Forever Changes – Best Album Ever?

I’m more or less an advocate of all things Angeleno, especially when it pertains to 60’s rock bands. And I have a special connection with Love–I was at Arthur Lee’s secret Love show at Spaceland, right when he got out of the joint, and saw him over a dozen times afterwards, including several shows at Spaceland and the Knitting Factory when I had the privilege of spinning some groovy music between bands. And one of my good friends, Justino, even played in the late 80’s incarnation of Love.   So allow me to review an oft-reviewed masterpiece by a band that has only in the past decade gained the recognition it always so richly deserved.
The first thing I think about when it comes to Love is how many of my younger punk rock friends, who spend their time almost exclusively listening to the Buzzcocks, the Jam, Johnny Thunders, and their friends’ hardcore bands, are respectful of Love. It may not be as raw as Sham 69, but they don’t run screaming from the room when the fragile, orchestrated sound comes of “Alone Again Or” comes wafting out of my stereo speakers.

Part of this may be the legend of Love that their elder rock friends (like me!) have spread, on those drunken nights late at the party when we’ve yelled “That’s Love, motherfucker, and you’d better LIKE this shit!” But I think what makes Love still work for the punk rock set, aside from its place in the historical evolution of punk, is that there is something menacing, even hard, set down there amidst the orchestration and syncopation, a snarl of anger down under the flutes and the violins, a middle finger amongst the marigolds.

And that makes sense, because Arthur Lee was the angriest of flower punks in the late sixties L.A. music scene. Typically, Angeleno artists were more cynical than their San Francisco counterparts–Frank Zappa wrote lyrics full of ridicule and sarcasm, and Jim Morrison screamed and ranted on stage like Howling Wolf on acid. But Arthur (and to a greater extent, his writing partner Bryan MacLean) was perhaps more a part of the flower power scene than either of the above, and yet still poignantly aware that this “giant mass deception” was a bubble that would soon pop, a macrame tower surrounded by blood and guns, and this adds a bitterness to the sound and lyrics of Forever Changes. Add to that that his bandmates had largely become junkies, and that he thought we was going to die soon, and I can understand why his mindset would lead him to create an album that haunts you with prettiness, only to fall apart into the horrors of a sixties sound more evocative of the Weathermen and the Manson Family than of Woodstock and Wavy Gravy.

But now I’m just rehashing opinions from countless liner notes, books, and documentaries. I’ve read or watched almost all of them, trying to lock in what it was that allowed Love to rise to such dazzling heights in Forever Changes from a career that previously screamed sweetly more than it soared. I guess what I’ve wanted to learn is what caused Love to push so far into the breach. The album is like a beautiful last gasp, but not a desperate one. “Work of art” is a phrase inadequate to describe it, yet it feels like a conclusion rather than the germ of a new idea, as so many classic albums do.

And perhaps that is why this album is so perfect and complete, because more so than any Doors album, Forever Changes is truly “The End.” It’s an ending to Love’s classic line-up, and it is an album about endings, with a particular focus on individual song endings.  Each song on this album ends subtly, but in an interesting way, wrapping and turning so that the next song in succession starts in the perfect place.  And it was very touching to me that Arthur Lee ended his life with these words on his lips, spending his time touring Europe and the Americas with a line-up that played Forever Changes from start to finish, the words “I want my freedom!” ringing loud and true as all hell.

On a slightly unrelated note, there’s a Love Story documentary floating around that’s a definite must for all Arthur Lee and Love fans.   In one scene, he gets to return to the Castle, Bela Lugosi’s old mansion and the place where Love members spent the years of their second and third albums.  It’s a great literal home-coming and just a taste of how great the documentary was:

2 thoughts on “Forever Changes – Best Album Ever?

  1. “That’s Love, motherfucker, and you’d better LIKE this shit!”
    Do you know how many times your whiskey breath has yelled this in my face. I love you.

  2. Pingback: wavy gravy

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