Everybody knows 1967 was the summer of love. Unfortunately, it was not the summer of Love. (How's that for an intro?)
Love is one of those criminally undernoticed bands by all but the rock elite (you know, those snooty people who prefer Van Morrison and Bob Dylan to, say, Motley Crue). This is partly because of Love's reluctance to tour and leader Arthur Lee's idiosyncratic, dominant nature -- these guys were just as talented as their California counterparts, and much easier on the ears than some of the more dippy psychedelic and folk of the era. In fact, Forever Changes is one of the strongest records to come out of 1967 and says just as much about the year as Surrealistic Pillow or Magical Mystery Tour.
Arthur Lee steers his band into folk territory with an edge, mixing driving acoustics, beautiful vocals, unobtrusive horns and quiet but insistent drumming. Reportedly, this band was a big influence on the Doors.
When it all comes together, the results are amazing. “Alone Again Or” opens with some minor-key acoustic picking before segueing into a Spanish-sounding melody, with light strings swelling and bursting into horns underneath the slightly manic acoustic guitar. “A House is Not A Motel” predates the sound of Crosby, Stills & Nash by two years, but Lee's voice switches from folk crooner to rocker better than many of his peers.
This is mostly an acoustic affair, but it works when the other elements are thrown in; “Andmoreagain” proves this, as it's basically an acoustic Donovan-type song elevated only because of the violins. “The Daily Planet” has a pleasant Dylan feel mixed with Who-esque vocals, but it's definitely a Love song with unusual timing and tempo changes in the lyrics.
The best song is “Between Clark and Hilldale,” wherein a pounding acoustic opens the song before Lee comes in for the verses, but he drops out for the last word of every verse, letting the guitar come back in. During this, the horns get louder and more obtrusive before bursting into a solo (after an electric guitar solo). It's both mellow and foot-tapping and should have been a single.
“Live and Let Live” is not bad but has bizarre vocals (“The snot is caked against my pants.). “The Good Humor Man” is a shimmering slice-of-life observation that's a little too cute, but “Bummer in the Summer” is a perfect psychedelic-folk pop tune, a jaunty piece that sounds straight out of a high school dance, featuring a near-rap of the vocals long before that style became popular. The album winds down with the epic “You Set the Scene,” which sounds like it influenced the Moody Blues in their early goings. The song shifts from an uptempo movement to a languid middle section that lasts a bit too long before closing with a happy horn section straight off Magical Mystery Tour.
This is one of those cases where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Forever Changes has a beautiful shimmering glisten, a folky influence with only traces of psychedelia, interesting lyrics and enough instruments and stylistic changes to make a music geek happy. But it's time the people discovered Love instead of letting the critics indulge in a guilty pleasure. This is one album you won't regret buying, even though it's obviously a product of its time.