Ever-so-slightly overrated by the legions of people who demand justice for society turning its back on it back in ’67 (to wit: this charted worse than any preceding Love album even though it was obviously better than any of them). But let’s be clear here: unlike The Velvet Underground & Nico and The Village Green Preservation Society, contemporary albums sharing the same backstories elevated to classic status in hindsight, Forever Changes isn’t some revolutionary masterpiece. When compared to The Velvet Underground & Nico, Forever Changes isn’t nearly as forward-thinking. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Love is nothing more than an amalgamation of more-famous American contemporaries: Jimi Hendrix (“A House Is Not A Motel”), Buffalo Springfield (“Live and Let Live”), Jefferson Airplane (“Bummer in the Summer”), The Byrds (“You Set the Scene”) and Bob Dylan (too many examples to list), with some orchestral flourishes throughout that was making rounds in 1967 anyway, probably Beach Boys-Pet Sounds-inspired. When compared to The Village Green Preservation Society, Forever Changes isn’t nearly as uniformly excellent. In fact, I’d wager that if you removed “Alone Again Or” and “A House is Not a Hotel,” 90% of the praise would disappear completely. Moreover, there’s a huge dip in quality after the first half (the preceding Da Capo had the same issue) that the album never recovers from until “You Set the Scene.” Tossed-off review or not, Rolling Stone’s Jim Birkhart was onto something when he noted that “Some of the songs meander and lack real melodic substance.”
The second half first: George Starostin has already called out the similarities between “Bummer in the Summer” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and other people have already complained about the wordiness of the track. But the perverted thing is, the song is practically a necessity to grab our attentions again after the preceding three songs. On “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale,” the song builds up wonderfully until Arthur Lee drops us into an almost non-stop ten seconds’ worth of shrill trilling (1:43 – 1:50) that saps away all the momentum (not to mention just sounding plain awful). On “Live and Let Live,” listeners have to make it through two instances of “Oh, the snot has caked against my pants / It has turned into crystal”; you can tell from the titles of the songs that sandwich “Live and Let Live” that Arthur Lee was no Bob Dylan. On “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This,” you have to deal with the clumsy outro. But “You Set the Scene” is indeed a good song that feels like two songs smashed together without ever feeling like anything other than one unified vision: dig how the bass flings itself against Arthur Lee’s words and melody which are full of quotable moments (“You think you’re happy and you are happy / That’s what you’re happy for”; “There’s a man who can’t decide if he should / Fight for what his father thinks is right”), dig Michael Clarke’s immense drum buildup and thunderous roll bringing us to the next melody; dig the stabbing jangle of the acoustic guitar during the main hook.
But the first side is really wonderful, and these six songs with the closer are more than enough to earn Forever Changes an A in my book. Arthur Lee’s performance on “The Red Telephone” is histrionic, sure (“Sitting on the hillSIDEEEEEE”; “I just don’t want you using up my TIMEEEEEE”), but not only is “And if you wanna count me / Count me out” a great line, the single string flourish signaled by the line “Sometimes my life is so eerie” is a perfect moment. Meanwhile, “A House is Not a Motel” is an obvious highlight, with Michael Clark’s non-stop military action (must … resist … pointing … out … Jefferson … Airplane’s … ”White … Rabbit”), while Arthur Lee drops his best Dylanisms of the entire album, “You are just a thought that someone / Somewhere somehow feels you should be here”; “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow.” The only issue here is that the guitar solo/outro that Lee and Clarke build up to doesn’t deliver – it’s much too long and not nearly as transcendent as anything Hendrix laid to tape that same year. (Forever Changes’ follow-up, Four Sail, focuses even more on these guitar solos, as if they were the selling point of this album.)
Even better than the album’s most psychedelic rock song is what sandwiches. Broadly speaking, both “Alone Again Or” and “Andmoreagain” feature absolutely regal chord progressions; particularly love the “And I’m” cadences in the choruses of the latter. But it’s always struck me odd that so many people are celebrating Arthur Lee as such an underwrited songwriter when (besides being derivative), he doesn’t even write the best song on the album! That’s right, secondary songwriter, Bryan McLean is responsible for “Alone Again Or,” the album’s best song (in terms of chord progression, hard-hitting lyrics, orchestral arrangement, etc; the song has it all). McLean’s lyrics, sung by Arthur Lee, perfectly capture a yearning for love in the first verse in only three and a half lines (“I won’t forget / All the times I’ve waited patiently for you / And you’ll do just what you choose to do / And I will be alone again tonight my dear”) and perfectly capture a yearning for a rare love-for-humanity in the second verse in only two lines (“I could be in love with almost everyone / I think that people are the greatest fun”).