Not long ago, Rhino reissued one of those masterpieces that flopped on release (it peaked at #154 on the Billboard charts in the ’60s) but went on to enduring greatness (these days, it appears on most “best rock albums ever”-type roundups). If the only album Love ever made had been Forever Changes, they’d have earned their place in the Pantheon.
Same thing would hold if it had been their last: The unforeseeable follow-up that leapt from their first two psychedelic LPs to a lush, cinematic testament that’s harrowing, seductive, and occasionally comic. But it wasn’t the swan song, or not exactly. Arthur Lee, the frontman and acknowledged soul of the group (though it was Bryan Maclean who wrote the record’s unforgettable opening track “Alone Again Or”), would over the years form multiple bands he called Love, mostly avoiding the collaborators who had shared his LA “castle” during the group’s brief heyday.
Two of those post-peak records, 1969’s Out Here and 1970’s False Start, were just re-released by Collector’s Choice, and if not for the distinctive logo on their covers they’d be almost unrecognizable as the work of this songwriter. Though each has found champions over the years (and the latter attracts collectors for the appearance of Jimi Hendrix on “The Everlasting First”), they can be pretty hard to listen to: Try enjoying Out Here without recoiling at the outrageously out-of-place drum solo on “Doggone” or the misguided hillbilly joke “Car Lights On In the Daytime Blues.” False Start, for its part, suffers from weak Hendrix imitations and insipid lyrics such as “She flew in/I flew out/flying’s a wonderful thing.”
Fans might hope that a new documentary, Love Story, currently available in the UK and due on American DVD in late July, would shed some light on these post-greatness years, beyond simply acknowledging that there were a lot of drugs going on. It doesn’t. Instead, it understandably jumps past them, giving both albums, combined, less screen time than the 2002 tour Lee put together (recruiting a band of youngsters to form a new Love) in which he played Forever Changes every night from start to finish.
Both of those late periods, of course, are overshadowed here by loving memories of 1965-1968, when it looked like Love might become huge stars. The Doors were in awe of them, for instance, and signed to Elektra mainly because Love had; some interviewees in the film suggest that the only reason they succeeded where Love didn’t was that Jim Morrison and company were willing to tour and Lee couldn’t work up the nerve. While the doc could have dug a bit deeper and supplied more chronological clarity, it benefits from interviews with now-dead members Lee and Maclean and, significantly, shows just how unlikely it was that Forever Changes got made before the group disintegrated.
Moving on to another too-brief era: Music lovers intrigued by the media attention to the new Thurston Moore/Byron Coley book No Wave have surprisingly few options to hear the music documented therein. While the New York scene that followed “No Wave” is everywhere — Blondie’s Parallel Lines is getting another reissue (with DVD) this very month — the recorded artifacts of this weird, late-’70s moment (No New York being the most famous) are mainly available from overseas labels.
One such label, Strut, skirts the territory on their comp Disco Not Disco, which offers an in-your-face remix of the James Chance tune “Contort Yourself,” but doesn’t tie itself to one place and time. I suspect I’m not the only one to make new discoveries on this disc — I’d never heard of Vivien Goldman, for example, but I sure like her “Launderette” — but for front-to-back playability I prefer another Strut comp. Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986 includes a couple of songs you know by heart (like “Genius of Love”) but makes them feel fresh by putting them in context with many more obscure — but killer — tracks made in Chris Blackwell’s Bahamas studio with reggae-steeped players such as Sly & Robbie. It’s funny how few steps are necessary to connect the noise-rock experiments of Sonic Youth’s predecessors to pop as bubbly as the Tom Tom Club. •