I’d like to start by saying that Drugs Are Bad, kids. Insert your usual cautionary advice here about ruining your life by reducing your brain cells to mush, from someone whose total drug experience amounts to an unfortunate Dexedrine-y reaction to some powerful decongestants resulting in twelve hours of speeding. Which was fun.
This having been said, listening to Love’s Forever Changes resulted in an immediate and strong desire to consume large amounts of peyote and go for a long soul-searching wander in a vast desert somewhere in America. Produced during the Summer of Love, it should be noted it’s by no means a dancing happily at Woodstock, stoned off your face sort of SoL record. Far from it- this is a reflective, wistful look at what could have been, but never came to pass. It never goes as far as to sound bitter and angry, though; it’s gentle, almost pastoral, but it doesn’t kid itself it’s living in an idyllic hippy bubble, impervious to world events.
Alone Again Or, the album’s opener, is probably the band’s most well-known song; I came to hear it through the moderately successful cover version by The Damned (and its rather excellent music video). Mournful acoustic guitar draws the listener in from the outset before the unexpectedly flamenco accompaniment for what are the finest of poignant odes to solitude:
You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
I think that people are
The greatest fun
And I will be alone again tonight my dear
A flurry of brass- and then that melancholy guitar soaring in again. A suitably thoughtful opening track to set the tone for the rest of the album.
A House Is Not A Motel is one of the few tracks to contain traces of electric guitar, and it’s a piece of high drama even without them. Love seem to be channelling a bit of Jefferson Airplane here, with the keening guitar solos, thrashy drums verging on the extravagant and the obligatory obscure lyrics, not obscure enough to hide a resigned sigh in the direction of the violence and catastrophe that comprises world affairs:
More confusions, blood transfusions
The news today will be the movies for tomorrow
And the water’s turned to blood, and if
You don’t think so
Go turn on your tub
Slightly more chilled and downbeat, Andmoreagain sparkles with undertones of Scott Walker at his finest, possibly even with a side order of Bacharach. (In fact, the band did have a minor hit previously with a Bacharach track, My Little Red Book.) Unusual chord progressions slide into one another, helped along by smooth strings, then dropping into the thrum-pum-pum refrain in a delightfully Bacharach-ish major seventh. Before you become too somnolescent though, The Daily Planet bounces in, a cheerful ode to monotonous daily living. I can just about see The Kinks peering in to signal their approval of the humdrum imagery:
The sirens and the accidents and
For a laugh there’s Plastic Nancy
She’s real fancy with her children
They’ll go far
The tight harmonies on this piece sound like The Beatles placed in a blender with The Who, to great effect. You don’t need to look far to see where tracks like this have extended their influence.
Old Man comes and goes in a cryptic haze of guitar and rich cello, Arthur Lee’s vocals sounding at times fragile as he sings about the sweetness of love, building over a rich mix of tremulous strings and brass that almost puts it into spaghetti Western soundtrack territory. But love is not a theme that sticks around for long on Forever Changes; the climate in which this was written cannot be brushed aside. Hence, Red Telephone is where the album turns a corner into a more pensive atmosphere, with an elegy to violence and racism that doesn’t hold back:
Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
I’ll feel much better on the other side
I’ll thumb a ride
Lee was said to feel that he would die soon, hence the morbid lyrics here. It’s hardly the placard-waving, chanting demonstrators so inextricably linked to Vietnam War protests, among others. It’s given over to refusing to be a part of the murderous Establishment, before wavering between minor and major in a final spoken-word stand against it:
They’re locking them up today
They’re throwing away the key
I wonder who it’ll be tomorrow, you or me?
We’re all normal and we want our freedom
Alla God’s chilluns gotta have dere freedom
As if that wasn’t enough to turn even the most devoted patchouli incense-waving hippy into a pale shadow of his former self, the compactly-titled Maybe The People Would Be The Times or Between Clark & Hilldale shoehorns Crosby, Stills and Nash into a flamenco guitar and sprinkles the whole lot with OTT brass Herb Alpert would be proud of, in a paean to the aftermath of all that peace and love business, where the clarion call is now ‘Let’s go paint everybody gray’. Tragic, indeed.
Live And Let Live is a glorious riff-laden slice of psychedelia; I had to check I wasn’t going deaf when I thought the opening lines were ‘Oh, the snot has caked against my pants, It has turned into crystal’. The imagery of shooting bluebirds and men with artillery talking to Indians is hardly the gentle and totally far out experience we’re led to believe drugs offer us, but I suspect Jim Morrison picked up on this and ran with it with half of the output of The Doors. And look what happened to him.
Despair not, however, The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This steps in to provide some satisfying filler fluff that recalls The Byrds with a little more pizzicato strings and sounding like it ought to accompany footage of some comely 60s ladies driving around looking thoroughly pleased with themselves. Bummer In The Summer gallops in and brings the listener crashing back down to earth with a soured summer romance. It’s rather country-tinged at times, not just in subject matter, but that’s no bad thing.
Drawing the album to a close, You Set The Scene is an ambitious undertaking- six minutes of grim cultural pontifications in two parts. The first two minutes is perky and buoyant, laden with imagery of torment and generally being screwed over; it is then carried on by cheerful strings down to Bacharach-paced brass and more meditative lyrical content. Lee predicts:
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
On Beatlesesque triumphant trumpeting, the song fades to the refrain of ‘This is the time and It is time…’, a rousing end to a prophetic suite of sobering views on the much-vaunted Summer of Love. As downbeat as the attitude is on Forever Changes, it’s such a sweet and charming classic that I can’t help but fall for it.