❉ Arthur Lee’s psychedelic masterpiece stands the test of time, writes Eoghan Lyng.
The Stone Roses knew they’d found their man John Leckie when he agreed with them that Forever Changes was the best record ever. Robert Plant took it as a direction to follow his musical palette with the Band of Joy. Its footprints were printed retrospectively on the Band Of Horses and Tame Impala while Arthur Lee’s voice imprinted on sixties icons Jims Morrison and Hendrix. It proved as psychedelic as Sgt.Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, but lay far more grounded in earthly musicality, perhaps the reason it has aged far better than the Fab Four’s frivolity.
It’s hard to exude enthusiasm for an album that has received little but exuberant enthusiasm, yet surprisingly it sold poorly on initial release, giving this album the status of true cult find (again, something hardly said for ‘Pepper’) and its status as one of the greatest records of all time earned over the years. If you were to ask this writer’s opinion (and given that you’re reading his opinion, you’ve little choice not to) he’d place it jointly with Revolver (I do like much of The Beatles work!) as one of two albums he’d bring with him to a desert island.
Forever Changes, the last true Love album (the successive Love albums were predominantly Arthur Lee records in all but name), Changes proved not just the zenith of Lee’s writing, but the blossomed peak of Bryan McLean, he who composed the album’s most recgonisable track Alone Again Or.
Singing with Lee, the unison vocals play out over a cacophony of beautifully orchestrated trumpets, both danceable and cerebral, psyched on strings, heavy on lyrical, sincere in delivery- when they sing “you know that I could be in love with almost everyone’, they mean it, a veritable joie de vivre resonating over the flamenco style guitar riff (whether it was divine intervention or something smokier that brought to them to this conclusion is up for debate- my views will remain unaired).
A beautiful opener, it was bettered by Lee’s A House Is Not A Motel (an idiosyncratic title in nonsense meaning), a hefty melange of acoustics and electrics, folk in its underlining display and bluesy in melody. Johnny Echols brings a Byrd like staccato to the proceedings, if Alone proved the album’s most commercial, Motel may have been the most pioneering- simply turn to Spotify to bands as eccletic as the cybpsych The Entrance Band and folk singer Keith E.Lee continueing the Lee classic to the modern computer age.
Seaside tranquilities swim through Andmoreagain, nostalgic niggles natter within The Old Man (McLean’s other composition and his own solo vocal), both gorgeously strummed, heart in content. The Red Telephone uses the stream of conscious song-talk style Van Morrison would perfect on Astral Weeks a year later. Its harpsichord fade out the classiest classical fade on record as Lee haunts to his listeners “we’re all normal and we want our freedom”, that last word emphasised for affectual effect. (Bathetically, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, court jesters of the British psych scene, repurposed the phrase for the opening cut of The Doughnut In Granny’s Greenhouse).
Live and Let Live, an opine to sublime violence and inward stirrings, spoke of crystallised snot and recgonisable artillery from India, Lee’s psych poetry at its picturesque peak. Piano driven Bummer In The Summer sounded vintage, but contemporary, Dylanesque in snarl, Guthrie as a piece. (Performing Forever Changes live became Lee’s bread and butter from 2001, following a five year stint in prison until his death in 2006. There was an added potency to the lines “Served my time/served them well” when singing Live and Let Live’!)
Closer You Set The Scene proved a fitting finale, stirred by stringing violins and crashing drums rat a tatting (Stone Roses’ Reni took a cue or two from Michael Stuart), bringing influences from both the pop and classical world (the album’s kaleidoscopic heart cover shows the eclleticism of the record in a picture). Changing from slow burner, to claso-ubermensch, ‘You Set..‘ gives credence to the forever changing changes of its title (the story goes that Lee overheard a woman berate a man for telling her he’d love her forever; he responded “forever changes”. I wonder where The Beatles thought of Abbey Road?)
Set on record, this ever changing musical collusion is a must for generation to generation, beat generator to backpacker, smoker to joker, talker to daytime walker, house owners and motel inhabitants. Psychedelia would never sound so contemporaneous again!
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, English teacher, full time lover of life.