I actually discovered the band in high school - Rhino (then an uppity reissue/obscurity label, and not Time Warner's reissue arm) was releasing Nuggets compilations, and on one of them was "My Little Red Book". Never has a band made Bacharach/David sound so rocking, so threatening, so funky. Fast forward to the early '90s: poor and in grad school, I discover Rhino's two CD Love Story compilation...and listened intently, for it had a "properly mixed" version of Forever Changes spread out over two discs.
Forever Changes is, quite simply, the closest thing an American band has come to Sgt. Pepper. Not even the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds approaches this album - lush strings, clever arrangements, just sheer creativity, this is the sound of what the 1960's could have become.
This is an album that takes bold leaps and bounds, that is great for a nice, Sunday afternoon listen - the kind of album that headphones were invented for. It starts with the Spanish-guitar stylings of "Aloneagainor" (probably the most covered song on this compilation, and throughout the album, genres mix and mingle without a forethought. The gentle assertiveness of "A House Is Not A Motel", the resignation of "Andmoreagain", the way the final words of each line of "The Red Telephone" are slurred, the gentle hoping of "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This" - don't let the song titles deter you: this record is not some drugged-out psychedelic mismash. The only other record with such gorgeous, almost near-perfect songwriting (from the same period) is Odessey & Oracle by the Zombies.
Want examples, you may ask? First, "Live and Let Live" - you would never think that words like
"Oh the snot has caked against my pants,
It has turned into crystal"
could ever be sung to such a gorgeous melody...but Arthur Lee (the closest thing to a soft-rock Hendrix we have) pulls it off. However, the boldest move is the final song on the album, "You Set the Scene", which moves from Motown-esque to Broadway finale in the space of a few bars.
Ultimately, this is an album of almost total, complete freedom - the words "you can't do that" never seemed to enter the musician's mind. It was a tough listen for me - I listened to it while developing feelings for a dear friend. (It was unrequited). The last time I saw her - on her birthday - I gave her this record as a gift, as well as a card. She's with someone else, and I hope she gives this the occasional listen.
However, it's the line at the end of the "Red Telephone" on side one - We're All Normal and We Want Our Freedom" - that still effects me, maybe for reasons I don't want to admit.
In an age where pristine, prepackaged, precision is prioritized over raw, naked expression, this album is worthy in more ways than one. It is probably one of the most life-affirmining, beautiful experiences you could ever have.
Trust me on this - you will love this album.