Forever Changes Label: Elektra/WEA
Generally considered to be one of rock music’s overlooked masterpieces, but a commercial disappointment when it was released, Forever Changes has become almost mythological in its critical and cult-like influence in the decades hence. It’s also frequently held up – and holds up – as an essential touchstone of the folk-rock subgenre.
Love’s third album is also marked by the fact that it’s the only release of merit by enigmatic singer-songwriter Arthur Lee. A one-album wonder, if you will.
But what an album! Unlike much of the Summer of Love-era output from other artists, Forever Changes sounds as inventive and innovative today as it did upon its release, and claims of it being one of the truly perfect albums in rock history are not an overstatement…especially for an album as drenched in atmospheric strings and horn arrangements as this one. The fact that it doesn’t degenerate into adult contemporary bombast is a testament to Lee himself, as well as legendary co-producer Bruce Botnick.
Part of its lasting appeal is that Lee, more than most of his contemporaries (save perhaps Jim Morrison), was willing to explore the darker, negative aspects of late ‘60s America alongside the standard hippie utopianism. That fact that paranoia (“The Red Telephone”) and violence (“A House Is Not a Motel”) get their due on an album that sounded anything but aggressive is one of the many subtle charms of Forever Changes. Due as much, perhaps, to Lee’s impeding sense of his own mortality as to any kind of eulogy to Summer of Love idealism, the seamless mix of beauty and dread is both seductive and timeless. Two standout tracks by guitarist Bryan MacLean – “Old Man” and the album’s most distinctive song, “Alone Again Or” – also propel Forever Changes beyond the Arthur Lee show. Indeed, Lee’s inability to produce much worthwhile music after this sonic payday confirms as much.
In-fighting, clashes of ego, financial issues, refusals to tour in support of their albums, an almost revolving door of lineup changes and (of course) drug abuse eventually did the band in. By the late ‘70s they were done, never coming anywhere close to the magic they conjured on Forever Changes. Rhino's deluxe reissue of the album in 2001 includes seven bonus tracks, including outtakes, alternates, and the "Your Mind and We Belong Together"/"Laughing Stock" single.
Lee was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for a firearms offense under California's "three strikes" legislation, an act which puts him in the “troubled genius” class with other such psychedelic renegades as Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson and Roky Erickson. Freed in 2002 after six years behind bars, he toured for several years with a younger backing group, frequently performing Forever Changes in its entirety. Arthur Lee died in Memphis last year of complications from leukemia. He was 61.