Sunday, October 4, 2009

October 4: Love, "Forever Changes"

Artist: Love
Album: Forever Changes
Year: 1967
Label: Elektra

When one looks back at the long history of recorded music, there are a handful of bands that made such strange career choices, that one can only wonder about their reasoning. Whether it was releasing an integral band member or releasing an album that was such a sharp contrast to their "normal" sound that it left fans scratching their heads, many bands just "don't make sense." Easily near the top of this list stands a band that, while possessing the "perfect" sound for their time, as well as containing one of the most brilliant writers in music history, absolutely refused to perform live during what would have been their heyday, and in many ways, let this seal their fate of minimal success. Love, one of California's greatest bands of the late 1960's did eventually tour, but by the time they "came around," it was too late, and they would achieve little beyond a very dedicated cult following. Led by the stunning duo of Bryan MacLean and the eccentric genius of Arthur Brown, Love drew influence from everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Byrds to traditional flamenco artists. Having already released a pair of sensational records, the band again entered the studio in mid-1967 and recorded what would be the final album from the core grouping of the band. Taking a very strange studio approach, as well as a divergent angle in subject matter, few albums of the era can compare to the extraordinary music and lyrics that appear on Love's 1967 release, Forever Changes.

Forever Changes represents the first album where Arthur Brown handled nearly all of the production work. Though Neil Young was originally slated for the job, he had to bow out due to commitments with Buffalo Springfield, though it is largely believed that Young was on the project long enough to produce the song, "The Daily Planet." Forever Changes was a massive shift for Love, as they almost entirely dropped the edgy electric guitars that dominate their first two records, and Forever Changes is an almost completely acoustic affair. This shift enables the listener to concentrate more on the lyrical content, yet the album is just as powerful and amazing as the louder, more electric releases from the band. Upon its initial release, the album had little commercial success, though over the decades, it has become widely heralded as one of the greatest albums ever. The influence of the band ranges everywhere from The Damned and The Stone Roses to John Butler, and in many ways, every band that ever created a "rock opera." Over the decades, there have been a handful of re-releases of the album, most notably the 2008 re-release, which featured a second disc of alternative mixes of every song on the album as well as a handful of "unreleased" tracks. As amazing as the actual sound on the album is, one cannot overlook the rather strange circumstances that are in play within the band members themselves on Forever Changes.

Easily the main aspect that sets Forever Changes apart from the previous Love albums is the fact that, for the beginning of the studio sessions, Arthur Brown and Bryan MacLean replaced the ENTIRE band with studio musicians. The songs "Andmoreagain" and "The Daily Planet" feature this lineup, and the rumor is that after realizing what was happening, the "actual" band members "got their acts together" and entered the studio sounding better than ever. Forever Changes is the final Love album to include the core of the original lineup, as shortly after it's release, rhythm guitarist writer Bryan MacLean left the band to battle his addiction with heroin. His playing on the album is truly superb, and his contributions of songs like "Old Man" and the minor-hit, "Alone Again Or." The latter of these two songs would crack the top thirty U.K. singles when it was covered by The Damned in 1987. Though he played with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, there is little question that lead guitarist Johnny Echols is best known for his musical contributions with Love. Though perhaps not as prominent as he was on their first two records, Echols' playing is just as brilliant, and he proves that one does not necessarily need volume to make impact. Cleveland, OH native, Ken Forssi was by far one of the most talented bass players of the era. One of the greatest and most vocal supporters of the seemingly odd arrangements of Arthur Lee, Forssi is truly fantastic on Forever Changes, blending roots rock with tones of psychedelia, well as almost a bit of a punk rumbling here and there. Leaving no question as to their musical ability, the band members strong of Love leave nothing on the table on their final recording session together.

At the center of the bands' music and style is one of the most unique and unconventional musicians in history, Arthur Lee. Breaking the racial barrier of psychedelic-folk-rock, Lee's musical approach was unlike any other in music history. At times sounding almost like Syd Barrett, such as on "The Red Telephone," as well as being able to write far more conventional sound songs, the only thing that comes close to his writing ability is his sensational voice. Calm and quiet, Lee has a truly phenomenal vocal range and sound. The amount of emotion and soul that comes through in his voice is largely unmatched, and his singing is one of the most stunning things one can experience anywhere in music. Grouped with this fantastic music writing and singing, Lee is also one of the greatest lyricists of his generation. Though at first listen, Forever Changes may sound like a majority of the albums released during the late 1960's "Summer Of Love" era, the truth of the matter is that lyrically, it takes nearly the complete opposite approach. With songs that are far more somber and morose than those of their contemporaries, there is a great deal of sadness hidden within the upbeat music. Spotlighted on "The Red Telephone," Lee sings, "...sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die, I'll feel much better on the other side..." Lee attributed songs like this to the fact that he believed he was dying and calls the songs on Forever Changes, " last words." Though many have similar sounds, the truth of the matter is, few musicians in history can even remotely compare to the sensational musical ability of Arthur Lee.

Presenting a stunning suite of acoustic based songs, punctuated by bright horns and soft string sections, Love's Forever Changes remains one of the most unique and amazing albums ever recorded. The band fuses together all of the influences, with flamenco-based songs like "Alone Again Or" and "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale" as well as a number of blues-rock based folk numbers. Largely due to the ever expanding musical taste and mind of frontman Arthur Lee, Love was by far one of the most innovative and unorthodox bands in music history. Songs like "You Set The Scene" can be seen as a brief pre-cursor to the era of "rock operas," and the stripped down, yet complex musical arrangements throughout the album prove the awesome power and talent within the band members. Mixing together the sounds and styles of three different guitarists, the songs achieve a full and rich sound like no other band at the time. It is this unique sonic quality that sets Love apart from their peers, and the heavy, subdued lyrical content plays in brilliant juxtaposition to the more upbeat and bright tone of the music. By far one of the most overlooked bands in the entire history of music, Love paved ground for countless bands after them, and their 1967 release, Forever Changes is undeniably one of the most extraordinary, original, and overall fantastic albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Alone Again Or," "The Red Telephone," and "Bummer In The Summer."

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