Much has been written about Arthur Lee and his band Love's classic 1967 third album, the psychedelic baroque-folk pop-rock masterpiece Forever Changes, so I won't waste much time on that here. It has recently however been given a lovely super deluxe edition better-than-boxed-set treatment, so that in of itself warrants a bit of discussion...
But first, the key factors that jumped out at me as both a fan of quality audio and also as a music collector: this new set issued by Rhino Records is really nicely put together and sounds just great. The album was remastered by original producer/engineer Bruce Botnick so you know that it sounds like it is supposed to sound; Botnick's remaster makes its vinyl debut on the LP in this set, cut from high resolution digital audio by the legendary Bernie Grundman. Indeed, the first thing I noticed about this remastered 180-gram vinyl pressing -- beyond that the LP physically feels like a record from 1967, presented with period-accurate, gold Elektra Records labels -- is that is sounded like a record from 1967. It doesn't have that sort of unnatural brightness which many remastered vintage recordings tend to take on, especially when a reissue producer modernizes a recording for these 21st century modern times. This record sounds like it was made in 1967 and that is a good thing.
Perhaps even more pleasing to me was the joy of putting on the 96 kHz, 24-bit high resolution PCM stereo version -- included in the set on a DVD -- and hearing that it too sounded like Forever Changes very much like the vinyl album. The acoustic guitars are punchy and rich in a very mid-sixties sense. Everything sounds appropriately warm and round. The stereo mix is typical for the period with drums on one side and other key instrument overdub in the other. While I don't have an original pressing of Forever Changes to compare this to, I found this reissue very satisfying.
But lets get to some of the other gems in this set: for example, it includes the first ever digital release of the elusive Mono mix of Forever Changes. Interesting details from the booklet shine some light on this version which was created using the Haeco CSG system, which created a Mono mix from the Stereo: "This Mono version of Forever Changes does not precisely echo the original stereo mix of the album, perhaps suggesting that another master stereo mix was utilized to create this mono mix during the CSG conversion process." On my first listen, it indeed seems like one of those curios that sound a bit different at times but not radically so (unlike The Beatles mono version of The White Album which has many different things going on there, a dedicated mix bringing out different ideas about the music). I would love to hear a true Mono mix of Forever Changes -- with the drums and bass real punchy and up front, dead center between your ears... but that doesn't seem to be a likely reality any time soon.
This new edition pulls together many rarities previously issued on other CD reissues, now conveniently all in one place. The set also includes two new previously unreleased backing tracks: "Live And Let Live" and the outtake titled "Wonder People (I Do Wonder)." You get a third disc of a raw alternate mix and another featuring singles and more outtakes. This is indeed a Love treasure chest for fans of the band and this album.
The whole thing comes housed in a lovely hardcover book format package which really got me thinking back to the mid 1980s when CDs were first coming out. I've long loathed the Jewel Box format for holding CDs -- sorry Jewel Box lovers, I'm more of a Digipack kinda guy. I was not entirely surprised when people started ditching Jewel boxes, putting their CDs in more book-like albums and such. My first thought at that time was that the music industry gave up a powerful in-store advertising platform when it abandoned the 12-inch album format. All that said, when I received the new hardcover "book" styled version of Forever Changes -- it housing not only a new 180-gram LP but also four CDs, a DVD and full color album sized booklet -- I said to myself : 'yes, THIS is exactly how CDs should have been marketed back in the day!' File under: missed opportunities! Well, those of us who still enjoy physical media can relish this fine new and lush package. Better late than never!
For those of you who prefer your deluxe editions digitally you can find Forever Changes streaming up on Tidal in a few different forms... there is one in MQA format that shows up when decoded via my Mytek Brooklyn DAC as 192 kHz, 24-bit, which sounds real nice, albeit a bit brighter and modern sounding at times than the LP version. There could be many reasons for this difference in sound along the streaming audio food-chain, so I won't speculate. Nonetheless, the bit of additional brightness benefits the 12-string guitar on tracks like "A House is Not A Hotel." You can find most of the alternate takes and outtakes up there on Tidal as well in 16-bit CD quality. Forever Changes is also up on HDTracks if you prefer hi res downloads.
Whatever way you get it, listening to Love's Forever Changes is essential if you are a fan of 60s psychedelia and in many ways it is a great entry point to discovering Arthur Lee's universe.