[22 May 2008]
Love’s 1967 psych-folk album Forever Changes, a transcendent looking-glass perspective from the otherwise fabled Summer of Love, enjoys its now 40-year existence as a record both frozen in time and timeless. Its sound owes so much to the time in which it was made—David Angel’s string arrangements, in particular, recall those being created concurrently by Jack Nitzsche for Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young, while the surges of baroque folk-rock are decidedly regressive to 21st century ears—yet its narratives of paranoia and prescience can feel remarkably free of epochal debt. As pop music, the album is deceptively exquisite, its unnerving reveal of prophetic signs o’ the times delivered under guise of 12-string acoustic guitars and spry AM-radio horns. “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow”, Arthur Lee sings on “A House Is Not a Motel”, and he’s right—Forever Changes, a claustrophobic and ebullient musing on life, death, and consciousness, is music from then made for now, and now, and now.
Lee and Love made Forever Changes while they were going through changes of their own; two of the band’s members, keyboardist Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer and woodwind player Tjay Cantrelli, had recently left, while the remaining lineup wasn’t exactly the picture of stability. (In fact, Lee began recording Forever Changes with Los Angeles session musicians, reportedly including Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye, before the rest of the band returned.) Love may have seemed like something of a mid-‘60s Californian hippy cliché—the members all lived together in an L.A. house once owned by Béla Lugosi—but its perspective of cynicism and discontent, gleaned from racial and political unrest at home and abroad, contradicted the vogue of peace and love.
Naturally, this two-disc “collector’s edition” makes the argument for Forever Changes’ timelessness—an aggressive argument, in fact, that arrives a mere seven years after Rhino first reissued the album in 2001. This new edition includes much of the 2001 reissue’s bonus material (the 1967 single “Your Mind and We Belong Together” b/w “Laughing Stock”, a demo for the instrumental “Hummingbirds”, some tracking sessions highlights), but also includes a new alternate mix of the entire album. The alternate mix is, like the original album, in stereo, and therefore only serves as an opportunity to hear Forever Changes with its stereo spectrum slightly rearranged. It isn’t revelatory, but the previously unreleased mix does offer a new perspective on the sometimes loose interplay between instruments (you can actually hear moments where it seems like the band’s cohesion is on the brink of nonchalant collapse), as well as the occasional separation of vocal tracks. Still, it’s not a preferable alternative to the album’s original mix, which keeps a tight lid on the energy of songs like “The Daily Planet”, a rocker in the vein of early Who, and the propulsive “The Red Telephone”.
“The Red Telephone” is literally the centerpiece of Forever Changes, in terms of tracklisting; it is also fairly representative of the album’s capacity for contrasting narrative with ornate musical design. The song has a peculiar chord progression that slides down a few half-steps before doubling back on itself, sung by Lee in his quavering bedside voice. “Life goes on here, day after day / I don’t know if I’m livin’ or if I’m supposed to be / Sometimes my life is so eerie”, Lee sings, mixing the mundane with the mystical, the fatalist with the unknown, while Angel’s strings hover, shroud, and strike with restless animation.
Other tracks, like “Alone Again Or” and “Andmoreagain”, are defined more by finicky structure and an almost classical melodic sense. Written by guitarist Bryan MacLean, “Alone Again Or” fidgets between a sparse solo acoustic guitar part reminiscent of the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and a cluttered mariachi horn-accompanied refrain. Likewise, “Andmoreagain” stops and starts, its progression like a set of deliberate steps that are thought about before they are taken. “I’m lost in confusions / ‘Cause my things are material”, Lee sings, the melody taking a hesitant downturn at the end of each line. If there’s anything that remains a constant amongst these songs of identity crisis and self-doubt, of encroaching disorder and common chaos, it’s the music—not a symphony, perhaps, but envious of a symphony’s steadfastness.
You wouldn’t know that listening to the tracking sessions highlights for “The Red Telephone”, which quickly disintegrates into an impromptu (and quickly aborted) run through Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully”. Both tracks are available on Rhino’s collector’s edition, and while they offer a behind-the-scenes puncture of Forever Changes’ stately façade, they’re hardly essential listening. You don’t need miscellaneous documentation to explain what beats behind Forever Changes‘s chest, because it’s all there in the record: the fear of what’s coming, the security of what’s already there, and the erratic beauty of their coexistence.