The History of The Albums – n°357
[I also invite you to read my previous review on the album Da Capo de Love (1966), in order to better understand their beginning and this one]. Sometimes you shouldn't trust appearances, especially when they are deceiving. As its name suggests, Forever Changes changed the history of music forever, as a major element of the musical revolution, however it must be understood that this masterpiece was a huge commercial failure when it was released in 1967. Love is about love, but mostly about failure and breakup. Love sounds like the perfect band for the summer of 1967, but it's mostly its dramatic vision. Before Forever Changes was revered for its true value, it had all the makings of a curse. In fact, the failure of this one is the trigger of the end of the band, at least of the original line-up, since only its leader Arthur Lee will continue until 1975, what for finally. Instead, Arthur Lee will continue his descent into hell, ending very quickly in oblivion. At least that's what we thought. Certainly, Love never really knew success, even with its singles, it was above all a misunderstood, innovative, wild, exotic group for which only an underground public was ready to welcome them as it should. Not to mention the fierce competition, the fact that Love didn't like to leave the Californian scene for tours and finally that the band was multi-racial, a real brake in this sad context of the time. However if the life of all the members of Love changed after this album, Forever Changes directly marked the blow with more prominent artists like Pink Floyd, Traffic or Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. But it is especially later towards the years 80/90 that the artists of the second psychedelic wave (and to the dela) will dig up Forever Changes like a relic absolutely vital to their development and their inspirations. Some examples? Let's just say: The Flaming Lips, XTC , Panda Bear, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Yo La Tengo, Bob Mould, Belle and Sebastian or The Stone Roses. So history has done things right. It's not a coincidence either if today Forever Changes is an indispensable piece of a Top Album.
Recorded over 8 sessions from June to September, then released in November 1967, Forever Changes is like a crossroads, perfectly embodying the perfect combination of all the Psychedelic sub-styles to widen the choices of the possible. It is also the symbol of the end of the Summer Of Love and more globally of the counter culture phenomenon. To understand it, we have to go back a bit. Love has just released 2 albums in 1966, the first eponymous as an aperitif, the second Da Capo as a main course. So we have to see Forever Changes as the dessert that ends the meal in beauty. At the beginning of 1967, the Californian group had difficulty to increase its success. Its leader Arthur Lee hated traveling and therefore touring, which limited the band to playing in Los Angeles. The whole band stayed at The Castle, their common temple (home), consuming hallucinogenic drugs until they lost their minds. The first tensions started to arise in the band, notably the competition between the 2 songwriters Bryan MacLean and Arthur Lee. The latter is touched by a depression more and more significant, and exerts an almost dictatorial authority on the rest of the group. To crown it all, Love can't get rid of the shadow of the Doors, also signed in the same label Elektra. In this increasingly uncontrollable chaos, Forever Changes never came close to seeing the light of day, saved in extremis by producer Bruce Botnick who took things in hand.
On Forever Changes, Love relies on its personal signature to refine it as much as possible, from the orchestration to the writing. The band will then move towards a warmer sound and leave behind the brutality of garage rock and improvisations. Besides, never a Folk album had sounded so orchestral until now. For our greatest happiness, the tensions of the group evaporate the time of the album as if the alchemy and the musical passion returned to the foreground. To fill the financial and material means to bring Elektra, absolutely derisory compared to the means of Stange Days of the Doors, Arthur Lee is going to engage of him even the arranger David Angel, additional musicians, particularly prestigious of sessions as Carol Kaye and also members of the Wrecking Crew as Hal Blaine, Billy Strange and Don Randi. There is even a legend that Neil Young would have participated in one way or another to the album, but he always denied it. While all the musical ingredients are present to offer a magnificent work, the themes mainly directed by Lee are just as essential. Not only has Love's leader turned a corner in his poetry, but his sanity at the time has allowed him to shine brightly. Forever Changes takes on the effervescence of the Summer Of Love and the counter culture, to deliver a more anxious version. We can also perceive a very intimate self-portrait of Arthur Lee who gives himself up on his torments. We are far from the veneration of the hippie movement, the Flower Pop, the goods or even the consumption of LSD, but rather a kind of alarming satire which aims at foreseeing the butterfly effect of this phenomenon.
