me of a broken-heart love song in a big 50's musical. And Flash's plea for acceptance in Scum Of The Earth - "Before you condemn me my friends, I suggest that you look deep inside you" - he's not about to apologize for being human.
It may be the oddest combination of rock, musical theater, and political commentary ever produced. It is a very long way from Face to Face. Those Kinks no longer exist by this juncture. At the time I fought with myself on whether I would continue to follow them into their new world. I would like to think that as I grew older, I became wiser and more open to something different. Listening again after so many years I find Preservation to be refreshing and extremely current to today's world.
Who else was this musically adventurous in the mid 1970s? Preservation is one of Ray Davies' crowning moments.