Saturday, July 26, 2008

Artist Profile: Love

There are a few bands that for whatever reason do not get the acclaim they deserve from anyone but music critics. Love is one of those bands.

Arthur Lee started the band after being inspired by the Byrds in the sixties. What resulted was an aggressive, r 'n' b based version of the Byrds. Their first, self-titled record resulted with a minor hit "My Little Red Book."

Never confused with being the world's greatest singer. Lee, nonetheless, had a unique voice that would have made him a terrible soul singer, but a great garage rock one. However, on songs such as "Signed D.C.," which also foreshadows the drug problems that would tear the band apart years later, is a hauntingly beautiful, minimal track.

About half a year later the band returned with Da Capo. The Byrds influence is mostly gone while jazz and classical influences take least on those tracks where the band is not deciding to invent punk. And by that I mean the ubiquitous song covered by many (including the Ramones), "Seven & Seven Is."

Most of the songs on the record incorporate different instruments and foreshadow what they would do on the next one. Many of these songs were very pretty and soft.

And now we get into the problem of there not being many good videos of Love performing. Lee did not like to tour outside of his comfort zone and they only left the California area a few times which definitely hampered their sales and limited their popularity.

The Forever Changes album is consistently ranked among the best of all time. The group had already shown they could play with different styles and create interesting pieces of music, but Forever Changes pushed it to another level in 1967. And, looking back, it probably should have never happened. The sessions were set to be produced by Neil Young, but he ended up backing out (other than working on one song). Other members of the band except Lee and guitarist/songwriter Bryan MacLean were deemed unable to perform and replaced with session musicians. While this would seem to be a terrible way to start work on a record, the rest of the band came back re-energized and finished work on the record. That Forever Changes became an amazingly brilliant record is a testament to the genius of Lee and MacLean who were at the top of their game at the time.

Relying on mostly acoustic instruments, Forever Changes captures the reality of "the Summer of Love," 1967, better than the glossy pictures portrayed on television today. At some points hopeful, desperate, depressed, in awe, beautiful and overwhelmed, Love matches and surpasses most of the records of the time (including Sgt. Pepper's).

Then everyone left the band but Lee. He recruited new members and recorded Four Sail with a decidedly different sound. Still retaining the mellow sound of the previous album, the electric arrangements and production create a less intimate album overall. Plus the songs are not as good, not terrible, but not as good. There is even some funk thrown in with songs like "Good Times," which could have been included on a blaxsploitation soundtrack. And "Always See Your Face" could fit in with any of Love's previous efforts (and it was included on the great High Fidelity soundtrack).

Finally, Love finished off with a couple of albums, Out Here and False Start, both of which are heavier than anything they had done before. The songs again are not as good as they had been, but Lee expanded the genres the records would explore and created interesting songs.

Love continued to perform as mostly Lee with various musicians (and sometimes MacLean) into the 21st century. Toward the end of his life the band and Lee gained popularity (possibly due to the internet) despite not releasing a record.

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