Let's just say that starting an album with one of the greatest marvels in the history of music helps a lot to make it an unforgettable experience. Based on a heartbreaking breakup ballad, Alone Again Or is undeniably seductive, and represents the band's progress on Forever Changes very well. Everything is particularly meticulous, delicate, emotional with every note, every detail its importance. Written by Bryan MacLean (which did not help the jealousy of the leaders to improve their relationship), Alone Again Or is carried away by the Mexican sounds of Mariachi, combined with a breathtaking Baroque orchestration. If this song has become a standard, covered by thousands of bands and artists, Alone Again Or stands out with a magical and uncommon melody, like a gift from heaven. To make you understand how much we are talking about a monument, according to me Alone Again is probably the greatest Psychedelic Folk song of all times, and unquestionably one of the best of Folk Rock in the same vein as Like The Rolling Stones (Bob Dylan), Sound Of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel) or Old Man (Neil Young)
One could also say on the contrary, that an album which starts so strong has greater chances to disappoint thereafter, however it is also all the magic of Forever Changes, like a 42 minutes journey in the heart of the paradise. A House Is Not a Motel is the perfect portrait of its author Arthur Lee, tortured, chaotic but close to genius. The song differs from the following ones by the fact that it remains very faithful to its interpretation, without too much arrangement so that the authentic and brutal effect is felt more. That's why the song seems so alive, and that it flares up little by little until its apotheosis. If we can allow ourselves a quick comparison, if Jim Morrison of the Doors was a cursed poet, Arthur Lee was a passionate man who tried to escape from his demons. That's why all the songs written by Lee on this album show a certain bipolarity, between optimism and pessimism, humor and anger, even through the same song.
The album continues after on a delicious ballad merging Psychedelic Folk and Baroque Pop, AndMoreAgain, an absolutely dazzling beauty. The leader of Love is then accompanied by the philharmonic orchestra of Wrecking Crew to make a simple acoustic ballad, a rich and bluffing work from start to finish. It is without counting on the power of the melody of Lee's chorus which paralyzes you without noise. At first listen The Daily Planet doesn't seem to be up to the standards of the previous ones, but soon you will be literally charmed by the instrumentation, especially when it takes off from the halfway point. Old Man is a Folk Pop ballad that has nothing to envy to Rubber Soul, especially when the guitars and the orchestra collide. A "Baroque Folk" formula that always works with an amazing efficiency. This one reaches its apogee on The Red Telephone, as an obviousness, although we speak here only about so fantastic songs. It is then that we face a grandiose moment, surrounded by a mystery on the real meaning of the song. The Red Telephone is surely accessing on a political theme, relating the Vietnam war and the anti-war movements, as we can guess by the excellent spoken word/poetry for conclusion of the song. Other thoughts on the subject highlight Lee's sinister way of talking about his probable death in the near future, recurring allusions throughout the album.
Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale is probably my second favorite song from the California band. It is so formidable that I could listen to it for hours and hours without interruption. With a very generic beat, this bandleader features Mexican horns and unstoppable melodies, without ever duplicating for a second what Alone Again Or was able to do. Live And Let Live highlights Arthur Lee's way of offering poems with a thousand nuances, as if he had left the freedom to the listener to take into account his own impression. Beyond that, we also notice the perfect balance that Forever Changes offers, between acoustic ballads, orchestration and fiery riff/solo with the electric guitar, which makes that we never get tired of anything. It is besides all the success of this masterpiece, because each of the songs resounds like an important and not dissociable entity, without losing the least coherence. Arthur Lee's humor continues again on The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like, making the second side of the album seem warmer. If musically we can agree on that, a lot is hidden under the light and naive themes advanced by the storytelling of Arthur Lee. Let's just remember that we're talking about an unstable man who was convinced that he was going to die during this year 1967. Inspired by Bob Dylan, Arthur Lee even takes to rapping on the boisterous Bummer In The Summer.
However, before the curtains come down, Love offers his very last breath before the separation for the mini symphony You Set The Scene, 6 minutes of theatrical opera. We find the whole orchestration directed by David Angel, for a kind of honorary baroude, where the whole soul of the first line-up merges for a last colorful song. Arthur Lee is a poet who does not believe in love anymore. According to him love hurts and fades, but in this organized chaos, Forever Changes sounds like the ultimate proof of love.